"Dimitri Musafia is the Stradivari of violin case makers." (Gianfranco Berneri, Chairman of the Cremona City Council for the Arts, 2009)
"My name goes onto every case that leaves my shop. Each one is thus an extension of myself: for this reason I cannot allow that they be anything less than the best possible." (Dimitri Musafia)
Summed up in this simple concept is the truth behind the genesis of each Musafia case: a truly relentless, yet perfectly obvious and natural quest for excellence.
Most other manufacturers have either closed or been moving production overseas, where largely unmotivated factory workers simply are for the most part incapable and uninterested in making a quality product. These companies compensate the resulting drop in quality with lower prices. Of the once-great names in the European and American industrial case making tradition, unfortunately almost none survive today, and experts tend to agree that those who remain no longer make cases comparable in quality to what they used to.
Dimitri Musafia and his assistants have been making cases for violins and violas in Cremona, Italy, since 1983. Their cases have been made for the instruments of Salvatore Accardo, Isaac Stern, Shlomo Mintz, Sarah Chang, Uto Ughi, the Emperor of Japan, the City of Cremona, the City of Genoa, the concertmasters of most major orchestras and many other great concert artists.
To have won this trust and recognition in the comparatively short time of over a quarter-century, evidently means that considerable effort has been expended in research, development, and innovations, many of which have often been copied or imitated by others - even including those "once-great" names. The setting of new manufacturing quality and safety standards however cannot be so readily copied.
The "secret" lies in the fact that Dimitri Musafia is an artisan case maker, not a factory. He has a diploma as master violin maker from the Stradivari Institute in Cremona. Exactly like a Cremona violin maker, he is personally involved in each and every case that is created in the workshop, and each one bears his name. So as long as Mr. Musafia will continue his work, these standards will be maintained and musicians will continue to benefit from a quality which, according to many, no longer has rivals.
Dimitri Musafia was born near Los Angeles, California in a musical family, his father being pianist Julien Musafia. While formally destined to become a violinist, even from an early age he tried expressing his creativity through forms and colors, initially in design and subsequently in photography.
At age 16 he left the family to study violin making at the Stradivari Institute in Cremona, Italy, where he worked under the guidance of master makers GioBatta Morassi and Stefano Conia, making his first violin in 1979. At the same time he continued his violin playing, performing in numerous chamber groups and eventually becoming the concertmaster of the Camerata di Cremona Chamber Orchestra and Choir.
Dimitri Musafia earned his diploma as violin maker in 1982 and his work received immediate acclaim, winning the First Prize Gold Medal as well as a special prize for the best varnish just a few months later at the 7th National Competition of Violin Makers held near Ravenna. This recognition, along with orders that began to flow in especially from the U.S. and Japan, made it seem that Dimitri Musafia would become a successful violin maker. However, that was not to be.
Especially in those years, it was not possible to experiment, create, and innovate in violin making - the role of the violin maker was in fact to receive inspiration from the great masters of the past and to try to equal them. Any departure from tradition, either stylistic or technical, was frowned upon by the establishment and had limited commercial appeal.
This constriction proved fatal to Musafia’s enthusiasm for a professional career as a violin maker. Seeking new creative opportunities, it became apparent that while in Cremona some of the best new violins were being crafted, little was being done about transporting them in safety and style. There were of course violin case factories in the world, but Musafia thought their products were unimaginative and could be improved upon. So, in February of 1983, after making thirty instruments including violins, a few violas and one cello, Dimitri Musafia built his first violin case.
Dimitri Musafia's "Type A" case, the first to be produced in series. This model was made in approximately 130 examples between 1983 and 1984.
From the beginning, his objective was clear: to design a violin case that offered superior instrument safety and which was also elegant and pleasing to look at. The structure had to be strong enough to resist pressure from the outside, and the interior designed to absorb bumps without transmitting them to the instrument.
Starting case making from a clean slate proved enormously beneficial. Musafia experimented with a wide variety of materials, from honeycomb PVC to fiberglass, from Kevlar and carbon fiber to high-density polyurethane, from simple sectional to sandwich construction. Eventually – after two years of experiments – he settled on a specially-milled wood laminate as his preferred medium, one that was able to best satisfy all his prerequisites for instrument safety and portability.
In the years that followed, Musafia’s cases became known and appreciated for their instrument safety features as well as their distinctive Italian style. Some of the world’s greatest soloists commissioned Musafia’s work for their Stradivaris and Guarneris, as did museums and foundations. Musafia made cases for some of the most precious of all violins, such as the 1742 Guarneri del Gesù “the Cannon” once owned by Paganini, and the 1715 Stradivari owned by the City of Cremona, considered perhaps the greatest of his works in existence.
Assembling the complex mosaic in the lid of the case for the Sultan of Sharjah.
Musafia’s focus was kept only on the never-ending pursuit of perfection. By choice, therefore, what was originally a one-man workshop on Guarneri del Gesu street in Cremona never became a factory. Over the years the workshop was kept small and family-owned, with just a handful of assistants employed, the majority of whom sharing a similar background in professional violin making and all of whom are dedicated to the same excellence in design and craftsmanship.
Dimitri Musafia’s innovations in both instrument safety and style are now considered by many to be the standard of the craft. The built-in hygrometer (1984), six-ply laminate construction (1985), offset violin placement on some models (1987), wick-style humidifier (1988), asymmetric case shell (2003), even the exclusive pattern of the Enigma silk velvet (2004) are Musafia innovations that have been widely copied by other manufacturers worldwide. The basic design of the model 3011 Luxury Classic, with it’s distinctive rope cording and quilted padding that dates to 1984, has become ubiquitous to the point that “Musafia style” and “Musafia clone” are terms which have entered everyday language.
Designing the interior of a case made to measure for an important Stradivari.
Today, Dimitri Musafia and his workshop assistants (most of whom have been with him now close to 20 years) continue to make a limited number of highest-quality violin and viola cases for those musicians who don’t want a factory-made, one-size-fits-all product.
All the construction of each Musafia Cremona Italy case takes place within the Cremona workshop and Mr. Musafia not only designs each model but is himself involved also the construction of each case, which can take up to 22 hours of highly-specialized work.