Over the last few months, we’ve learned about Tulsa’s rich music history, the hottest new bands coming out of the area, and even the city’s best places to see live music. Today, we turn our focus to the underbelly of the music scene – instrument repair. Anyone who has ever dabbled in music knows that much like a car, an instrument requires periodic tune-ups and adjustments, not to mention expert craftsmanship if the instrument undergoes a serious accident. We got a chance to visit one of the most renowned instrument repair shops in Tulsa, Tulsa Strings Violin Shop, and chat with its trained luthier, Jacob Mehlhouse.
Jacob Mehlhouse studied violin repair at Minnesota State College and after working at a different violin repair shop in Tulsa for several years as the shop foreman, he opened Tulsa Strings Violin Shop in the spring of 2008. Despite what the name might suggest, he repairs not only violins, but also violas, cellos, and basses.
Jacob’s low-string specialist is Jarrett Bastow, who plays bass in the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. Jarrett, a native of Albany, New York, received his degree in music from Ithaca College before getting his Master’s degree in music from Northwestern University.
In addition to being third chair in the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Jarrett has been named principal bassist of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas. He has also played in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Amarillo Symphony, the Topeka Symphony, the Wichita Symphony, the Enid Symphony, the Arkansas Philharmonic, the Signature Symphony, and the Shreveport Symphony.
Jacob took an old player piano, deconstructed it, and converted it into his workshop desk, seen here.
Jacob demonstrates what is called “shortening the hairs” on a violin bow. Over time, bow hairs can sag and the bow loses tension, making it difficult to play. This process burns the ends of the hairs, making them shorter, and thus restoring the bow’s much-needed tension. “Many people try this themselves at home,” Jacob explained. “They think they can do it. But it’s very easy to mess up. You need a professional.”
Over time, violin wood can become warped and must be straightened. Jacob performs this repair among others at his shop; depending on the extent of the damage, repair work can take days, weeks, or months, in the case of a water-damaged instrument.
Jacob and Jarrett not only repair stringed instruments — they sell them. Their show room contains a plentiful selection of both new and antique instruments, some of which you can read about on their website.