• Roger Siminoff on Writing "The Life and Work of Lloyd Allayre Loar"

    The Life and Work of Lloyd Allayre Loar

    The Life and Work of Lloyd Allayre Loar is the title of a forthcoming coffee table style book by Roger Siminoff with foreword by George Gruhn. With the book's release date just over a month away we caught up with the author hoping to glean a bit of additional information about the legend that was Lloyd Loar.

    What did you learn new about Loar in completing the book?

    I think I'd have to answer that by saying "richer," not necessarily "new." I had a pretty good sense of his life and work from information I've gathered over the years, but it wasn't until I had it all organized chronologically and started to connect the various documentation that things really fell into place. When the pieces of the puzzle were finally put together, there were a whole bunch of "ah ha" moments. For example, there's always been this question about when Loar left Gibson. When I finally realized that one document I had was his separation agreement, I was able to pinpoint the exact date. And, it fit precisely into where he was and what he did next.

    So, when did he leave Gibson?

    No cheating! You'll have to wait to read the book! (laughing)

    How long did it take you to write The Life and Work of Lloyd Allayre Loar?

    Well, my interest in Loar and Loar-signed mandolins goes back to the early 1970s when I was in a bluegrass band and first heard about a Loar-signed mandolin. Then when I started Pickin' Magazine back in 1974 - actually, Pickin' was in the works in early 1973, our first issue was in 1974 - I felt that Loar and Gibson would be important topics so I started to do a bit more digging. I tell the story in the book of how I found Loar's widow and how I connected with her, and I think most folks know that I cared for her in her elder years. Bertha was a wealth of information, and she really spiked my interest in finding out more about who Lloyd Loar was. So, getting back to your question, I've been collecting Lloyd Loar data for, well, 50 years now, I guess. During COVID, my wife Rosemary, who is also my amazing editor, and I decided to update three of my books, and when they were done we discussed finally going through all of my Loar documentation, getting it organized, and seeing if there was a story there. And, there sure was! As to how long it took, I began writing the text in the summer of 2021. With fact-checking, that Rosemary is a stickler on, we've gone through several manuscripts because discovering one piece of data led to a path of several more pieces of data, and it all just kept snowballing.

    You have already provided so much information about Loar in your website. Is there that much more?

    Oh my gosh. The story about Loar in my website pales in comparison to what I have in the book. I'm still considering whether to keep those web pages up or not. Appreciate for a moment that The Life and Work of Lloyd Allayre Loar is 200 pages and includes about 320 photographs and documents.

    Is there anything you learned that is different than what you knew before?

    Good question. Yes, quite a bit. I now have a lot of specifics about what he did at Gibson and when. So, not different, but more clear. And there was a banjo patent that I wrote about in Walter Carter's book Gibson Guitars — 100 Years of an American Icon that was, in my opinion, wrongly taken out of Loar's hands and a patent was filed by someone else at Gibson. And, there is much more information about his focus on tap tuning – which I consider to be one of his greatest contributions – for both the Master Model instruments and for his design work he did at Gulbransen Pianos in his later years. One key thing I learned is that I always thought that the Master Models were tap tuned a quarter-tone off of concert pitch by accident, and I say this in my books The Luthier's Handbook and The Art of Tap Tuning. But I was wrong. It wasn't an accident at all. When going through the data I was excited to learn that Loar's instruction to tune the Master Model instruments a quarter-tone off concert pitch was very intentional, and absolutely not an accident.

    Some of Lloyd Loar's Instruments

    A truck full of crates of Lloyd Loar's various instruments created over his lifetime. Photo courtesy Roger Siminoff.

    What was your biggest "ah ha" moment, if there was one?

    Hmmm. There were probably 50 "ah ha" moments, maybe more. And there were "ah ha" moments through the years and "ah ha" events doing the research for the book. Certainly, finding his personal F5 mandolin, which some of my friends call "Loar's Loar" was a rather big moment. Having Bertha give me Lloyd's August Diehl viola that he had Virzi install a Tone Producer in was a big moment. Discovering crates of Loar's keyboard instruments, amplifiers, and speakers was an amazing moment! In doing research for the book and connecting many documents, like Lewis William's letter to Lloyd outlining Loar's specific duties at Gibson was huge. Reading his employment closing confidentiality agreement with his date of termination was big. I mean, the whole process has been an "ah ha" moment. Okay, I'll share a little one you: it was interesting to learn that Lloyd played viola in the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and that Sylvo Reams, one of the original five Gibson founders did also!

    Where you able to learn the truth of why Loar left Gibson?

    I wasn't at Gibson in late 1924 so I can only go on supposition, but my supposition is fed by some pretty hard facts. Yes, I can say with confidence that I report the details of what surrounded why he left. I'm not trying to be coy, but you just have to read the Gibson chapter in the book to get the full background on why I believe he left, and what he did afterward.

    There have been several posts on the Cafe forum about whether Loar really tested and approved the Master Model instruments and signed the labels in them. Did you learn more about that?

    This has been a bit of a rat-hole, and as you know there are several folks like Tony Williamson, Dan Beimborn and Darryl Wolfe who have been doing some important work on this. I do know for sure exactly when Lloyd left Gibson, and I also know how many instruments were supposed to have been tested, approved, and labels signed by him after that date, when he wasn't even employed by Gibson — when he wasn't even there!

    I know you've spoke to a lot of people about Loar but did you interact with anyone who actually knew him?

    I think most Cafe readers know that I worked at Gibson and I was a consultant there from 1973 until 1988 when Gibson re-settled in Nashville. During that time I was in Kalamazoo almost monthly had the great pleasure of interacting with folks like Julius Bellson, who knew Lloyd but didn't actually work with him, and Ted McCarty who was Gibson's president in the 1960s. I did get a lot of info and documents from Julius and had the pleasure spending quite a bit of quality time with Julius. Ted had a small shop over near Kalamazoo airport and knew Lloyd well from their interactions when Ted was at Wurlitzer and Lloyd was trying to license some patents to Wurlitzer. And, of course there was Bertha, Lloyd's second wife, and I spent a great deal of time with her from 1974 until her death in 1999. My original contact at Northwestern University also remembered him.

    What do you think the greatest revelation will be for most readers in learning about the entirety of his life?

    My great hope is that they get a much better understanding of who Lloyd Loar was and what he accomplished. I'd really love this book to bring the readers as close to Lloyd as I've feel I've been. I'd also like to clear up some of the myths and make Lloyd's legacy real. George Gruhn wrote the foreword for the book and he commented on the hope of having the Loar's myths dispelled. Lloyd was a prominent musician, instrument designer, acoustical engineer, mechanical engineer, teacher, author, composer, violinist, symphony violist, mandolinist, and more. Looking at what he did for musical instruments I would have to place him in the ranks of a genius. Unfortunately for him, his time was much too early and his life was too short. If he had access to today's electronics and could mate them with his stringed instrument ideas, we'd all be playing and listening to some very different stuff. Most people who know the name "Lloyd Loar" today immediately connect him with Gibson. And a bunch of people still think he was a luthier, which he was not. But he was only at Gibson for a little over three of his 57 years. He did so much more in other areas. Another thing is that a lot of folks have closed their eyes and mind to the idea of tap tuning; for Loar, structural tuning was essential to building good sounding acoustic stringed instruments, including pianos!

    The title suggests the book covers his whole life.

    Yes, the story begins with his family and birth in Cropsey Illinois his early schooling, his early music, Lloyd's work and relationship with Sally Fisher Shipp, later schooling and studying overseas, his early presence in the music industry, how he started at Gibson and what he did there, the development of the Master Model instruments. That includes the F5 mandolin, H5 mandola, L5 guitar, K5 mando-cello, and Master Tone banjo with spring-loaded ball-bearing tone chamber, and what was behind his tuning ideas. And then, we look at his involvement with Virzi and the Virzi Tone Producer. And, of course his founding of ViVi-Tone along with his friend Lewis Williams. Then there's his professorship at Northwestern University, and his contracting with several other manufacturers, his patents, his second wife Bertha and the secrets she held, and his musical instruments. So, it is truly a story about his whole life and contribution to the world of music.

    You said the book is coming out in mid-July. Where will we be able to get a copy?

    Now you're going to make me sound like a salesman (laughs)! So, everything is going to the printer Monday, June 5. This is a soft-bound coffee-table book and it is 200 pages, ninety nine percent of the images are color so the printing and prep take a bit of time. I'm expecting to have books in hand the first week of July. We've asked folks to email me if they want to be on an announcement list, which I expect to send out the second or third week of June. At first, the books will only be available from us at www.siminoffbooks.com but I do hope to have them at dealers in the future.

    Where can they email you?

    They can just drop an email to siminoff@siminoff.net and put Loar book in the subject line.

    Additional Information

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
      grassrootphilosopher -
      How nice.

      @ Roger: Please keep the website up.

      It is not necessary to be complete. The website may function as an appetizer to your book. Use it as an advertizing vehicle.

      The website in itself is an interesting resource too. So please don´t take it down.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Here's the latest from Roger Siminoff's email list on the status of the book:

      I am excited to announce that The life and work of Lloyd Allayre Loar is currently in print production, and we expect to ship book orders on or about Monday, July 17, 2023.

      On July 1, 2023 we will begin accepting advance orders for The life and work of Lloyd Allayre Loar via our on-line store at: http://www.siminoffbooks.com. You can go directly to the book's order page by CLICKING HERE.

      The life and work of Lloyd Allayre Loar is 200 pages, 8-1/2˝x11˝, and contains more than 320 color photographs. We can ship in the U.S. via Priority Mail (about 3 days to most destinations) or Media Mail (about 5-6 days to most destinations) - your choice. International orders will ship via Priority Mail or First Class, and delivery times varies.

      Thank you for your request to be put on the announcement list - and thank you for your patience! I hope you find the content to be enlightening and rewarding.

      Any questions, please don’t hesitate to email or call.