One of the greatest pleasures for Eric Benning has been the making of new instruments. Initially, Paul Toenniges, Eric’s grandfather, made 50 double basses in his lifetime. Hans and Nancy Benning, Eric’s parents, have collaborated on over 100 instruments. Now in it’s third direct generation, Eric Benning is continuing the legacy making quite a few instruments each year.
Eric began making instruments at the age of 9 under the supervision of his parents and grandfather. Working weekends and school breaks, he completed his first violin at age 10. When Eric completed his apprenticeship with his parents he went to study with his uncle, Carl Becker Jr., in Chicago. It was there that Eric learned the refinements to his craft that have elevated his work among some of the great makers today.
Each step of the new making process is done with carefully thought out accuracy. A motto given to Eric by Carl epitomizes their outlook on making and restoration; “Don’t be careful, be sure!” Many makers take the approach of varying degrees of freedom with their work that results in a great variation from one instrument to another. While the occasion may allow some liberty to do a copy or make slight variations, Eric believes that drawing from the experience laid down to him through both his parents, grandparents, and uncle, gives him a well-spring of tried and true methods of making. The Benning’s and Becker’s leave nothing to chance. Through careful observation they believe that a great sound is a matter of physics, and not guesswork. Regulating each process of the making with years of analysis allow Eric to make the tone consistent with what he is looking for.
Instruments begin their life through a very careful selection of well-seasoned Bosnian maple, primarily and Bavarian or Bosnian spruce. Most of the wood has been passed down from generations and so the wood used is generally 25 years old or older from the time it was cut. Years of foresight and many trips to Europe to hand select each piece leave the future of raw materials for instruments in good standing.
Violins are usually made on either a Strad or Guarneri pattern. Celli are made using either a Strad, Tecchler, Forester or Amati models. Violas are made in a Strad 16 ˝” model, a Guarneri 16” model, or an ergonomically shaped viola, modeled after the old D’amore’s so as to be still a traditional model. Of course exceptions are always made as clients ask to have their own fine instruments copied. However, traditionally Eric varnishes his instrument with a full, “new looking”, varnish, preferring how an instrument naturally and uniquely ages under the care of a fine musician.
The future certainly looks bright for Benning instruments and their owners as Eric Benning takes the reins of yet another generation of violinmakers. With continued collaboration with his relatives and colleagues, your investment in a Benning instrument is one well considered.