Reid was born in Toronto, Canada in 1952. As a teenager he studied the double bass with Tom Monahan, planning to continue at the University of Toronto. His career path changed when he showed Monahan a bass he had repaired. Tom was impressed, and introduced him to Joseph Kun, a Czech violin and bowmaker who had immigrated to Ottawa with the Czech exodus in 1968. In Ottawa Reid followed an old style European apprenticeship with Kun, focusing primarily on bowmaking.
He ended his apprenticeship with a trip to Cremona, Italy, the home of Stradivarius and to this day the violin-making capital of the world. Upon his return to Canada in the mid-seventies, Reid set up his own shop in the Ottawa valley and began making bows. With his innate patience and attention to detail, his bows were of high quality right from the start. By this time, the students he had known at U of T had spread to symphonies throughout the world, and many of them became his first customers.
In 1980 Reid and his young family moved to rural Vancouver Island where he set up shop. His workshop in the forest allowed him to concentrate on making bows without the distractions of a storefront business.
Having been a string player himself, Reid knew that bows had to be more than just aesthetically pleasing. He knew string players needed bows that perform. Over the years, his ability to communicate with individual players has increased the playability of the bows and still helps him understand the needs of each player.
“Not every bow is right for every player,” he says. “It depends on their instrument and their personal playing style. Although we are talking about differences of tenths of grams, the weight of a bow, and particularly the balance, will make a big difference to the player.”
His traditional training in Kun’s shop helped develop his deep appreciation for the history of the craft. Even now, thirty years later, he stays close to the traditional methods, preferring to make his frogs and adjusters himself. But to a great extent, he sees these as just the working parts, while the spirit of each bow lives in the stick itself. His bows are made from rare, protected Brazilian pernambuco, a wood with a special combination of weight and spring that combines to make a lively, resonant stick. Early in his career, Reid studied the bows of many of the old makers and was particularly drawn to the work of Joseph Arthur Vigneron, on whose work his early bow styles were based.
In 1992 Reid was approached by the Canadian Museum of Civilization who wished to purchase a bow for their permanent collection in Ottawa. They also asked him to participate in their upcoming exhibition of Canadian instrument makers. For this he made a special series, a gold mounted quartet of bows. Made from a single board of his best wood, they are a perfectly matched set, the water-buffalo-horn frogs and the adjusters mounted with gold.
Reid makes gold mounted frogs for particularly good sticks, and decorates them with other materials, traditional and occasionally non-traditional. His sticks are wrapped in silver or gold wire, or sometimes in faux whalebone. Many of the traditional decorative materials are now protected and he is always looking for new, natural materials to use. As well the traditional ebony frogs, he makes frogs from translucent horn, and from mammoth tusk found in the Canadian arctic, which is comparable to the traditional ivory. Even pernambuco is becoming difficult to acquire, but luckily Reid acquired a lifetime supply early on in his career. Occasionally he also makes snakewood baroque bows.
Vancouver Island is one of the best sites on earth for large diameter maple and spruce trees, the wood needed to make stringed instruments. The search for perfect wood for instruments and bows has led him into a sideline business, providing wood for other instrument makers around the world.
Reid has taught week-long bowmaking workshops in Japan and the US.
Reid’s bows are played in symphonies around the world. He is particularly well represented in Canada, the United States, and England, as well as Scandinavia, Australia, Israel, and, increasingly, the Far East.