Alp Altiner











Alp Altiner and his wife Suzan Altiner are both professional cello players: they are members of the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra. They rehearse with the Orchestra 5 days a week and have concert performances every Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Their only free day is Sunday.

However busy he may be, Alp Altiner still developed a hobby which later on became a second profession. He started manufacturing string instruments (violin, viola, cello) since 1987.

On 16 December 2000 I visited his workshop (which is a dedicated room of his flat) right after their Saturday morning concert (where they had played Shostakovich 10th and Beethoven 5th symphonies).

Before tackling the depth of his passion let me give you below the summary of his biography:

Alp Altiner was born in Istanbul in 1955. He graduated from the Music department of Istanbul Ataturk Education Institute, continued his musical studies in Vienna State Music and Performing Arts College with Prof. Senta Benesh and completed his education in Germany in a city called Detmold with Prof. Stephan Haack. Later on he also participated to Arezzo International Summer Courses in Italy.
He played with Vienna Music College Concert Orchestra, Salzburg Mozarteum Opera Orchestra and Arena di Verona Opera Festival Orchestra. In 1984 he returned back to Turkey and since then he is the member of the cello group of the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra.
Between 1985-89 he instructed the cello in Istanbul Ataturk Education Institute. During the same period he became the board member, Asst. Manager and Program Coordinator of Istanbul Symphony Orchestra.
He had a program in Acik Radyo called "Cello Gezgini" ("The Cello Wanderer") which lasted 26 weeks.
He gave many conferences and wrote articles about the "History and the Making of String Instruments". Alp Altiner has been an active luthier since 1987.
Alp Altiner is married and has one daughter (14). He speaks fluent German and English.

Since the day he started to play the cello he had a big curiosity for learning the physics of its sound production. One day his father-in-law-to-be (he and his wife were just engaged at the time) gave him a book (Manuel Pratique de Lutherie par: Roger et Max Millant). It was about how to build a string instrument. The book was unfortunately in French and he did not understand a single word of it, and as he was so excited with the subject his father-in-law-to-be had to make the reading and the translation.

His very first application (that he today calls a most wicked one) was to scrape the varnish of his own cello with a piece of broken glass (this was the only practical tool available to him at the time) and re-varnish it himself. He says that the varnish application was very successful but he should never have done it, because the cello was not the same anymore, it was transformed to a different one and had lost all its originality.

More books followed, he kept reading about the art of string instrument making. By the time he came back to Turkey he had an important library on the subject. When he was back in Istanbul, he met students from the Instrument Makers' (Luthiers) School. During the chat the luthier candidates were amazed to hear about the degree of his passion and the amount of books he had read on the subject. They told him that he was much better informed than they themselves were and insisted that it was time for him to start putting his knowledge into action, that he starts to produce. Until then Alp Altiner had never had the courage to put his dream into action, in a way the students gave him the needed push. The year was 1987. "I never had formal Luthier training", says Alp Altiner.

He finished his first violin in 1989. First he had to build his own tools. It is customary for every Luthier to build his own tools as they are not the kind available from shops. This is why it took him so long (two years) to finish his first project. Since 1989 he has built 17 instruments (1 cello, 9 violin and 7 viola).

It takes in average three month to complete a violin, but can build six in a year (as there are things he can do in parallel in the case of multiple production). He can't be more productive than he presently is as he can only spare a limited amount of time due to heavy rehearsal schedule with the orchestra.

Alp Altiner went twice to Cremona (in Italy) where he visited the workshop of Stradivarius. He thinks that Cremona is the pilgrimage place of any devoted Luthier.

He is also a keen listener with an important CD collection. He mostly listens to classical but recently he also started to listen to some jazz.

It was about time to bombard him with my questions.

- "Is this a hobby or a second profession?"

- "No, I don't do it for it's income. It is a great passion of mine, it is like meditating, I completely immerse myself and forget about everything else like worries, time... I also believe that such an occupation has healing power. Of course, at the same time it inevitably became a second profession. There are people bringing me their violins for maintenance or repair and I can't refuse them."

- "Where do you buy your raw material, are they locally available?"

- "Nearly most of the raw material is imported. Although some woods are locally available, they are not properly treated to be of any use. The woods should be naturally dried for at least 5 to 6 years without the aid of any sort of oven (or an accelerated process). The different natural extracts to make the varnish are also mostly imported. You mix different these natural extracts (see the picture on the left) according to a formula of yours to make the varnish. You can try different formulas on different instruments."

- "Do you 'voice' your instruments in a specific way? Or do you have the means to do it?"

- "Yes, during the process, I can more or less guess how the general character of the finished instrument will be. Of course it is a rough guess, but I can predict if it is going to be a bright sounding instrument, or dark toned or will have big volume capability. I can tell this looking at the nature of the wood, at the curves, etc. Knowing such parameters also gives you the ability to play with them and in a way "voice" the instrument. But you can't 100% tell unless you put the strings and play."

- "How do you define a "good" instrument or a "great" one? Are there universally accepted criterias or is it purely a matter of taste?"

- "There is always a certain amount of personal preferences. Some players like brighter sounding violins. So there is certainly taste involved. But there are also universally accepted standards by which you can distinguish a good violin from a bad one. The simplest is of course the tone. I don't think anybody will call a thin or metallic toned violin a good one. If you apply the correct standards and put a correct amount of workmanship, you can't go wrong, your violin will be a good one. But to make a "great" one is something else. Of course I'm always after it.
To me a good string instrument should have the following characteristics:

  • Should have volume and the ability to carry its sound to distance. The best instruments don't have a big volume nearby (as this can be tiring or misleading for the player) but have much more at a distance.
  • It should have a beautiful tone with rich harmonics.
  • The balance between the four strings should be correct and the strings should have a common tonality.
  • It should be easy to play, the instrument should not resist the player.

- "Do you build to order? If yes, is it possible to order a dark toned violin?"

- "No, I never build to order. It would be too stressful: there will be deadlines to meet, you won't know if he (or she) will like the finished product. Instead I build the instruments at my own pace, the players come and choose the one they like."

- "Could you mention few of your important references?"

- "Cihat Askin (the famous Turkish violin virtuoso), a violin player from the Presidential Symphony Orchestra, the chief of viola group of Hellenic Radio Television Orchestra (Athens), the cello of his wife, a violin and viola player of Istanbul Symphony Orchestra and the famous conductor Alexander Rahbari."

The Index of the Pictures (please click them to enlarge):


Alp Altiner is checking the tone of a violin


He is checking the looks and the finish


Few of the finished violins


Alp Altiner on action


More action: working on a new cello


Tuning a violin


Suzan and Alp Altiner gave me a delightful mini concert at the end of the interview.


Various natural extracts to prepare the varnish


Raw material stock: the imported special woods.

Alp Altiner's label:


e-mail to: Alp Altiner