It was 25 years ago that Saga introduced Cremona Violins to the Domestic and International markets. Saga was the first American company to import musical instruments directly from China in the post World War II era. China has many of the raw materials to produce fine violins. Fine maple and spruce is available in the northeastern provinces that constitute Manchuria and also in the southwestern forests of Sichuan and Yunnan. But in the early 1980s, ebony was impossible to find in China. China’s currency was not convertible in international money markets so it was nearly impossible to import anything. In fact, most of the instruments being produced in the beginning did not warrant deluxe fittings, but as quality improved it came to the point where ebony pegs were being requested by our customers.
Now normally you would not think of San Francisco as being a source for exotic wood. We do have our share of exotic characters though, and wood dealers often fit that category very well. One such character had just returned from Madagascar, after pit stop in San Quentin, and was re-sawing ebony in the very same building where Saga Musical Instruments is now located. His specialty was guitar fingerboards and he had a pile of scrap a mile high. It was almost ready for the furnace when I put in a bid a became the proud owner of nearly two cubic meters of ebony… they were all small pieces but perfect for violin pegs and maybe even some chin rests and fingerboards. According to my calculations, we had enough material for about 1800 sets of pegs and off they went on my account on the slow boat to China. The factory could not pay for the ebony but promised that the pegs would only be used for our violins. It took a while but finally the first order of 300 ebony fitted violins arrived and they were sold instantly…
I patted myself on the back with both hands and re-ordered. Two weeks later I was in China visiting the factory and during the meeting the factory manager thanked me for the new order of violins and asked when I would send the ebony? But…but…but…well we all went out to the warehouse and of course it was gone. During the same visit I did my usual tour of music stores in China and found to my surprise that for the first time since the arrival of the Peoples Liberation Army, every store was well stocked with ebony violin pegs! It took a while but finally Cremona Violins became the best selling brand of student violins in the United States and are now sold in over 40 countries around the world. It is a good position, but we paid our dues!