Though oboists are known for making their own reeds and percussionists are skilled in creating instruments out of any object they can find, string players aren’t the usual culprits for making their own instruments. Doug Coghill’s late grandfather, Don Fairweather, introduced him to the craft during his teenage years, as well as fostering a shared love of music. Doug remembers fondly spending many hours of his childhood listening to records of Beethoven and Mozart string quartets together, following the score as they listened, and working together making a viola for Doug’s Year 12 final woodworking project.

After finishing school, Doug focused on viola performance, studying music at the Victorian College of the Arts (2006-2008) and at the Australian National Academy of Music (2009-2011). Doug credits his time at ANAM in shaping him into the musician he is today. “Every week I was inspired by amazing faculty – including many who still teach at ANAM, such as Timothy Young, Howard Penny, and Adam Chalabi.” Doug recalls his viola teacher Bill Hennessy (teaching viola as well as violin at the time) priming not just his viola technique, but also his psychological preparation to achieve his best. Doug seized the opportunity to play each week at String Classes and Performance Classes in front of his peers and mentors. “Looking back, I feel sorry for my colleagues who had to put with me almost every week, playing anything including my orchestral excerpts!” But this volume of classes and performance opportunities gave Doug the confidence to perform in a way that he says he couldn’t have experienced at a university.

“There were so many incredible chamber music opportunities at ANAM – performing alongside world-class musicians such as Alban Gerhardt, Michael Collins and Anthony Marwood – these experiences truly helped me grow as a musician.”

Upon completing his time at ANAM, Doug moved to Hobart to take up casual work with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and later obtained a permanent position with the TSO in 2016. It was around this time, as Doug settled into this role, that the idea of making instruments resurfaced again. Setting himself up in a house with a workshop space, Doug began to reignite the flame that was lit by his grandfather many years before.

Shortly after, Doug established Coghill String Instruments, where he not only sells his own instruments, but also buys and sells quality European instruments both modern and historic. He is particularly passionate about “instrument networking”: matching the right instrument and the right bow with the right musician. “It’s so difficult to get good bows here in Australia, and I’m hoping to change that!” This instrument networking is not just about getting the right instrument to the musician, but requires careful setting up to achieve its optimal sound, and personalised adjustments to reduce player fatigue and injury. Doug considers the instrument’s purpose, as string instruments can be set up differently for solo, chamber or orchestral settings, and fine-tuning chin and shoulder rests to ergonomically fit the physique of the musician.

As his business expands, Doug continues to work at the TSO as an orchestral and chamber musician, and maintains that the balance between both his roles as a musician and luthier is pivotal to his success.

Words by Laura Panther (May 2024)
Image credit: Doug Coghill


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