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Luthier knows no better place than home to practice his craft (with video)

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BENSON -- There remains a place in the modern economy for the skilled artisan.

The best place of all for this artisan - a luthier known all over North America - is his hometown of Benson.

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"I love this town,'' said Ken Amundson, the craftsman behind Amundson Violins in downtown Benson.

Amundson, 68, returned and moved his business home 11 months ago.

His family had moved from Benson to the Twin Cities when he was 14 years old. Amundson said he always viewed Benson as the "center of the universe,'' even listening to its radio stations while living elsewhere. "If you lived here you loved it. If you didn't live here you wished you did,'' he said.

Amundson has made it his business to restore and sell violins and by commission, occasionally craft his own for 35 years. He opened originally in Coon Rapids. About five years later he moved it to Alexandria, where he operated for 22 years. He operated in St. Paul until his more recent move home.

Related story: Benson, Minn., luthier's opinion is part of heated debate over Titanic

His training on the violin began as a youth in Benson. His father and grandfather played and repaired violins, although not as their main source of income. His father was a passionate fiddler and talented woodworker. People naturally turned to him when their violins needed repair, he explained.

All kinds of people turn to the third generation Amundson when it comes to violins. None are more important to him than the young people who arrive at the shop.

"The absolute, most fun part of this business is when mom and dad come in and they've got little Johnny or little Mary, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and she's looking at you like a god because you are going to put a violin in her hands,'' Amundson said.

He also makes good on his love for violins by making it affordable to others. He is known for reasonable rates, no matter the customer.

His regular customer list includes some of the most celebrated musicians ever to pull a bow across a violin. Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, the Duttons, and the fiddler with Kenny Chesney are just a sampling.

Professional performers work their instruments hard and it's inevitable they will be calling on Amundson for repairs sooner or later. Sometimes it's sooner: One of his clients in Australia plays the violin as she performs on the trapeze as part of a traveling circus troupe.

Her act includes playing the violin as she somersaults high above the crowd.

Sometimes, the violin doesn't return to the trapeze with her. They land in his mailbox instead with an order for a repair.

His reputation is well enough established that much of his restoration work is handled via the Web and mail, making it possible for him to set up shop where he wants. His work and customers can be found in all 50 states and many parts of Canada as well, he said.

Many customers make the trip to Benson to see his large inventory of violins for sale, or meet personally with him about the work they need.

He also offers free appraisals. Many drop by with instruments they've had stashed away for decades.

He makes house calls too. His favorite might be to a 101-year-old Missouri man's home, where 140 violins and 75 guitars were waiting to be appraised. Amundson met the man as he changed the oil under his tractor, eager to start his spring field work.

Amundson starts his days with the zeal of a farmer at spring planting time too. He devotes his early morning hours to the craft of gently carving and restoring the aged maple and spruce woods that comprise violins. He's free from the distractions of phone calls or visitors.

He opens the doors Tuesday through Friday, and happily visits with those who discover that the center of the universe for violins is now located where Highways 9, 12 and 29 meet in Benson.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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