ABOUT ME

The Dutch forebears whose family name I carry came to South Africa during the middle of the 19th century. Between then and now the brew which gave rise to me was enriched with French Huguenot, German, British and Portuguese elements. Because this brew has been on the boil for so long in this particular location, the statistical impossibility of a total absence of indigenous African and Indonesian (17th- & 18th-century slave trade) ingredients should be considered. In order to make me the third successive person to head up a new generation with exactly the same name, my parents saw it fit (in 1952) to christen me Jacobus Nicolaas van Soelen. I think that has a fine ring to it, especially since Jacobus Stainer and Nicolo Amati were known to be quite handy with violin-making tools.

My lutherie is a one-person concern. I started in the instrument retail business in 1993. Before that I taught Musicology at university and did some performing as harpsichord player and organist, and also as conductor. When I went into business one thing led to the next, and I soon had to get some training in the setting up of string instruments. This progressed to simple repairs, which in turn progressed to not-so-simple restorations. My promise to myself never to make a violin did not take long to be broken.

Too much of my time is taken up with all the administrative tasks associated with a one-person enterprise. I still do a lot of repair work and setting up of instruments – my bridge-cutting tally alone runs into several hundreds per year. I try to spend as much time as I can researching, reading and communicating with fellow makers in order to learn as much as possible about this weird trade, especially the classical Italian tradition of violin-making. Time for making is therefore quite limited, but perhaps this prevents the process from becoming repetitive and stale. I tell people that my job is string instrument repairs and my hobby is violin-making, which is a fairly accurate reflection of how my time is apportioned, and to some degree it also reflects my state of mind when involved in either of these two activities.

I share my immediate environment in the Cape Town suburb of Durbanville with my wife, a teacher at the German School of Cape Town, and daughter, a web developer at Oonie.