Garden & Gun: Seventh Annual Made in the South Awards

Crafts Winner: John Montgomery, Inc.

With his world-class instruments, luthier John Montgomery carries on a centuries-old practice

Product: Viola
Made in: Raleigh, NC
Est.: 1983

Whether buzzing through a bluegrass tune or tackling Beethoven’s Fifth, string musicians in North Carolina and beyond rely on John Montgomery for exquisite handmade instruments. Montgomery—whose customers include members of the National Symphony Orchestra—studied his craft in France and was honing it in New York City when he decided to return to his ancestral roots in 1983. “My father’s family is from the state,” he says, “but I also worked with  a lot of North Carolina musicians, so I knew there was talent here.” 

Montgomery spends much of his time rehabbing pieces, as well as maintaining the Smithsonian’s and the Library of Congress’s stringed collections, but he also makes at least a quartet—two violins, a cello, and a viola—every year. Each instrument takes a month to finish, starting with his design: “They have to sound good, look good, and be easy to play,” he says. Next, he fashions a mold and selects the woods, coaxing them into graceful hourglass shapes. A wood-resin varnish, using a method he’s fine-tuned over decades, provides the final touch. 

Of the pieces Montgomery made this year, his viola, constructed from a mix of American maple and European spruce, hit an especially sweet note. “It has such a rich, full tone,” he says. He knows because he tests his creations, but that’s the most playing he does. “You don’t want to come to a concert featuring me,” he jokes. “My instruments are my legacy.” 

Price: $22,000-$23,000

Hutchison, E (2016, December/January). Seventh Annual Made in the South Awards. Garden & Gun Magazine. Retrieved from