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Story #10SOLA ViolinsLafayette, LA

Blocks of wood. Chisels, knives, and files. Home-cooked varnish. 300 years of tradition. And Anya Burgess. That’s the recipe for the world class stringed instruments of Sola Violins. No wonder the waiting list for custom builds can be five years long.

Anya’s one-woman shop is the only one of its kind in southern Louisiana, a hotbed of string and fiddle music, from zydeco to Cajun to classical. Anya had spent time in the area on assignment for Teach for America and, as a player herself, moved back for the music scene. She plays in two bands – Bonsoir Catin and The Magnolia Sisters – and has two Grammy nominations this year alone. She got started in 2002, when she saw the need for the skills she learned in the violin making program at Indiana University. She hung out her shingle for business in Arnaudville, 30 minutes from Lafayette.

Anya builds her instruments in the Cremonese tradition, inspired by Stradivari himself. “Violins have not evolved too much over the last few hundred years, so a lot of what’s involved repairing and building them hasn’t changed too much since the early 1700s, ” she says. “I like the old world craft element of it. It’s so neat to be connected to older times.”

While her connection ranges back hundreds of years, her feet are firmly planted in the present, driven by the needs of her clients. “I’m very inspired by my customers who have high standards. The ones who recognize and appreciate quality. But, I’m also inspired by those that are just learning, who appreciate a person helping them decide on an instrument and setting them up to play.”

In addition to her home-based workshop, where she’s able to be close to her husband and son, Anya spends three days a week at her gallery, where she sells and rents stringed instruments and accessories of all kinds. Beyond the business, beyond the craftsmanship and the joys of playing, one of Anya’s pleasures is uniquely sublime. When she goes to the symphony, she can close her eyes and absorb the sound, knowing she’s worked on many of the instruments that are playing. The harmony she hears has passed through her own hands.

Photos by Christina Clusiau

  • Even Anya's young son, left, gets in on the action.

  • One of Anya's more experienced students plays a solo. Or should we say Sola?

  • The shop elegantly presents Anya's work in downtown Lafayette.

  • Anya's son and husband marvel over her latest piece.

  • Anya rents violins to many local students.

  • These students prepare for a holiday concert at the SOLA shop.

  • Under the mild Lafayette sky, they tuck into a classical piece in front of friends, family and passers-by.

  • An interested patron examines the details of Anya's work at her store.

  • The name of Anya's store is a double entendre. "Sola," in the feminine, means "on one's own" in Italian and Spanish, but "SoLa" is also used as a nickname for Southern Louisiana.

  • Anya and her son.

  • Anya cooks down the varnish for her violins herself.

  • Using Anya's time-honored methods, it can take up to 300 hours to make a violin entirely by hand.

  • The only electricity in Anya's shop is to power the lights; she uses almost exclusively hand tools.

  • The violin-making process dates back to the 1700s.

  • Anya enjoys working from home, where she can keep an eye on her son, playing in the yard.

  • Violin strings were originally made from sheep intestines. Today, many strings are made of metal and steel. Almost all bows are still made from horse hair.

  • Anya keeps her guys and her fortune cookie prophecies close at hand in her toolbox.

  • Her studio workshop is on her property in Arnaudville, 30 minutes from Lafayette, Louisiana.

  • Anya Burgess is a master violin craftswoman and award-winning musician. She opened SOLA Violins in 2002.

Q & A

We talked with Anya while she strung one of her custom violins.

What have been your most rewarding projects?

I have so many customers – such a wide spectrum of people, but I worked on an instrument recently that had been housed in a museum for many, many years, just sitting there in a state of disrepair. The family wanted to have it restored. They were so appreciative to have the instrument back in top shape and then we did a concert at the cathedral that celebrated and commemorated the whole project. I was able to develop a nice relationship both with the instrument and the family that owned it.

What is one of the biggest challenges?

I run the business by myself and there are a lot of different skills required. Not just the actual work working on violins, working on stringed instruments, but then the bookkeeping, the inventory, the organization. I have a pretty good handle on the actual craft that I’m doing, but as I’ve grown my business, I’ve found the growing pains that go along with larger inventory challenging.

How have changes in the digital landscape impacted your business?

The internet is such a big factor. It’s a good thing in many ways and it’s also a competitor to a local business with a storefront. The advantage of dealing with musical instruments is that it’s really hard to get a sense of how one feels or sounds unless it’s in your hands and you’re playing it. So, although I do see online sales as a bit of a competitor for a lot of the accessories that I sell, it’s not so much when it comes to purchasing instruments. If somebody wants something that’s quality and that is set up right and sounds great, they’re more likely to go into a violin shop and buy it locally.


Business Details

100 East Vermilion Street #120 Lafayette, LA 70501
PH: 3373089654 / Website
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