Romanian String Section

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Today his business produces nearly 40,000 instruments annually--99% for export, with more than half going to the U.S. Only 20% are stamped with the Gliga label. The remainder are sold blank to wholesalers for distribution under other brand names, one reason Gliga remains relatively unknown.

But that could soon change. Two years ago, Vasile's son Cristian started a U.S.-sales operation based in Pasadena, Calif. It was easier than trying to break into the Old World European market. Says Stroe: "Europe is very conservative, but the U.S. is open minded. We receive orders from there for violins painted with cartoon characters, butterflies or flowers. It's a great way to attract children to play, and we respect that." American customers also do more shopping online, where Gliga-USA now sells its own branded instruments.

There's still a snob factor associated with violins, says Naomi Sadler, editor of the British magazine The Strad. "It's true that old Italian instruments are lovely, but some of the top makers today are also producing incredibly good instruments," she says. While most of the best players will use only an original Cremonese masterpiece, at least one world-famous violinist was impressed by a Gliga instrument. In a 1995 letter to Gliga, Yehudi Menuhin wrote, "Dear and very fine craftsman ... I shall treasure the instrument you made ..." At his headquarters in Reghin, Gliga displays the Menuhin letter with pride, convinced that the reputation of Transylvania as a center of violin-making excellence will eventually be acknowledged. And that maybe then he will be able to return to his workbench.

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