Petaluma, California–based luthier and instrument dealer Bruce Sexauer is mostly known for his exquisite flattop guitars, but over the course of his more than 50 years as a builder, he has also created several violins. Recently, Bruce got a commission to build a violin for Ben McKee, bassist for the alt-rock band Imagine Dragons. Having grown up in Sonoma County, Ben met Bruce early in his career, and he already owned three Sexauer guitars when he decided that he wanted Bruce to build him a violin. The request led to Bruce building not one, but two new violins.
“I gave him the choice of exhibition-grade woods or more story in the wood,” Bruce says. For the first instrument he used an Engelmann spruce top cut in Oregon and maple from a tree he cut himself in Mill Valley, California more than 20 years ago. Bruce was quite happy with the completed instrument, but felt that it was, in his own words, “relatively folky. He didn’t ask me for a fiddle; he asked me for a violin.” So Bruce decided to build another instrument. This time, he used Italian spruce from Rivolta for the top and big leaf maple for the back and sides. Bruce also used figured snakewood for the second instrument’s fingerboard instead of the more common ebony.
In this video, Bruce plays both violins and discusses them in detail. Having now spent time with both instruments, he’s facing the luthier’s conundrum of hoping to keep one of them for himself. Since Ben asked for a violin, not a fiddle, Bruce is counting on him choosing the second instrument: “If he chooses [the first one], it may break my heart, because I really like it that well.” sexauerguitars.com