The Strad News – Scottish luthier Brian Rattray dies aged 93

Appreciated and talented luthier and repairer, Brian Rattray has died at the age of 83. Clientele at his studio, located in Colinton, south-west of Edinburgh, included Steven Isserlis, Alexa Butterworth and Leonard Friedman as well as respected traditional players Aly Bain and Marie Fielding.

He was born in Inverness and studied architecture at the Art College of Edinburgh. His professional career in architecture began in 1963 in Malmö, Sweden, when he signed a one-year contract with a firm there. He quickly developed a love for Scandinavian culture, architecture, music and language.

While in Malmö, Brian met English people who were planning a trip to India. He liked the idea so much that he quit his job and hitchhiked on the “hippie trail” from Sweden. He reached Pakistan at the time of the Indo-Pakistani conflict and, unable to cross the border, he traveled to Afghanistan via Karachi, stopping in Kuwait before returning to Sweden.

Brian and a friend started an architectural modeling business and he met his future wife Aili. At this time, his interest in violin making intensified when he heard Julian Bream lute songsleading him to build his first Renaissance lute.

His passion for instruments and music stayed with him and on his return to Scotland in 1979, shortly after Brian and Aili’s marriage, he took the plunge and became a professional luthier and repairer. His business in the picturesque village of Colinton was close to Water of Leith. He quickly developed a large clientele covering all areas of music. He proudly remembers undertaking an emergency repair for Eberhard Weber’s double bass before an Usher Hall concert.

Busy with bow repairs and alterations, he still found time to make at least one instrument each year. His output included modern and baroque violins (often after Gagliano) and violas. Players of his classical guitars include Francis and Lucy Cowan. He also made prawns and lutes on various models. Brian cited British manufacturers such as William Luff and Wilfred Saunders as influences. He was also passionate about the groundbreaking work of Simone Sacconi The “Secrets” of Stradivari.

He left the Colinton business when he retired in 2006, but continued to make occasional guitars from his new home in Cove, near the Scottish borders. He is survived by his wife and two sons.