‘All strings considered’ in Bob Gatts’ old world repair shop

Obligato Violin and Guitar Shop open for business in Lincoln 

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Bob Gatts, Lincoln, has been fixing violins, guitars and other stringed instruments since 1979. He worked out of his home in an area smaller than he would have liked. Someday, he knew he would build the shop of his dreams.

That day has arrived. Gatts remodeled his attached garage and it is now a replica of an old Italian violin shop, with both retail sales and a large work area where he is able to have several jobs going at once.

Gatts calls his business Obligato Violin and Guitar Shop. Obligato is a musical term which means “necessary for a good performance” in Italian.

Bob Gatts, owner of Obligato Violin and Guitar Shop in Lincoln, recently bought these violins during an estate sale. They hang in the window of his shop where he repairs all types of stringed instruments.

Bob Gatts, owner of Obligato Violin and Guitar Shop in Lincoln, recently bought these violins during an estate sale. They hang in the window of his shop where he repairs all types of stringed instruments.

Obligato is both a retail and a repair shop. When customers walk in, they see several violins, bows and other items for sale. There are also several autographed photos of famous violinists including Yo Yo Ma and Joshua Bell.

Gatts has a large variety of strings available, some handmade from Venice. He also sells rosins, some imported from Greece.

“I have been experimenting with making my own rosin from local spruce and tamarack trees,” he said.

Beyond the counter is his workshop, two rooms filled with tools, forms for violins, work counters and machinery. One of the work benches was purchased with a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council and the McKnight Foundation. It’s a special bench created just for instrument makers which came from Germany.

Gatts started playing instruments and singing at an early age. When performing with local bands, he played the violin, tenor sax or guitar. When necessary, he was able to rehair his violin bow, but had a tough time repairing the violin.

Bob Gatts sells, buys and repairs all types of stringed instruments from his newly-built shop in Lincoln.

Bob Gatts sells, buys and repairs all types of stringed instruments from his newly-built shop in Lincoln.

“I was a builder by trade,” he said. “I was used to working with hammers and large pieces of wood. When I tried to do more intricate work, my fingers didn’t want to cooperate.”

In the first days exploring this new talent, Gatts said he had several mentors to answer questions and be of assistance. Today, he does repair work for the Brainerd and the Motley Staples orchestras, the St. Francis Music Center, music stores,  private teachers and for individuals.

Most of Gatts’ customers come into Obligato to rehair their bows. But some require  him to fit a new bridge because it’s warped or broken or to fit friction pegs.

Gatts also works on both electric and acoustic guitars. He repairs broken heads and necks. He has even repaired harps and mandolins which have cross his threshold.

“All strings considered in my shop,” said Gatts, who also purchases no-longer-played stringed instruments from his customers.

In 1989, Gatts purchased the farm he currently lives on. At that time, he played in bands during the night and did repair work during the day. That is, when he wasn’t working on the farm.

When Gatts divorced and was raising his daughter, Bobbie, alone, he had the desire to work at home. He had a large garden and sheep to take care of. He was looking to the future when he could become as self-sustaining as possible.

Since he moved onto the farm, he started planning to build his shop. He picked up odds and ends from here and there, storing them for just the day when he could use them in the shop.

“The ceiling is from the upstairs of the old Red Bull Bar in Little Falls,” said Gatts, a self-proclaimed hoarder. “The walls came from a cabin at Cragun’s Resort that was torn down. Much of the shop came from recycled materials.”

The floor of the retail shop came from a 1919 schoolhouse and the trim work came from an 1880s home. Gatts picked up some old windows that needed reglazing and added some stained glass from an old railroad car.

“I am using the recycled materials to their best advantage,” he said.

On the farm was an old white pine tree that needed to be taken down. He had a traveling sawmill come to his home and cut a 20-inch wide, 4-inch thick plank from that tree and used it in the bowed window in the shop.

“My idea was to make the shop look like the 1920s or 1930s,” he said. “I like the old shellacked look of that era, and I achieved that. Lots of wood looks good in a violin shop.”

One of Gatts’ dreams is to be able to build violins. When he quit playing in bands and turned to repair work for his income, he thought he may have the time to do just that. But, that hasn’t happened yet; he is just too busy.

While he has a partially finished violin, Gatts has been able to finish a harp and a mandolin.

“I just need more time,” he said. “I can’t seem to catch up with the work.”

For more information, contact Gatts at (218) 575-2020.

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