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Sugar House Journal

Local artist makes instruments heard around the world

Apr 03, 2017 10h16 ● By Natalie Mollinet

Some of the instruments Lucas is working on going off to musicians around the world. (Natalie Mollinet\City Journals).

By Natalie Mollinet | [email protected]

From a block of wood, John Paul Lucas creates violins, violas and occasionally a cello.

Lucas or JP, as he is known to friends and clients, has been mastering his instrument-making skills since high school and has become one of the top in his field.

Lucas grew up in Michigan where he was surrounded by the tools to build instruments thanks to his father’s love for classical music and wood work. At a young age, Lucas said he had a love for building and even at the age of 6, loved to build model airplanes.

“I grew up in a creative family,” Lucas said, “and my dad had a love for wood working and I had access to his tools and machinery.”

Lucas said that his father was an avid lover of classical music, and even though his father’s profession wasn’t in wood working, he was able to watch and work with him. He made his first violin at age 13 after spending his entire ninth-grade summer building it with the help of a book and from hanging around a violin maker in the area.  

“Throughout high school I was entering wood working competitions, building grandfather clocks, canoes and all kind of interesting things and always did well in competitions,” Lucas said.

After building seven instruments during high school, and entering his other wooden crafts into competitions, Lucas found himself at a crossroads wondering if he should go into aeronautical engineering or violin making. His love for flying model airplanes was pulling at his heart strings, but in the end, he decided what he wanted to do was make string instruments.

In 1987, Lucas applied for The Violin Making School of America, a world-renowned school in Salt Lake City. He was accepted and from there began his journey which would soon became a lifelong career. Even after graduating from the school, he became an instructor at the school, helping other students reach their goal of becoming professional violin makers.   

Today, Lucas’s violins, violas and cellos are made for performance majors, professionals as well as prestigious musicians around the world.

One local cellist who benefits from Lucas’s work is Steven Sharp Nelson, the cellist from The Piano Guys. Not only has Lucas made a cello for Nelson, but also a violin for Nelson’s wife who has performed on stage with her husband. Lucas has already made one cello for Nelson, and has been commissioned to make another. Lucas said that many musicians say that playing his hand-made instruments reminds them of driving a sports car.

“It’s fantastic, one of the greatest compliments and greatest joys,” Lucas said, “because you’re an artist and now a top artist is using something you have created to build their careers. There’s times that they will say ‘you know, we’ve been looking for years for an instrument and yours matches with me. You just nailed it.’”

Lucas said he is busy year round making violins and cellos for professionals and student performers looking for a right fit. All his business is done by word-of-mouth. He doesn’t run a website or make instruments in bulk, all his violins and cellos are made for the unique artist that will be playing them.

“It takes years and years of hands-on experience and refining to get the consistency, and if there’s one thing to being a great violin maker, it’s consistency,” Lucas said.

Even with over 30 years of violin making experience, Lucas still finds his time to do other things he loves including building and flying giant-scale radio controlled model aircrafts, riding his motorcycle, and hiking and backcountry skiing.

Lucas said it took him a whole summer to make his first violin, and now it takes him around 120 hours to make one. He’s become one of the masters in his field and said he’ll continue to make musicial instruments until the day he dies.

“We have several world-class violin makers here in Salt Lake City, which I respect highly,” Lucas said. “I enjoy the competition, it elevates the entire field, it inspires you and propels you. Violin making, in a sense, has been like my vehicle in life.”