Despiau Chevalets, a combination of love for wood and music

Ever since the ‘80s, the name Despiau Chevalets has been synonymous with bridges. The French company, based in Gimont, in the south-western side of the country, has been producing these fundamental pieces of wood since Jean-Louis Despiau inherited the family’s sawmill, and had the idea to combine his passion for wood with his love for music (he was also a viola player). In few years the family business became international, as Nicolas Despiau (Jean-Louis’s son) remembers: “Jean-Louis was joined in 1986 by his oldest son Pierre-Jean, followed by me, his youngest son, in 1999, in this adventure which has led us to the world market of string instruments.”

At Despiau, it all starts with the tree. They select 300-hundred-year-old maples in the forests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. An essential choice, a combination of pure intuition and skill that leads them to the wood that will carry the sound; because music is already in the wood for those who care to listen: “The bridge is a combination between wood expertise and knowledge of design, two levers we use to meet the criteria of the luthiers. This is why we, at Despiau Chevalets, take to heart our responsibility to be highly connected with the forest trees as well as the design of our models, in order to work closely with the violin makers”, Nicolas Despiau said.

“We never buy trees for aesthetics or productivity reasons. We prefer to assess the tree’s capacity to drive the string vibrations, as we consider the bridge as a filter. A best sounding bridge also depends on our capacity to listen to and understand well the violin makers’ needs when they explain their expectations in terms of the sound they are looking for. We can combine wood selection with bridge design to help optimize the results. And in some cases, a customized bridge might be the best solution”.

Despiau also helps violin makers to develop personalized products: “We do collaborate with a lot of violin makers from all around the world and assist them with customized bridges developed specifically according to their requirements and based on our knowledge of wood selection too. Cutting a bridge takes time and is never easy, we deliver a semi-finished product as the violin makers require extra wood to cut where they need and where they want. Each millimeter of a bridge is highly important as the removal of the smallest wood shaving has an impact on the final sound. The bridge is part of that sound-making chain and thanks to its specificity it can help the violin maker get the most suitable sound according to the wishes of the musician”.

Despiau will attend Cremona Musica in 2018, as they did in the past editions, since 1999: “It is an important indicator for us of our ability to be in tune with the market needs. It is also exciting to speak with everyone, from students to master luthiers, to share our point of view on wood quality, properties, design of bridge models… For us, nothing can ever be taken for granted in the search for the best quality: we must remain humble to find out if our products meet the expectations of luthiers and this edition will offer us the wonderful opportunity to meet them from all over world”.