Garth McCulloch remembers those boyhood days on the prairie in Saskatchewan, Canada, listening to his father play “old-time music” on his fiddle.

Garth McCulloch remembers those boyhood days on the prairie in Saskatchewan, Canada, listening to his father play “old-time music” on his fiddle.

This was Garth’s first introduction to the violin he became enamored with, not only for its unique sound, but also for the way it was fitted together without the support of tacks, nails or screws.

So enthralled with the fascinating instrument his dad had mastered, young Garth spent hours watching a local craftsman make handsome violins from scratch.

“It was kind of fascinating to see the product come from the raw wood into a finished instrument,” says Garth, whose love of music influenced him to become a violin maker at an early age.

“I just love music,” says 81-year-old Garth, who lives in Sugar Creek with his wife, Audrey. “I particularly like sacred hymns, old-time country, foot-stomping music and bluegrass.”

But that’s not all, he says. “I’ve also learned to appreciate the classics.”

Garth, though, might never have taken up violin making had he not read a little booklet, written by a Michigan shop teacher, on how to make a violin.

“I was fortunate to come across this little booklet” in 1949, says Garth, explaining its simplicity inspired him to take his whittling skills to another level.

So, at age 19, Garth sharpened the pocketknife he always carried with him, made a few tools unique to violin making and began creating a violin using a Stradivarius pattern.

“I just followed the instructions in this little booklet,” he says, recalling it had “very detailed drawings of the instrument.”

Garth worked slowly on the time-consuming project, never doubting his ability to complete what he had started.

“I think that when I was 19 years old, (I thought) there was nothing I couldn’t do,” Garth says, noting he had to share his time, at first, with making a violin and with learning to become a licensed crane operator.

He successfully completed both challenges.

Some six months later, Garth’s dream of making a violin from scratch had come to fruition. Now it was ready to produce some foot-stomping music. But not by Garth. He didn’t know how. But the talented whittler was willing to learn.

Who better to help the budding violin maker than a local violin teacher? She gave him a few lessons and got him started. And it didn’t hurt, Garth says, that he played a little bit by ear.

Although Garth is an outstanding violin maker, he insists he’s not an accomplished fiddler.

“I’m not that good,” he says of his fiddle playing, which he limits to family gatherings and church functions.

Audrey, his wife of 52 years, disagrees, saying her “humble” husband plays very well.

Garth, who has made 17 violins over a span of 60 years, could have focused his building skills on a number of things he likes to do.

But he chose violin making, he says, because the instrument is kind of special.

“You can build a birdhouse and it stays a birdhouse. But if you build a violin, you have kind of a work of art, as well as a very practical instrument for making music. And that appeals to me.”

Garth, perhaps, could have earned a living making violins when he and Audrey moved to Independence in August 1966. But he didn’t.

 With a degree from Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg, the high-school dropout taught shop in the Independence School District until retiring in 1995.

“Violin making is just a hobby,” he says. “I never worked at it professionally, except for a few (violin) repairs I have done for people back when I was a younger person.”

Soon after making his first violin, Garth made another one “just for something to do.”

The biggest difference between his first instrument, which he still possesses, and his second was very minimal.

“Oh, the workmanship might have been a little refined, and I had acquired some better tools,” he recalls, explaining the best tool improvement was an old straight razor he purchased from a barber and fashioned into a gouge.

“It was a wonderful tool, and I wish I still had it,” he says.

With the exception of his first and last instruments, all the others have been given away – most to family members, some to his violin-making students.

“I know where most of them are,” says Garth, who quit teaching about two years ago after he fell off a ladder while sawing off the branch of a tree in his yard.

“That kind of put me in a downward spiral,” he says of the disabling fall.

For a number of years, Garth has made at least one violin a year to keep a tradition alive at the annual Christmas party for Lunch Partners, an organization that provides meals for the hungry and homeless.

The tradition involves Nancy Browne, a well-known violinist and teacher. Every year she entertains using a new Garth-made violin.

And what about this year’s Christmas program?

Garth hasn’t forgotten his obligation to Nancy. Despite his health issues, Garth plans to have the violin he’s currently working on ready for her to play in December.

“I simply can’t break this tradition,” he says.

Garth not only wears the hats of a violin maker and a violin teacher, but also that of a violin author.

Entitled “Tomewood Preparation for the Making of Violins,” the booklet is a work in progress and hasn’t been touched in awhile.

The unpublished book isn’t about how to make a violin. Rather, it’s about how to prepare the wood to get flat surfaces and good joinery, which Garth says are the two hardest steps in violin making.

That’s vital, he says, since there is nothing holding the instrument together except glue.

Not all of Garth’s talents involve the violin. He has used his whittling skills to carve abstract caricatures out of wood. With his skillful hands, he has made numerous home furnishings and built from scratch the first home he and Audrey lived in after their 1959 marriage in Canada. He also built their house in Sugar Creek.

Garth’s talents continue. He has authored two unpublished poems, “The Fiddler” and “The Mended Violin,” as well as one published poem, “Lake Huron.” He also has written three hymns.

Furthermore, Garth excels as a cook. He often prepares supper for Audrey, the love of his life, and is known for his homemade rolls and pies he makes for church functions and funerals.

And where did he learn those culinary skills?

Would you believe working during the summer in the galley on a Great Lakes freighter as a 14-year-old?

“I learned a little bit about cooking and peeling potatoes,” he chuckles. “So I have always had an interest in cooking.”

As for the future, Garth is hopeful he’ll be making violins for a long time to come, even though there are no family members interested in walking in his shoes.

However, violin making will continue, Garth says, because one of his former students is now teaching others the art of violin making.

And nothing makes Garth happier than knowing one of his students is walking in his shoes and keeping the art of violin making alive.

“So it is carrying on,” he says.

Long live this art!