Carson Valley violin maker wins silver medal |

Carson Valley violin maker wins silver medal

by Caryn Haller

Carson Valley resident Nelle O’Neill is a musician, chemist, craftsman and engineer all rolled up in one.

O’Neill, 77, recently brought home a silver medal for her hand-made viola from the 2011 competition of the Violin Makers Association of Arizona International in Tucson, Ariz.

“I was thrilled. It was less than one point behind the gold medal winner which made me feel good,” she said.

O’Neill was a public school orchestra teacher for 30 years before deciding to make violas and violins as a second career.

She studied under Ed Campbell, owner of Chimneys School for Violin Makers, and since 2001 has won 10 medals for her hand-crafted violins and violas. As in the past several years, she was the only woman medalist at this year’s convention.

Traveling to Northern Italy for Dolomite spruce wood and Oregon for Engleman spruce wood, O’Neill spends at least 200 hours crafting what will become a beautiful and functional work of art.

“You need to be something of a musician because it’s something that is a crafted work of art, but it also needs to be functional,” O’Neill said. “The most fun is having it put together and doing the first tone test to see what it sounds like after you worked on it for three months.”

Her winning viola was commissioned by a member of the Dallas Opera Orchestra who graciously returned it to her for the contest. Immediately following the judging, the instrument was shipped back to him in time to rehearse for the opera’s first performance of the season, Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” on Oct. 21.

She has been commissioned to make instruments by people all over the country. A viola sells for $7,900 and a violin costs $6,900.

“What’s very rewarding is having a connection with the people who are going to buy the instruments,” O’Neill said. “I involve them in all of the possibilities from the start to the finishing of the instrument.”

To see O’Neill’s award-winning instruments visit