1. what events in your early life got you intersted in music?
When I was in high school, I was part of several music clubs, playing any instrument I could get my hands on! I became serious about actually studying music in late high school and eventually attended the Oberlin Conservatory for harmony, music theory, counterpoint, and piano, among other things (siminoff). Besides piano and elements of theory, I was an avid player of several other instruments, including mandolin, mandola, violin, and viola. I even toured as a performer in Gibson's Fisher-Shipp concert company in my 20's.
While in high school, I was very interested in mathematics and music. These two vocations of mine came together when I made my first mandolin. It was rough, but it served me well enough until I bought a Gibson F-2 three point (siminoff). This instrument got me into the Fisher-Shipp orchestra as the principal mandolinist.
2. What roles did mentors play in your development as a musician?
While in college, I had some amazing teachers. I was a performer for the Y.M.C.A. in World War 1, and I had a chance to study with the great Paul Vidal, then the professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Paris (siminoff). He was probably the biggest influence in my composition. He won the Prix de Rome a year before Claude Debussy did! (siminoff).
3. What was lutherie like when you entered the field?
When I became Gibson’s acoustical engineer in 1919, they were making good instruments, but there was no science behind them. I soon introduced my own instruments, which I had studied and tuned carefully. In mandolin construction, one has to tune the plates to a certain frequency to attain optimum resonance of the instrument. I pioneered the process of tap tuning, where one continually “taps” the plate of the instrument to produce a tuned sound, like a xylophone. If one tunes all the parts of the instruments to the same frequency, the instrument is incredibly responsive and sustained. I tuned my mandolins to 440 Hz, which is concert pitch (siminoff)
No one had used this process in mandolins before, and the result was stunning. My mandolins quickly became regarded as the finest ever made. The secret behind their construction was tap tuning. Also, several violin aspects were included in their construction, namely the introduction of f-shaped soundholes (john).
4. How did culture, economy, and politics influence your work?
In 1918 I joined the Y.M.C.A. as a concert entertainer in support of the war effort.
I learned a lot on that trip having studied with Paul Vidal (as I said earlier), a master French composer. I also really enjoyed playing for the soldiers, they seemed to enjoy it.
As for political, I wasn’t much interested in that field, and economics was an obtuse influence. One thing that did annoy me about economics is that Gibson denounced my plans for an electric instrument because there wasn’t a market for them! Hypocrites…(siminoff)
5. What were your methods and major accomplishments?
Oh, so many choices! I guess I have to choose from the instruments I made… and that will be…. Ah! My electric viola! It was my favorite of all the instruments I owned. I had a solid maple body with one single coil pickup, and it could outplay even the loudest trumpet!
As for the methods I used, I employed honed violin carving methods in my mandolin construction (deacon). I first copied lines onto the board of wood, and points where should use my caliper to measure the thickness of the wood. There are about 45 points where I measure for thickness (Minarovic). I do this because if a part of a mandolin is carved too thickly, the instrument is quiet and “tubby” sounding. If the plates are carved too thickly, the mandolin will implode under the tension of the strings! That would not be good.
6. What were the key opportunities you had that were turning points in your life as a musician?
As I said earlier, when I made my first mandolin, that shaped the rest of my life. It gave me the opportunity to have other opportunities! For example, when the Fisher-Shipp concert company came to town, (because I played mandolin) I met my first wife, and I became part of a prestigious touring band! This instrument provided many opportunities to me.
When I made the decision to go over into Europe as a concert entertainer, I did not anticipate meeting and learning from an amazing professor of composition. It was definitely a bonus to study with someone who was close friends with Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, and other famous French Musicians (siminoff).
7. What personal choices did you make to become successful?
I think the most important choice I made involving my success as an instrument designer and acoustical engineer was that of going to the Oberlin Conservatory for all those subjects I mentioned earlier. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of music both esthetically and mathematically. That decision was the reason I was so successful in my job at Gibson, and my tenure at Northwestern University.
8. What obstacles did you have to overcome in your life to be so revolutionary in instrument design?
The biggest roadblock I faced was after my time at Gibson, or more like at the very end of it. There was some shifting around of the management, and when I presented some of my ideas about electric instruments to the new management, they rejected them, claiming that there was no market for them (siminoff). The interesting thing was, is that 30 years later, the same company produced some of the best electric guitars ever made.
After my power struggle with Gibson, I left and started teaching the science of acoustics at Northwestern University (siminoff). I had 13 years there, teaching college students in the summer. None of them seemed very interested! There was one student though, who enjoyed my class and listened intently. Her name was Bertha Snyder, and she was to become my second wife (siminoff).
9. What kind of limitations did you face as an artist?
I didn’t come from much, my family was an unremarkable farming family in Peoria, Illinois. I had to really work to go to college, saving money wherever I could to attend the incredibly expensive Oberlin Conservatory! It was worth it though. I love my family, but they can be a bit simple at times and I was glad to amount to more than a farmer.
10. What personal stories best illustrate how you became successful in the arts?
I remember when I was in the Y.M.C.A. as a concert entertainer, and one day, there was a cold snap. The rest of the performers and I were held in tents, so it was not much warmer in the tent than it was in the frigid air outside. The cold caused cracks to develop in the wooden instruments that the entertainers owned. They were so angry! If you play music, you know what it feels like to be worried about your instrument…. Anyway, I got to work using what I had and my knowledge of string instruments to fix them.
One of the musicians, a man by the name of Felix Borowski, had some tools on hand. I used these to set cracks in almost 30 instruments! Once my repairs were dry, the musicians threw me a party in thanks, and they all played on their instruments. Some even said they sounded better than before! I was so glad I could help, cracks and other unsightly wooden instrument repairs are the bane of my existence.
Siminoff, Roger. "Lloyd Allayre Loar, 1886-1943."Siminoff banjo and mandolin. 2007. Roger H. Siminoff, Web. 4 Mar 2010.
cafe, mandolin. "Lloyd Loar." Mandolin Cafe. Scott Tichenor, Web. 7 Mar 2010.
John , Smith. "Lloyd Loar-HistoryWiki." HistoryWiki. 18 1 2008. HistoryWiki, Web. 8 Mar 2010.
Deacon, Bob. "F5 Mandolin Construction- Carving Boards." F5 Mandolin Construction. 11 5 2008. Bob Deacon, Web. 8 Mar 2010.
Minarovic , Adrian. Lloyd Loar Mandolin Blueprints. Lansing, Michigan: 2006. Print.
Note: this citation is of a blueprint for mandolin plans. I could not find a citation method for blueprints, so I cited it as a book. Please forgive any inaccuracies that may be a result of this.