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Playing Since: 2011

Experience Level: Just Startin'

[Jamming] [Socializing]

Occupation: United Methodist Pastor

Gender: Male

Age: 57

My Instruments:
Fiddle, Banjo, Clarinet and Tenor Saxophone.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Vassar Clements, Charlie Daniels, Alison Krauss, Roy Acuff, the Carter Family, the Dixie Chicks, John McCutcheon and too many others to name.

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Profile Info:
Visible to: Public
Created 2/27/2012
Last Visit 3/30/2012


My Grandfather Was A Luthier

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 @3:11:40 PM

John Hale's InstrumentsMy grandfather, on my mother's side, was John E. Hale. He was born in 1862 in Whitesburg, Tennessee. One of his earliest memories was of sitting on a split rail fence with his father, Samuel, holding him, together both of them watching the soldiers returning home from the Civil War.

Grandpa was the son and grandson of woodworkers. Even as a young boy he worked in his father's cabinet shop, learning the different types of wood and how to shape them to his purposes.

He and his extended family moved from Tennessee to Powell Valley, Virginia sometime in the early 1880s. Around 1890, Grandpa move to Wise, Virginia where he established his own business. Initially, he was head of a logging outfit and operated a saw mill. Wise County at that time, still had thousands of acres of virgin timber. So his saw mill processed some of the most beautiful hardwoods on the East Coast. He also ran a carpentry shop and made very fine furniture. In addition to all of this, he was a luthier - a maker of stringed instruments. He made and played violins, mandolins, banjos and other assorted instruments. Of all these, the fiddle was his favorite.

Around 1901, my grandfather had a terrible accident. He was in the midst of a divorce from his first wife, Emma, and was distracted by it even at work. One day, he lost the lower half of his right arm in the saw mill. Especially in the early 1900s, many would have been discouraged by such a disability, but Grandpa learned to adapt. He fashioned straps of leather and other contraptions so that he could attach his tools to the stump where he hand used to be. He continued his saw mill, furniture shop, and luthiering for many, many years afterward. He was not deterred in playing the fiddle either. He simply slipped his stump between the bow handle and the horse hair, playing away. One of his favorites was "Turkey in the Straw."

As I approach the beginning of my own musical journey with the fiddle, I hope that I have half the courage and determination that my grandfather had. May I be able to persevere through my own disability, even as he persevered through his own.

P.S. Note the instruments in the picture. There appears to be an octagonal banjo which he made. I wish that banjo was still in our family. Fortunately, I do have a fiddle of his. He made it in 1929, the year of my mother's birth. It is still in very good shape and has a beautiful sound.

12 comments on “My Grandfather Was A Luthier”

Bart Says:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 @3:46:38 PM

What a great way to honor your grandfather. Your story reminded me of my own great-grandfather, who lost his legs very close to the hip in a haying accident in the 1800's. He survived, and he worked in his brother's store after that, scooting around on a slick piece of leather fashioned to fit under his stumps. As you said, may you be able to persevere through your own disability, even as your grandfather, and my great-grandfather, persevered through theirs. Welcome to the FHO.
iSteve Says:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 @3:54:21 PM

Thanks, Bart - both for the welcome and also for sharing your great-grandfather's story. Nice to meet you.
Diane G Says:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 @4:18:10 PM

Hi Steve. That's a fantastic Fretted Dulcimer up in the top right corner that he made. Very fancy and unusual! Boy that should be in a museum!
Welcome to FHO.
Diane in SoCal
richdissmore Says:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 @4:30:54 PM

nice story your grad dad was a very good wood worker
iSteve Says:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 @4:53:25 PM

Thanks, Diane and Rich. It's a pleasure to be able to share my granfather's work with folks who appreciate his abilities.
nickc Says:
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @6:17:22 AM

What a wonderful photo and story Steve. Your clearly inspired by your grandad. That octagonal banjo looks fantastic too. I recently rescued my grandfather's old fiddle from my mums attic and i'm going to fix it up. He didn't make it and i don't think it's of high quality but i'm keen to hear it played again after what must be 70 years.
iSteve Says:
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @6:46:32 AM

Thanks, Nick. Good luck with the restoration of your grandfather's fiddle. No matter it's quality, it will mean everything to you. Peace.
mudbug Says:
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @12:26:05 PM

Great story, Stephen! What an honour to own one of his instruments. I'm sure that he's be proud that you're learning to play.
iSteve Says:
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @4:05:04 PM

Thanks, Steve. I sure hope he is.
fiddlepLuker Says:
Thursday, March 1, 2012 @7:13:14 AM

WOW! you sure do meet some cool folks around here! Steve, thank you for sharing your story and heritage. I bet you do fine with both instruments...
nancymae Says:
Friday, March 2, 2012 @11:47:19 AM

Thank you for sharing your story with FH!!! When you get discouraged on your fiddle journey, (and most of us do) just remember the determination that your grandfather had. What an amazing could be a movie!!!
paulinefiddle Says:
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @4:20:39 PM

Steve and Bart, you told some beautiful, inspiring, true stories. Thank you so much for sharing them. I will try to take inspiration from those determined men.

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