The evening before her recent graduation recital at the Juilliard School, Joanne Lee called Lukas Wronski to schedule an emergency appointment — her cello needed a check-up.
“My job is to be like a doctor,” said Wronski, a violinmaker who also restores, repairs and deals violins, violas, cellos and bows. “To change this and correct this and make musicians happy — and make the instruments sound better.”
Wronski meets with musicians like Lee every day to make small modifications to their instruments to improve their tone and range. But when he lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, many customers complained that they didn’t want to make the trip. So in the summer of 2014, Wronski moved to the Upper West Side to accommodate his clients — many of whom live within walking distance of his new, elaborately-decorated apartment, which doubles as his workshop, at 96th and Broadway. And customers say that’s why they’re loyal to Wronski: because he understands what they want and will go the extra mile to make sure that they’re happy.
Lee arrived on a recent Friday in the late afternoon. Wronski brought her across a short hall into his violin atelier — a large room ornamented with string instruments where he works with clients.
Lee sat down and took out her cello. She told Wronski that it sounded more muted than usual.
In the corner behind her, two rows of violins hung near the ceiling from a rack above a handful of cellos propped up in their stands. All the shelves in the room, one above a piano in the opposite corner, another behind Lee, were adorned with small figures — a metal man, a slender woman, a ceramic clown, a monk — each playing the violin.
From his perch on a large golden couch with red velvet cushions, Wronski told her to play, so he could listen for himself.
After a few moments, Wronski took the instrument onto his lap and worked an S-shaped, metal tool into each of the cello’s S-shaped holes to adjust the sound posts — wooden dowels inside the body of the instrument that Wronksi knocked on gently to “open up” the cello and give it a deeper tone.
Then Lee played. She noticed immediatley that the instrument produced a more textured resonance.
“For sound post adjustments,” Lee said, “he understands what you want and then we work until we get what we want.”
Next appointment of the day: Jonathan Strasser, a conductor and violin teacher at the Manhattan School of Music who has been a client of Wronski’s for four years.
Strasser stopped by on his way to teach a lesson; he needed his violin adjusted. He said that the Upper West Side is the center of the classical-music universe — with Manhattan School of Music, Mannes College The New School for Music and Juilliard only a few stops away on the 1 Train.
Strasser said that Wronski made a smart choice to move into the middle of all that musical activity.
“If you have a place in Manhattan,” Strasser said, “people come through your door.”
Wronski said that since he relocated to the Upper West Side, he has more than doubled his clientele.
Strasser had never made it to Wronski’s place in Queens because it was too much of a hassle. Instead, he made house calls. Even now, Wronski will still travel to meet a client if asked.
Yuri Vodovoz, a violin professor at Mannes College and one of Wronski’s last customers on Friday, is such a client.
Vodovoz needed his violin restrung before an upcoming concert at Carnagie Hall where he will perform with his chamber group, Alaria.
Vodovoz was worried that the recent stretch of cold weather could affect his violin’s tonal range, so Wronksi said he would stop by Carnegie before the concert and check the instrument to see if it needed adjustments.
“He really takes it personally and it’s not just a business for him,” Vodovoz said. “Like tomorrow, he’ll come early into the hall — not many luthiers will do that for you.”