Zev Zalman “Z.Z.” Ludwick meticulously applies a piece on his latest violin. With power tools strewn on his work desk in the basement of his Silver Spring home, he repairs and builds from scratch string instruments, including violas, cellos and violins.
At 52, Ludwick is a luthier — an instrument craftsman — and a Breslov Chasid, as the followers of the late 18th century Rabbi Nachman are called. But this son of the owner of Brookville Supermarket in Chevy Chase was the bass player for the local heavy metal cover band SteelWynch in the 1980s.
“I have come full circle,” Ludwick says while stringing together one of his instruments.
The youngest of six kids, Ludwick learned to play violin when he was 8. For his ability with the instrument, he was ridiculed by the other kids, he says.
“I wanted to play drums, but my parents didn’t want me to have a drum kit,” he says.
He was drawn to the 1970s heavy metal bands Black Sabbath and Rush. “They were the ones who were creating supremely, highly trained music,” Ludwick says. “Their music was complex and intricate.”
He wanted to be a rock star. From violin, he moved to guitar. He skipped college and, at 19, started gigging around the Mid-Atlantic region as bass player for the five-man SteelWynch. He had an earring and grew his hair out long.
Ludwick says the group makes an appearance in the 1986 documentary “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” a cult film which takes place outside a Judas Priest concert in Landover.
By day he managed the Nut House kosher pizzeria in Wheaton.
Ludwick embraced the heavy-metal lifestyle as fully he would later embrace Chasidism. The former led to substance abuse, and financial and health problems. “Relationships for me were a dime a dozen,” he says.
“I had to change my life,” he says. He got married, had two daughters, and then was divorced after three years. A month later, he remarried.
By his mid-30s, Ludwick was at a spiritual and professional crossroads.
Things changed when he went to Israel for a nephew’s wedding. The chasidic family frowned upon their American relative who arrived sporting an earring and long hair.
“So I went to Jerusalem and went to the wedding, and they took me to the Ari’s mikvah in Tzfat,” Ludwick recalls, referring to the waters made famous by a 16th century master of Jewish mysticism.
“They say that whoever goes up to the mikvah will reach baal teshuvah [become newly religious]. When I came back from Israel, I decided I would start wearing a hat. Several months later, my father passed away. That’s when I had my moment of, ‘where am I going?’”
Ludwick knew he had to make his living from music in whatever way he could.
“I thought, I’m in love with music. I want a trade. Maybe I can learn how to build instruments. I went online and punched in the word ‘luthier.’ I saw an ad: [Potter Violins] was seeking a luthier.”
Company owner Dalton Potter hired Ludwick to work in the shipping department. Later, Potter offered his hire a four-year apprenticeship.
“Initially he let me string up rental equipment, and then I learned how to build from scratch new cellos and violins,” says
Ludwick, who went on to work at bass and violin shops in Maryland. “Ultimately, I wanted to be my own boss.”
“I got to watch him develop, which was a privilege,” says Potter, referring to Ludwick as “Robbie,” the name he used to go by. “I saw what a good player he was, and really had music in his soul. He was a person who presented himself as someone very bright, positive, and always looking for an opportunity. He is always seeking a better tomorrow.”
Last year Ludwick became his own boss. He opened Ludwick’s House of Violin in his basement workshop. “My main focus is to sell and build new instruments. I build violins from scratch. The repair gig is my way of paying the bills,” he says.
He still plays as a musician for hire, “mainly playing chasidic, especially Breslov music,” he says.
And as if defying his childhood tormentors, Ludwick has returned to his violin classes.