Early on a on a crisp March market day, Cremona’s Piazza del Comune is already alive with activity. What would the citizens of the 16th and 17th centuries, the people who lived in this small, orderly, Italian city, have made of the stalls selling mobile phones, sneakers and jeans? Antonio Stradivari seems unfazed by it all, his statue standing tall above the square, as he shows a violin to his young companion.

Good Vibrations Luthier Roberto Cavagnoli’s Workbench. Photo © Janet Wilson

Although the name Stradivarius stands out as the epitome of quality violin making, Italy’s entire Lombardy region was the home of many ‘Golden Age’ string instrument makers.

A line traced across northern Italy from Turin to Milan to Brescia, and touching Palma, Piacenza and Cremona, passes through areas that have been renowned for excellence in the art of string instrument making since the 16th century when Andrea Amati defined the modern violin family. His method of construction, the materials used, and the shape and size of the instruments remain the basis of string instrument making today.

A network of narrow cobbled streets that house the workshops of dozens of luthiers fans out from...