111 N. Tejon St., suite 1
Tucked away in a downtown alley off Tejon Street is a simple, quiet workshop where one of the region’s few formally trained luthiers brings violins and cellos to life.
Juan Pablo Mijares has run his shop, Mijares Violins, in the same location for 25 years, a stone’s throw from downtown’s most popular restaurants and the hustle and bustle of busy streets. But few people outside the music world know that the shop is there — or that the Springs is home to a master luthier who studied under a world-renowned instrument maker.
It’s been kept a secret by design.
“If I had a lot of foot traffic, I couldn’t get any work done,” said Juan Pablo Mijares, owner of the store. “It takes hours and hours to create a violin or cello. If I had someone here to handle the walk-ins, that might be different.”
Mijares only builds a couple of violins or cellos a year, because creating the instruments consumes a vast amount of time.
“It takes about 500 hours for a single cello, about 200 for a violin,” he said.
If he had his way, that’s all he would do — craft unique instruments for the best players in Colorado Springs and around the world. But that wouldn’t pay the bills.
“Few people can afford — or really need — a custom-made violin or cello,” he said. “So we also work on repairing instruments — that can be wonderful. You can learn so much from seeing how others made the instruments.”
A custom-crafted violin could sell for as much as $10,000 and a cello for twice that much. So customers looking for handmade instruments are skilled musicians from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic or the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and sometimes the Colorado Youth Symphony.
“We’re not all about expensive instruments,” he said. “We want to foster the love of music, so we have inexpensive instruments for the first-time student, instruments that they can grow and develop with.”
Mijares teaches a class on the first Tuesday of each month for fledgling luthiers.
“Mostly they’re people who are into wood-working and thought it would be interesting to create their own instrument,” he said. “I just help out when they get stuck.”
That’s how Mijares got started.
As a boy in Barstow, Calif., he wanted a high-quality guitar. He couldn’t afford one, so he set about making his own. Using books and his own creativity, he soon had a guitar to rival those bought in stores.
And he was captivated.
“There’s something about making music on something you created,” he said. “It really comes alive. It’s like the instrument becomes a living, breathing creation.”
That first guitar led him to the Violin Making School of America, headed by luthier Peter Prier, who became not only a teacher, but also a lifelong mentor.
“He taught me everything,” Mijares said. “Not just how to create beautiful instruments, but about customer service, about how to have a business, everything. He’s been my teacher beyond the classroom.”
The Violin Making School of America isn’t a typical college, Mijares said. He didn’t study politics or geometry. It was four years of instrument building, art and music.
“It was very intense, very focused,” he said. “They only take five students a year.”
After leaving the school, Mijares studied at Brigham Young University in Utah and oversaw its collection of fine stringed instruments. He then moved on to work at two different stores before deciding to strike out on his own.
That’s when he decided on Colorado Springs.
“We love Colorado Springs, we love the mountains, the clean air,” he said. “It was between here and Eugene, Ore., and we decided to move here. We haven’t regretted it.”
He bought the building at 111 N. Tejon St., and rents out the front to jeweler Jack Miller. Mijares’ shop is at the back of the building.
Clearly, instrument making is more than a business for Mijares. It’s a way to marry his passion for music and his livelihood. He even dreams of starting a musical and cultural center in Colorado Springs.
But if he does, it might also be quietly tucked away in a quiet corner of the city.
“The people who need us, know where to find us,” he said.