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Engineer adds another string to his bow with handmade instruments

Karalee’s Reg Cooke is an instrument maker.

He is a luthier (maker of string instruments) who loves to mostly make violins and guitars.

Although some of his instruments are played in orchestras and bands world-wide, more often than not you will find one of his creations in the hands of a family member at a backyard barbecue.

 Play from the beginning

When Mr Cook retired he had two goals.

One was to walk from one end of Hinchinbrook Island to the other, which he did.

The second was to make a violin from scratch.

After ordering some books on the subject from America, it took him 300 days to make is first violin.

A love of wood not music

Mr Cook started out working as a carriage maker at the Ipswich Railways.

“That is where I learned about wood,” Mr Cook said.

“I’ve got an obsession with wood crafting.

“I did a wood crafting apprenticeship at the same time I studied engineering.”

Mr Cook always thought making a violin was the pinnacle of wood work.

“When I retired I cracked out my old tool box and proceeded to follow an aspiration that I had to build a violin,” he said.

While Mr Cook enjoys the sound of an instrument played well, it is not something he likes to do himself.

“I’ve got a great pair of ears, one is tone deaf and the other is stone deaf,” he said with a smile.

Variety is the spice of life

In the past 20 years since retirement, Mr Cook has made quite a collection of instruments.

He has now made many violins and different types of guitars (classical, steel string, archtops and even a miniature one), violas, ukuleles and even a balalaika (traditional Russian instrument).

The first guitar he made, he used the wood from a shelf in his father’s workshop.

He mostly uses Australian timbers and a guitar, for example, takes around 120 hours to build from scratch.

Mr Cook often thinks of the one who will be playing the instrument as he goes through the weeks, bending wood and carving pieces.

“First of all, I have to know who I am building it for,” Mr Cook said.

“I seem to put something special into it for that person.” 

For love not money

Despite his talent and skill, Mr Cook does not sell his masterpieces.

“I make them for family and friends,” he said.

“I have three sons and they have children now too.”

He was once showing a guitar he made at a wood show and a musician offered him $6000 for it.

“I had already promised it to my son, so I said no,” he said.

Staying power is required

Mr Cook wonders if it’s Italian heritage or the fact that he is a middle child, but he has a great capacity to endure and persevere.

“Patience is the name of the game and that is possibly why there are not a lot of people making instruments,” Mr Cook said.

“Some people like to start a project this morning and have it finished at lunch time.

“You need staying power to spend three months on one project.”

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