In memory of Roger Johnson (1937-2021), co-founder of Johnson String Instrument

November 26, 2021, 3:29 PM Roger Johnson, co-founder of New England-based Johnson String Instrument, who died earlier this month at the age of 84, is known not only for his talents as a luthier and entrepreneur, but also as a painter , sculptor, guitarist and singer.

Born in 1937 in rural Hillsboro, Ohio, Roger Johnson was the youngest of 10 children in a farming family. Roger’s passion for music and making stringed instruments began at the age of 11, when he built two guitars, one of which won first prize at the Ohio State Fair.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University, Roger opened the Columbus Folk Music Center, where he continued to build and restore stringed instruments.


Roger Johnson, co-founder of Johnson String Instrument. Image courtesy of Johnson String Instrument.

He particularly enjoyed making dulcimers and banjos, learning himself how to carve delicate inlays for these instruments. He became widely known as a musician, singer, and instrument maker.

Shortly after moving to the Boston area, Roger, in partnership with his wife Carol, opened Johnson String Instrument (JSI) in 1976, in Newton, Massachusetts. JSI has made a point of using the same quality and the same care for its rental instruments as for its instruments for sale. Roger’s vision of providing personalized service and expertly installing rental instruments to students guides the family business to this day.

Roger has always been concerned with quality and has been a pioneer in bringing talented European manufacturers to the US market. Roger spent many years traveling across Europe to find exceptional instruments and bows in order to develop the Karl Mueller range of student instruments. JSI grew rapidly from a small storefront to its present scenic location in a historic mill overlooking the Charles River in Newton Upper Falls, Mass. Roger’s son, Adam Johnson, is now the owner of JSI.

In his later years, Roger pursued a myriad of projects that reflected his creativity and limitless entrepreneurial spirit. He spends his time evaluating violins, honing his painting skills and exploring other artistic mediums. He also developed simple practice violins for music programs in Haiti, which he hand delivered in 2018.

Roger is survived by his wife Carol, sons Danny, Adam and Matt and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in the spring. Donations can be made in Roger’s memory at No Kid Hungry.

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