Josiah strikes a chord as guitar maker
One of the first pieces Josiah Simons, 18, played on his new guitar was Lagrima.
Lagrima, which means tears in Spanish, seemed appropriate as the Spanish classical guitar he played was crafted by his own hand and represented months of blood, sweat and tears for him and his family.
Mr Simons, and his parents, Kim and Reginald Simons, moved to Florida when he was four and a half years old. He undertook the making of the guitar as part of his senior year honours project at Forest Lake Academy in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, halfway through the project, his father lost his job and the family decided to move back to Bermuda after his high school graduation.
To allow him to continue to take guitar-making lessons represented a financial sacrifice for the family, but his parents were determined to see him persevere.
“I got a guitar three years ago at Christmas and then started playing,” said Mr Simons said. “It was just a normal, acoustic string guitar. That was when my interest in guitars first started.”
In his junior year he wrote a paper on the history of guitars. Then in his senior year students were given the option of doing a final honours project.
He chose to construct a Spanish classical guitar because it has a different sound from an acoustic guitar, and is played differently. But the Simons family first had to find someone who would teach him how to make one.
They found Ken Bailey of Bailey's Acoustic Shop in Plant City, Florida. Mr Simons' parents had to alternate the three-hour drive once a week.
“Mr Bailey actually runs a shop,” said Mr Simons. “People come in several times a week for three hours to learn how to build their own guitars.”
Mr Simons said he was a little nervous about making the guitar when he first started, but he soon got over that feeling.
“You have to get everything perfect, but after awhile you get used to the detail,” he said. “The hardest part was getting the details correct and following the diagram and the building portion because you have to get everything in line and perfect.”
At one point, a side of the guitar was accidentally damaged, not by Mr Simons, but by the teacher.
“To bend the side you have to put it in a press with a heated blanket,” said Mr Simons. “It is slowly pressed into the right shape. My teacher forgot it, left it on and the side got burned. So we had to redo another side which was easy.”
To anyone who might have romantic notions about guitar building as stress relief, Mr Simons said he did not find this to be true.
“It wasn't really a stress relief because it was difficult,” he said. “The lessons took a huge chunk out of my school work time.”
When the classical guitar was finished he had to present it to the class and play a piece of music on it. His fellow students were stunned that he had built such a beautiful instrument.
“They were like ‘wow',” he said. “The guitar sounds amazing. I am very happy with it.”
His parents encouraged him to keep going with the guitar, because he was so passionate about it, but also because they thought it might look good on a college application. It turned out they were right. He won a scholarship from his high school for his honours presentation, which also included a research essay on the history of the guitar. He also graduated as a National Honours Student. In September, Mr Simons will start as a freshmen at Andrews University in Michigan, studying computer engineering. He also wants to take some music courses in college. He was one of five students at Andrews University to be selected for The Dare to Dream scholarship. The Dean of Andrews University called him personally to tell him he had been selected.
Mr Simons said he would like to continue building guitars as a hobby, but professionally, he's more interested in building computers.
“Obviously, building guitars and building computers are completely different,” he said, “but the level of detail required is about the same.”
Mr Simons will be back in Bermuda this summer and is currently looking for a summer job.
“I am hoping to get a job at a camp or day care,” he said. “I like little kids. I have done that a couple of times before. My aunt is looking right now since we are still up here packing to go back to Bermuda. I could also do an office job, carpentry, anything with computers. I'm open to just about anything, at the moment.”