Roger H. Siminoff’s early interests in music, industrial design, and mechanical science have remained with him today, tempered with his other pursuits of luthierie, 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.
Siminoff built this 24″ process camera from scrap and custom-made parts. The only true camera component was a 24″ f.l. Kodak apochromatic lens. He fabricated the bellows from cardboard and tape, and a vacuum cleaner was used for the camera’s vacuum-back. Siminoff’s camera was put to the test six days a week and was used to generate film and separations for his printing and graphics company for almost two years. It was later replaced by a Brown 30″ and Consolidated 24″ camera, with separations moving on to an early Hell drum scanner.
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.
This prototype offset press was a remake of the Southworth rubber-plate letterpress. Siminoff hand-build the prototype of this offset design and it was capable of printing both the face and flap of mailing envelopes at higher speeds than Southworth achieved with their standard system. The development was done under contract with Southworth Machine Company. As other highly competitive devices were coming onto the market at the time, this working prototype never fostered full production of an offset model.
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.
Roger made this pedal steel guitar for Hank Miller, a guitar player in his band The Orange Mountain Boys (ca: 1958). It had three pedals that would connect to any of the six strings to control pitch-bending through T-shaped model airplane bell cranks. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Ward, Copyright © 2011, all rights reserved.)
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.
Siminoff (r,) and partner Alan Kesselhaut in 1965. Medical and cosmetic photography became a major focus for their graphic arts business. In the area of cinematography, they produced several TV commercials, and industrial films. In order to better server their clients, and to process their films promptly, they started a color processing service called ColorLab that provided a broad scope of services including Ektachrome and Ektacolor processing, proofs, C-prints to 30″x40″, mural prints, and dye transfer color masters.
With creative design, graphic production, and print facilities readily available to him, Siminoff channeled his banjo hobby expertise into writing an instruction 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 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 was responsible for the development of the F5L mandolin (see: “The F-5L Mandolin: a turning point in the history of Gibson’s acoustic string instruments” Mandolin Cafe, May 9, 2010). He also 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 renowned 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 with an international circulation of more than 35,000 within a two-and a-half year period.
FRETS was Siminoff’s next publishing venture, this time under the umbrella of GPI (publishers of Guitar Player and Keyboard Magazines). In 1979, Siminoff sold Pickin’ Magazine to a New York Publisher and was invited to California to start FRETS. In 1980, Siminoff and GPI’s Publisher, Jim Crockett, went to New York to acquire Pickin’ and merge it into FRETS. FRETS continued in publication until 1988 when GPI was purchased by another company (who, having little regard for FRETS’ high renewal rate and devoted following, ceased publication).
In the late 1980s, after FRETS ceased publication, Siminoff created a marine service company called Boatdocktor, performing specialized repair and maintenance services for boaters in the San Francisco Bay area. His infatuation with sailing spans more than 35 years from his first encounter with a Sunfish (sailboat design) off the coast of Cape Cod. His experience grew through racing and cruising on a wide array of boats. Leaning on his writing talents, Siminoff decided to share ideas learned from his many years of sailing on both coasts and in the Caribbean in his book, Boating 101. Siminoff has also written articles for Yachting Magazine and the Pearson Log. The pinnacle of his sailing career was reached when he was called upon by Peter Chesney, a special effects consultant to Universal Studios, to develop the navigational gear to be used in the movie Waterworld. His current vessel Bolero, a 323 (33′) Pearson, is highly customized and fitted out, including two handmade spinnakers, and displaying the artistry and crafts work of its skipper.
In 1988, the magic of the computer lured Siminoff in another direction where he sought to understand the contribution this technology could make to the world of music and publishing. In this area Siminoff has held a number of key positions including division president of North American Publishing, associate publisher for GPI Publications, vice president sales and marketing with CYMaK Technologies, vice president sales and marketing for Digital F/X, senior market develop manager for Radius, Inc., and director of worldwide marketing for Silicon Graphics. Siminoff’s last fling in graphic arts was as Apple Computer’s senior marketing manager for the professional creative markets where he specialized in color technologies.
Siminoff sits on the board of several organizations including California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) Graphic Communication Advisory Board, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Technology Council, Mission College Graphic Arts Advisory Board, and the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA) Advisory Board. Further to his credentials, Siminoff serves as a part-time Research Professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (CA) where he has been teaching a class in “Emerging Digital Technologies” since 1995.
Today, Siminoff devotes his full attention to luthierie and the production of mandolin kits, banjo and mandolin parts, and authoring various texts and monthly columns on musical instrument construction.
Siminoff’s latest book, The Art of Tap Tuning, is his 11th published text and features a 50-minute DVD that fully explains the process of adjusting the structure of acoustic stringed instruments to improve their sound.
When away from the sawdust, Roger and his wife Rosemary can be found at bluegrass festivals or on Bolero, exploring the waters and tributaries of San Francisco Bay.
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© Copyright 2006 Roger Siminoff. Reproduction or use in whole or in part only by written permission of Roger H. Siminoff.