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Image: Daniel Root

NUTCRACKER orchestra players aren’t the only ones tuning up their instruments this month. From November 6 to 8, more than 300 of the world’s best luthiers—artisans who make stringed instruments—will descend on Portland for the Violin Society of America’s international competition. Cellos, violas, violins, and bows will be appraised for design and tonal quality, and the winners will receive gold medals, the craft’s highest honor. Given the respected luthiers who call Portland home, it’s no surprise that this is the third time we’ll host the event. Guitar maker Jeffrey Elliott, whose six-strings start at $13,000, lives here, as does Paul Schuback, 62, who has made more than 145 violins in the 37 years he’s owned Paul Schuback’s Violin Shop. He’s also trained some of the luthiers competing this year. “Violins can’t be mass-produced,” Schuback says. “Every piece of wood is different, and you don’t know what you have till you get inside it.” But after a few weeks in the hands of a master like Schuback, every humble chunk of timber eventually renders its own tender tone.