Pete Hart Makes Beautiful Music

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Pete Hart

Guysville, Ohio, resident Myron “Pete” Hart not only plays the mandolin, he makes them as well. The good-humored lead singer of The Hart Brothers band, formed in 1979 with brothers Heamon “Tib” Hart and Arman “Sam” Hart, Pete is a sought-after luthier in addition to being a talented musician and vocalist.

The Hart Brothers have played their “modern traditional bluegrass” throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and as far as Colorado, Illinois and Missouri. Sam passed away in 1983, but their music has continued with Pete, Tib, Jesse Jeffries and Dave Winters currently making up the four-piece band.

Hart started building his first mandolin in the winter of 1982, completing it in 1983 after his brother died. “I wanted an F-model and couldn’t afford to buy one,” he shared. “At that time, I didn’t feel I was a good enough player to invest in one.” Fellow musician and luthier R. S. “Bob” White mentored Hart on building his first few musical instruments.

His “Buckeye” mandolins are built by hand in Hart’s small basement workshop at his home he shares with wife Linda.“We call our place Woodside Acres since we live near the woods, so I call my shop Woodside Instruments,” he said. Hart typically only works on mandolins from November to May, taking some time out to head to Florida for a few weeks each year. “This gives me something to do in the winter,” he explained, “and allows us to take out our motor home, go play and enjoy this country the rest of the year.” 

Though Hart never advertises his business and considers his craft “just a fun hobby,” nearly every instrument he makes has been spoken for months in advance. “I still know where most of them are,” he said.

“The wood has never had music in it. All acoustic instruments are like that.” – Pete Hart

Hart uses curly maple for the backs, sides and necks of his “Buckeyes” and uses one of three types of wood for the tops – European spruce, Carpathian spruce, or Adirondack spruce. Each of the woods creates a slightly different sound. According to Hart, the Carpathian spruce loosens up quicker after playing it than Adirondack (red spruce), “The wood has never had music in it,” he explained. “All acoustic instruments are like that.”

Pete Hart

The composite photo (left) shows a mandolin top cut out and ready to be glued to the back and sides. On the underside of the top piece are tone bars, which Hart said act as a brace to stiffen the top, but more importantly, they help distribute the tone throughout the top of the instrument.  The dark wood seen inside the back is mahogany, used for the neck joint and the two decorative points on the bottom edge of the mandolin. Hart sets the neck joint in with a tapered dovetail.

The small pieces shown around the sides and bottom in the photo at left are kerfing, or lining, which is glued in around the rim to help hold the top and back on. Later, when the binding step is done, Hart removes and reveals part of this kerfing with a Dremel tool and special bit from Stewart MacDonald to cut the groove. When completed, this gives the mandolin its “outline.”

He also hand-cuts the inlay on the peghead of each instrument, using a jeweler’s saw to create the floral pattern in abalone and black pearl. Each of his inlay designs has subtle differences, as they are freehanded first. He uses a router base to adjust the depth as needed for the inlay pieces. A company in Austin, Texas, does “The Buckeye” signature on each piece.(Photo middle)

Hart has an outside building he uses for finish work. “Linda kicked me out of the basement,” Hart laughed. “The lacquer gets pretty smelly.” This process requires Hart to wear a painter’s mask with charcoal filters, so no odors come through.  Photo at right shows two mandolins in stages of finishing. The mandolin in the smaller inset photo shows the curl being revealed in the wood after wetting with water. The larger photo shows a finished mandolin back. This process includes the addition a dark, water stain, which enhances the curly maple’s grain. Hart sands some of it off and adds a lighter, amber stain in the middle, feathering it to the edges, to achieve the sunburst effect. “That’s when you really see that curl dancing in the wood,” Hart beams.

Once he achieves the color and look he wants, he follows with the hand application of a sealer, and finally, he sprays on a nitrocellulose, moisture-resistant, instrument-style lacquer. That is rubbed out and buffed for the final satin sheen, and another Buckeye is born.

Pete Hart

After applying stain and finish, “That’s when you really see that curl dancing in the wood.” – Pete Hart

The Woodside Instruments workshop houses both power tools and hand tools, including some specialized tools Hart made for specific jobs for his mandolin-making.  “And lots and lots of  clamps,” Hart said. He built a caliper out of aircraft aluminum several years ago that he still uses for production. “I’m more familiar with thousandths than millimeters anyway, I’m old school,” he laughed.

One of the handiest tools in shop, Hart said, is a zero-center scale he bought on clearance at Woodcraft. “I use it for layout work for F-holes. It’s handy as all get out!” he reported. “It’s right every stinkin’ time.”

uite a jokester, Hart laughed, “Linda was only 17 when we got married, so I raised her up to suit myself.” It must have worked, as they will celebrate 46 years of marriage in July. Pete and Linda have four children (3 daughters – Leticia, Michele, and Lindsey, and 1 son – Myron II) and nine grandchildren, ranging in age from 18 to 2.  Myron inherited his father’s musical ability and is a guitar tech and sound engineer for Jorma Kaukonen, of early Jefferson Airplane fame. Hart created a special Buckeye mandolin for each of his four children(photo below).

Pete Hart

Hart retired from Verizon in 2003 after more than 30 years of service, working through the years as a lineman, installer and cable splicer on fiber optics. In November of 2014, Hart learned he had prostate cancer. Thankfully, after surgery in December and removal of nine lymph nodes, he recently received the best possible news—“no sign of cancer”—at his three-month follow-up appointment.

Though Hart says he “probably doesn’t make a dime hourly” on his mandolin-making hobby, he plans to continue enjoying creating music with his band, as well as in his workshop. At Woodside Instruments, he tests and plays each completed mandolin. “Every instrument maker has their own tone,” he said. After playing a few licks, he knows he has been successful when wife Linda hears the familiar tone, and concludes, “Well, it’s a Buckeye!”

Pete Hart

 If you would like to make beautiful music in YOUR workshop, Woodcraft occasionally offers classes on instrument building such as guitar making, and even ukulele making. Check out the class schedule at your local Woodcraft store, or you may find some inspiration with these books on instrument making.

Updated 09/27/16:
Mandolin maker Pete Hart of Guysville, Ohio, stopped by the Woodcraft office today to show us his latest “Buckeye” – the 80th mandolin that he has built to date. The unique grain on the back of the mandolin is blistered maple, an unusual type of quilted maple, while the front is red spruce.

Pete met Woodcraft Product Development Director Darin Lawrence, a talented musician in his own right, and he did a little pickin’ on the mandolin and it sounds amazing!

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