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A Special Guitar

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Blog entry by summerfi posted 02-27-2014 09:21 PM 931 reads 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A Special Guitar

Those of you who have read my past blog entries know that my family heritage and the tradition of woodworking passed down to me by my ancestors are very important to me. Some of my relatives came from the great tool making city of Sheffield, England, and many of those who found their way to America worked as carpenters, operated sawmills, or were fine craftsmen. My father, Seth Milton Summerfield, Jr., was not only the most recent of this line of woodworkers, but he was also the finest craftsman I’ve ever known. His passion in life was making fine acoustic stringed musical instruments. This blog entry is a tribute to him by featuring one of the many instruments he made – the one that in my opinion was the most beautiful of all. You can read more about Dad and his instruments on this web page that preserves his accomplishments for the world to see and enjoy for years to come.

So what is this instrument that I chose to feature in this blog entry, and why did I choose this time to pay tribute to my Dad? The instrument is a 12-string guitar that he made for his wife of 64 years, my Mom. And today is Dad’s birthday; if he were still alive he would be 103 years old today. Happy Birthday Dad!

Photo: Dad with some of his instruments.

Dad loved music from his earliest years, and our home was always filled with musical instruments. Dad played a variety of instruments, none of them well, and Mom accompanied him on the guitar. Most of their six children learned to play at least one instrument too. Being of Appalachian roots, though, the music we played was not the fancy classical or pop music you might think. It was old time mountain music, the kind that over time evolved into what we know today as Bluegrass. As a child I traveled around with Dad to all the Bluegrass festivals of the 1960’s, and I was privileged to see and hear most of the nationally known Bluegrass artists of the day. Dad’s shop was frequently filled with Bluegrass musicians having jam sessions or hoedowns. Dad, and sometimes Mom, would join in.

Photo: Dad and Mom playing music in his shop.

So now let’s get on with the guitar that I’d like to feature in this article. It’s a 12-string guitar with figured Koa back and sides. I cannot tell for sure in this photo, but I think the neck is mahogany. The heel is ebony. Dad didn’t make many guitars out of Koa, and I’m sure he chose this wood especially for Mom because of its beauty.

The top is spruce, probably Sitka. I live in the Rocky Mountains, and for many years I cut Englemann spruce and sent it to Dad to use in his instruments. I own a few of the instruments he built that incorporate spruce that I cut myself.

The mother of pearl and silver vine inlay in the ebony fingerboard of Mom’s guitar is especially beautiful. The vine inlay continues onto the peghead. The “S” at the top of the peghead was Dad’s trademark symbol. This peghead is overlain in ebony. The rosette around the sound hole is mother of pearl.

This is a picture of Mom holding her guitar.

And here is the guitar (left) alongside some of Dad’s other instruments. Mom’s guitar is now owned by one of my nephews who lives in Virginia, not far from where Mom and Dad lived.

Some of the pictures above aren’t the greatest because they are old and we didn’t have the best camera in those days. Still, I hope they give you a flavor of the quality of craftsman Dad was. In addition to 6- and 12-string steel string guitars, he built classical guitars, dobros, mandolins, banjos, and violins – a few hundred in all. I encourage you to visit his web page to read his biography and see more of the instruments he built. Dad has been gone nearly 18 years now, but he lives on in his instruments and the joy they bring to their owners.

Seth Milton Summerfield, Jr. (1911 – 1996)

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. ######################################################################### Note: If you are a visitor to this site (i.e. not a signed-in member of Lumberjocks) you may see advertisements linked to some of my text. These were not put there by me. They were added by the site owners to generate additional revenue. In my opinion, it is unethical for them to modify what I have written, but there is little I can do about it short of not using this site. #########################################################################

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad



18 comments so far

View chrisstef's profile

chrisstef

10845 posts in 1661 days


#1 posted 02-27-2014 09:34 PM

Bob – that’s a really interesting and wonderful tribute to your father. He was obviously an exquisite craftsman. Those guitars are absolutely gorgeous. I would have loved to sit in and listen to one of the jam sessions in his shop. Happy birthday Mr. Summerfield.

-- "there aren’t many hand tools as awe-inspiring as the #8 jointer. I mean, it just reeks of cast iron heft and hubris" - Smitty

View lysdexic's profile (online now)

lysdexic

4830 posts in 1278 days


#2 posted 02-27-2014 09:35 PM

Quality.

Quality instruments.
Quality heritage.
Quality post.

-- It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe. - Muhammad Ali

View terryR's profile

terryR

3112 posts in 963 days


#3 posted 02-27-2014 09:39 PM

Awesome, Bob. Thanks for sharing this part of yourself.
Your Dad was a great craftsman!
He left behind some keepers…yourself included!
:)

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View lysdexic's profile (online now)

lysdexic

4830 posts in 1278 days


#4 posted 02-27-2014 09:42 PM

Bob, have you made any musical instruments? If not, are you gonna?

-- It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe. - Muhammad Ali

View summerfi's profile

summerfi

1064 posts in 342 days


#5 posted 02-27-2014 09:55 PM

Scotty – I made 3 guitars, all in my late teens under the tutelage of my Dad. The third and best one I’ve kept all these years. It’s patterned after a Martin D-35, made from Brazilian rosewood. The second one is an interesting story. I sold it for $200 soon after completion, and never expected to see it again. A couple years ago I got an email from a man in Canada who had seen my Dad’s web site. He contacted me to say he had seen a Summerfield guitar on ebay, and wanted to let me know in case it was from my family. Lo and behold, it was MY guitar #2, that I hadn’t seen for 40 some years. I bought it. It’s not in good condition, but that doesn’t matter to me. It’s the history and sentimental value that counts.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad

View NinjaAssassin's profile

NinjaAssassin

400 posts in 379 days


#6 posted 02-27-2014 10:01 PM

Holy smokes Bob, that’s awesome!! You’re father was certainly an excellent luthier and craftsman. Look at that inlay! I love to read things like this. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

-- - Billy

View luv2learn's profile

luv2learn

1703 posts in 958 days


#7 posted 02-27-2014 10:09 PM

Bob, thanks for sharing your wonderful woodworking heritage with us. You are indeed fortunate to have been raised in an environment of music and craftsmanship.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View Slyy's profile

Slyy

1091 posts in 310 days


#8 posted 02-27-2014 11:06 PM

Bob, I really enjoy reading your posts regarding any of your items crafted and the tools used to craft them that come from your (obviously) storied and historied family background! What an absolutly wonderful read this was and I can’t thank you enough for sharing! I have to say: the inlay on that guitar is absolutely breathtaking, it’s beyond any shadow of doubt that your father was a masterfully talented craftsman and his love for his work is easily read in those things he created!
It’s so cool as well that you got back a “lost” guitar of your own! I don’t know how you feel about it, but would love to see a future write up of “The Guitars of Bob Summerfield” as well someday!

-- Jake -- "Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us." - Neil Degrasse Tyson

View lysdexic's profile (online now)

lysdexic

4830 posts in 1278 days


#9 posted 02-27-2014 11:17 PM

+1 on seeing your guitars sometime.

-- It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe. - Muhammad Ali

View Don W's profile

Don W

15030 posts in 1223 days


#10 posted 02-27-2014 11:33 PM

Very interesting Bob. Great heritage.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View NinjaAssassin's profile

NinjaAssassin

400 posts in 379 days


#11 posted 02-27-2014 11:59 PM

+2 on seeing your guitars sometime

-- - Billy

View Tim's profile

Tim

1268 posts in 616 days


#12 posted 02-28-2014 12:24 AM

Wow Bob that’s awesome, thanks for sharing. I’m impressed that you’re tracking down and cataloging each of the instruments he made.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2386 posts in 2093 days


#13 posted 02-28-2014 02:32 AM

Great post. I grew up similarly. A much older brother who was an old time fiddler from a family of old time fiddlers from Quebec. Now in Maine. He played sometimes 16 hrs a day. He loved it. I never played but had a passion for guitar. I learned and accompanied him ad nauseum until my fingers would bleed. I later attended and graduated from the Maine school of guitar making. I made instruments through my 20’s and sold them to put myself through college. They are still out there today and I see them once and awhile for a little work. My brother also played other tenor instruments, the mandolin, tenor guitar and 4 string banjo. He’s gone now but the music still rings in my head.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View BigRedKnothead's profile

BigRedKnothead

4986 posts in 637 days


#14 posted 02-28-2014 04:33 AM

Wonderful stuff Bob. Thanks for sharing.

-- Red -- "That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." W. Whitman

View shampeon's profile

shampeon

1377 posts in 838 days


#15 posted 03-01-2014 08:37 PM

Gorgeous guitars, Bob. Your dad was quite a craftsman, and I love that your mom and dad played bluegrass together.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

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