Jason Barie – Ramblin’ Fiddler, and now fiddle maker

We’ve all known Jason Barie for his fiddle work over the years, spending time with Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road, Larry Stephenson Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and now alongside Joe Mullins with the Radio Ramblers.

He got started with the fiddle as a youngster around Tampa, FL. He first learned to play the violin in 5th grade, but soon graduated to fiddle lessons at The Bluegrass Parlor. As a young adult, a taste of stage work came as a member of northeastern Florida’s popular Sand Mountain, before a move to Nashville to pursue music full time.

Jason released a very popular solo project last fall for Billy Blue Records, Jason Barie as the Ramblin’ Fiddler starring in Pieces, which featured both his original fiddle tunes and several guest vocalists on some classic bluegrass. His old boss Doyle Lawson took a turn, as did Paul Williams and Del McCoury, with a number of songs making it on to our Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay chart.

But with almost all touring cancelled since March, Barie has used his time at home to focus on another passion from his youth, violin building. Woodworking in general appeals to him, and he built a nice deck on to the back of the home he shares with his wife and children as a COVID project. Jason seems to be the sort of guy who is able to tackle any new project and see it through to completion.

Those who follow him online know that Jason has been making some very ornate leather instrument straps of late, and he took some time yesterday to explain how his love of woodwork has developed into building violins.

“I have been doing violin and bow repair work for about 25 years now. It all started when my Dad and I would go looking for fiddles at yard sales, flea markets, and auctions. We would buy them, get them repaired, and resell them for a profit.

One day I decided that instead of sending them to the repair shop, that I wanted to try my hand at getting them playable again. I started with learning how to fit bridges. Bridges are inexpensive and if you mess one up you can throw it away and try again, and since it’s not attached to the violin, you haven’t done any harm to the instrument if you mess it up. As I progressed I bought more tools as I could afford them, and Mom and Dad would buy a few things each year as Christmas presents.

I’m self taught for the most part, and I learn by trial and error, by talking with other luthiers, watching videos, and reading articles and books on the subject. And now with the internet I watch YouTube videos and search through different forums on repair and building.

I had always wanted to build some of my own fiddles, and last year I finished my first one in October. For me it’s rather rewarding to create something out of raw materials that can be used to create music. But my building journey is also about finally having the one fiddle that fits me, fits my style, and to have the tone and playability in a fiddle that I’ll play the rest of my musical life. I’ve played a few like that, “the one,” but they were either way beyond what I could afford, or they weren’t for sale. So I thought I’ll try to build a few and see what happens.”

As an overachiever, Jason decided to attempt a carved head peghead on his very first build, which has turned into his primary gig and studio instrument. Now he is going for #2, also with a carved head stock.

“I’ve always been fond of the head carvings that are on some 1800’s French violins, and had always wanted one for my own. So with some experience in violin repair, as well as a cabinet making background, I thought I’ll try to make one of my own. I carved my first one by watching people on YouTube, and from reading three books, one about carving the human head and face, one about the anatomy of the face, and the third on drawing the head and face. I also do leather tooling and those designs are based on carving 3 dimensionally, knowing what’s going to be in the foreground and what’s the background. That helped me in being able to see what to carve away and what to leave in doing the fiddle heads. Most of the heads I carved were done while traveling in the bus in between gigs.”

Having the straps and violin repair has been very helpful for Barie since the band has been sidelined for several months.

“Since being home I really am doing what I mostly do during the middle of the week when not on the road, so not much has changed for me other than not traveling. I spend most days either working on customer fiddle and bow repairs, tooling leather goods such as guitar straps, doing home repairs, and building fiddles.”

If they keep turning out as well as this first, there is every reason to expect that Jason Barie will eventually be known as much for his fiddles as for his playing one.

For more information about Jason’s straps, violin and bow repair, or his hand-carved instruments, you can contact him online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.