City stories: Miguel and Filipa's passion for manufacturing violins and bows for stringed instruments

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This is a story made of sounds and a great passion for the art of making stringed instruments. The protagonists are Miguel Mateus, one of the country's few luthier (fn.: term of French origin meaning professional specialised in the manufacturing, adjustment and repair of musical instruments), and Filipa Mateus, archetier (artisan specialised in the manufacturing and repair of bows for fretted string instruments). 'One can't live without the other', they confess.

The couple is completely dedicated to their workshop, a space they created in the city (at Rua da Torrinha, 228) more than two decades ago. It is already known throughout the country and beyond, largely thanks to social media and word of mouth. Here, the world is made of sounds, strings, 'soul' and many stories.

The latter start way back in the couple's family tree. Filipa's great-great-grandfather, Agostinho Pereira, was a violin maker at the old Casa Duarte, in Sé. 'We are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people from Ribeira, Sé and Miragaia', Miguel says. His great-great-grandfather was in the Royal Guard and played the cello.

'This is where the best sound in Porto is born'

The luthier's passion for this type of instrument was born when he was just seven years old. He received an unexpected offer from one of his father's friends, Philip Spitzer. Because he had helped him during the Overseas War, Spitzer decided to reward Mateus (his father) by allowing his son to choose whatever he wanted. 'In a room full of works of art, I grabbed the violin', the craftsman says.

Passion whetted his appetite for always wanting to know more. Self-taught, he learned the art of repairing stringed instruments, especially violins, on his own. He met Filipa and it was only a matter of time before they opened the workshop. Today, he regrets not starting it earlier. 'This is where the best sound in Porto is born', he says without any vanity.

It's an enchanted world, with bows, strings and horsehair”

At Oficina dos Violinos there are no imitations. There's always classical music in the air. It's an enchanted world with bows, strings and horsehair (we'll get to that). With open doors (you should ring the bell first), there is room for socialising and experimenting with musical instruments. There's also a workshop where Miguel and Filipa build, restore and rent out violins, even to those who can't afford one. 'There's always work to be done', Filipa says.

'Mateus' and the drops of Port wine

'The violins we sell are high-end and all made by me', the luthier from Porto says. He explains what he does: 'The body arrives built. It is then finished with varnish and all elements are assembled (pegs, core, strings). But there are also the 'Mateus Luthier', which were built here from start to finish'.

The latter take an average of two or three months to build. They carry a label that makes Miguel very proud: 'Portus Cale'. They can cost around five thousand euros.

What about Port wine? 'We're the only luthier to put drops of Port wine on the varnish', the craftsman reveals, confessing that the musicians who play his 'Mateus' are unanimous in saying: 'they are sweet instruments'. And he lets out a delighted smile.

Bows and horsehair

Strings, on the other hand, are Filipa's speciality. A bow can take around two weeks to make. A painstaking job that involves, among other things, choosing good... horsehair.

'They're the best product for a good bow. If I could, I'd use only Portuguese horsehair, but it's too thick and rough', the archetier remarks. She explains that for a good bow, the strands have to be very smooth, long and uniform, and 'that can only be achieved with horses that live at high altitudes, for example in Siberia, Mongolia or China'.


She reveals another detail: Female horsehair is lighter than that of male. 'It has everything to do with the urinary system. Horses urinate backwards, while mares urinate forwards. That's why their hair is lighter than theirs', she says.

It is in this symbiosis of work, between violins and strings, that Miguel and Filipa have built their "world'. They never get tired because they are always reinventing themselves. For example, even before the pandemic, in 2018, they implemented the online shop to help all their customers access quality accessories and instruments with just a few clicks.

What happens when a 'Mateus' or a bow is sold? 'It's a fantastic joy when an instrument or bow leaves. So when we see them playing at Teatro São Carlos or Casa da Música, it's fabulous', Miguel concludes, while Filipa holds in her hands another bow to make.