Interview: Adam Birce, 34, Owner of Four Strings Instrument Shop in Manchester 

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Scott Elmquist

"I opened up this business because there was no place in Central Virginia or anywhere outside D.C. for professionals to take their instruments. As you know the Richmond Symphony is phenomenal, it’s full of world-class musicians.

"And they didn’t have anywhere to go. For their bows, instruments, adjustments or setup. Simple stuff that any violin shop could probably do. But they don’t want their 150 year-old Milanese-made instrument, that cost as much as an expensive car, in a shop next to a cheap bunch of Chinese things, kids and stuff going on all the time. I totally get that.

"So I opened up this business as a place for them to go. A resource for the professional musicians to have a place they bring fine instruments. Because that’s what I deal in. My instruments start in the $5,000s. I’m not a student shop.

"I started off playing the violin when I was 7 years old. Been playing since I was a kid. And I played all through elementary school, middle school and high school. And then played semi-professionally for a while in high school and then decided to go off and get my degree in my music. So I went to VCU, and started off my long journey as a violinist at VCU. I got a job at a local violin shop here in town, as a sales guy, just selling fiddles.

"I had sales experience, I’d been working at restaurants for years and years. I’m good with people, so she hired me as a sales person. One day out of the blue she asked me, “Hey did I want to learn how to fix these things?” I said “I guess.” (laughs). I didn’t know if I’d like it, or if I would be good at it.

"I gave it a shot and it turns out, I had a knack for it. Not everybody does. It’s not for everybody. This work requires a lot of patience. You have to have good hands and good eyes. It’s all about spatial relations. I worked at the student shop for a long time, perfecting and practicing. We have two of the best two violin student shops I’ve ever been to, here in Richmond, but past a certain point in price range, there was nothing. Blows my mind. These days I draw clients from Virginia Beach, D.C. and the Northern Neck, in addition to Richmond.

"I don’t know if I’d ever found out about this line of work, the violin repair, if I hadn’t been a musician in the first place. I feel like I have an advantage over a lot of my competitors, a lot of my colleagues and peers, that do this repair thing, because I’ve been a musician almost my whole my life. I have a unique view of it. I can play an instrument and pick it apart, as a musician. A lot of them are unbelievably talented woodworkers and skilled craftspeople. But they are not musicians. They don’t play. They can play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and say “Well, it sounds pretty good.” I can play something that requires a lot of the instrument. I take notes about what I think of an instrument before I do a restoration job. I’ll take it to the philharmonic rehearsal. And then I’ll rip it apart and fine tune to make the things I thought are good about it stronger and better. And the things I don’t like I get fixed.

"This is the best job in the world, I really love what I do. I liked my work at the other shop but there were days when it was soul-crushing, where I would have to set up 55 Chinese violins in a day. I’m much happier than I used to be."



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