Author: Varner, Mark

2009 IBMA award nominee Roger Siminoff
One of our own has been nominated for an IBMA award at this year’s ceremonies in Nashville. The author of the CBA’s Bluegrass Breakdown’s monthly Luthier’s Corner column, Roger Siminoff, has been nominated as Print Media Personality of the Year. This award recognizes outstanding service to bluegrass music in the field of print media and journalism. The recipient must be judged by the committee for their:

Contributions to the field of endeavor
Work in their community
Demonstrated ability to foster bluegrass music's image.

Because this is not a lifetime achievement award, longevity of service alone is not a factor.

Past recipients of the IBMA’s Print Media Person of the Year include:
Chris Stuart - 2008, John Lawless & Brance Gillihan, The Bluegrass Blog – 2007. Bob Black – 2006, Stephanie P. Ledgin – 2005, Thomas Goldsmith – 2004, Wade Jessen – 2003, David Royko – 2002, Richard D. Smith – 2001, Jon Weisberger – 2000, Walt Saunders – 1999, Saburo Watanabe Inoue – 1998, Murphy Henry – 1997, Wayne Bledsoe – 1996, Frank Godbey – 1995, John Wright – 1994, Edward Morris – 1993, Hub Nitchie – 1992, Peter V. Kuykendall – 1991, Art Menius 1990.

Other nominees this year are Tom Adams, Banjo Newsletter and Dan Miller, Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. So Roger is in very good company!

Roger Siminoff’s early interests in music, industrial design, and mechanical science have remained with him today, tempered with his other pursuits of luthiery, sailing, writing, graphics, teaching, and more. This eclectic combination has taken him down many exciting paths.

Siminoff’s initial attraction to mechanical things was prompted by his family’s printing business, which he began managing when he was a high school senior. The intricacies of the photomechanical processes especially caught his eye, and at the age of 17 he monopolized the family garage to build a 12' long process camera capable of producing 24" x 24" film negatives.

At age 21, Siminoff designed and hand-built the prototype of an offset press which printed the face and flap (at the same time) of envelopes at 18,000 impressions per hour. This design was licensed to the Southworth Machine Company of Portland, Maine.

Siminoff's early music projects included a pedal steel guitar with linkage derived from model airplane parts, followed by a complete five-string banjo. After that, he produced numerous five-string banjo necks to convert four-string instruments to the popular five-string bluegrass models. By the early 1960s, Siminoff was building custom banjo necks and parts for the musicians in the New York metropolitan area. Before the end of the decade his mail-order parts business, Siminoff Banjos, was providing banjo and mandolin parts to instrument makers around the world. Having branched out into building mandolins in early 1970, Siminoff conceived and build special carving machines to do the exact shaping of instrument necks, and mandolin soundboards and backboards. After a diligent study into the techniques of bending wood, Siminoff built a unique steam chamber to bend the wood for banjo rims..

Although Siminoff has focused mainly on banjos and mandolins, he has crafted both acoustic and electric guitars. Today, his work is mainly geared towards the production of mandolin kits and parts. But, sharing the workbench is a prototype of his design for a valveless gasoline engine which eliminates the need for a cam, valves, keepers, springs, push rods, and rocker arms.

After attending Parsons School of Design (New York City) where he majored in industrial design, and spending eight months on active duty in the Air Force Reserve, Siminoff and close friend Alan Kesselhaut started Dimension Studios. Their intention was to provide graphic arts services for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies in surrounding Morris County, New Jersey. Within a few years they won the business of several accounts and provided design, photo-type, photography, cinematography, retouching, prototype packaging, color prints, mural prints, commercial printing, and related services to major companies including Warner Lambert, Mennen Company, Ciba, Hoffman LaRoche, and more. Siminoff’s early interest and talent in making things served him well when he and his partner added photography to their list of crafts. Roger built a 4" x 5" lens/bellows camera, and the team used it for several years years to build their business before buying a commercial camera. In 1967, Siminoff and Kesselhaut opened a photo processing service, ColorLab, primarily to support their own photo processing needs and provide overnight delivery of their photographic art. ColorLab was a full-service color and black-and-white facility for print, transparency, and dye transfer technologies. Later in 1969, they took their company public under the name Universal Graphics, Inc. and expanded the organization into a high-power graphics, photography, printing, imaging, and advertising conglomerate that soon boasted a strong reputation in the New York metropolitan area.

With creative design, graphic production, and print facilities readily available to him, Siminoff channeled his banjo hobby expertise into writing an instru-ction book for bluegrass banjo playing entitled 5-String Banjo, Bluegrass Style, 1972. Colonial Press, the printing division of Universal Graphics, Inc., produced the book and the publication quickly became a success. A bound-in offer triggered the creation of Siminoff's next publication: a monthly music magazine that focused on bluegrass and old-time country music. In February 1974, Pickin’ Magazine made its debut, and within three years it was hailed as the most influential publication of its kind.

5-String Banjo Theory, Bluegrass Style and Frets Magazine 5-String Banjo Theory, Bluegrass Style was Siminoff's first venture into publishing. Using it as a tickler, they drove the distribution through several outlets both domestically and abroad. An offer inside enticed readers to subscribe to Pickin' Magazine, which launched in 1974. In three short years, Pickin' grew to over 25,000 subscribers and became a primary vehicle for readers to learn how to play, build, and sing. Advertisers were quickly driven to this magazine. In 1979, Siminoff started Frets Magazine.

As Siminoff’s interest is music and publishing grew so did his designs, patents (see Siminoff's Patents), consulting, and writing (see Siminoff's Bibliography). Two such inventions that were patented and licensed were a guitar tuning knob with a fold-out, fast-wind crank, licensed to Gibson and dubbed the "CRANK," and a method to change instrument strings without cutting, twisting, or knotting them (a string with a special pin at its peghead end), licensed to Gibson under the name "GRABBERS." Siminoff was a consultant to Gibson for almost 16 years, and aldo consulted to several other instrument manufacturers where he was responsible for the development of special hand-finishing techniques, improved structural and acoustical designs, production machining and pattern-carving of wood parts, string winding, and tensioning. Siminoff has authored several hundred articles on instrument construction and repair, musical acoustics, performers, and the history and craftsmanship of musical instruments. Other Patents include a truss rod system, a component guitar system, and a universal tuning machine mount. Siminoff has also done extensive research on the life and works of Lloyd Loar and Orville Gibson and is considered to be the world authority on these reknowned creators of stringed musical instruments. His latest work, The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual was released by Hal Leonard Publishing in March, 2004. (see Siminoff Books)

In 1979, Siminoff was invited to join GPI Publications in Cupertino, California to launch FRETS Magazine. As the magazine’s founding editor, Siminoff helped build FRETS into a viable acoustic music publication
Posted:  8/17/2009

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