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Wednesday
Jan052011

Silas is Golden

Photo by Denice Rovira HazlettWhen Silas McDonough wants to create music, he steps through the front door of his home outside of Millersburg where he lives with his parents, Mike and Beth, and walks a few yards to his family’s custom woodworking shop. 

That’s because 21-year-old McDonough not only has a talent for playing music, but for constructing beautiful instruments as well. He comes by his woodworking skills, artistic abilities and love of music honestly.

“From the time I was little, my family would sing hymns while my mom played guitar, so from the start I had an appreciation for music and wanted to be able to play along.” 

Since he and his three siblings were educated at home, he had plenty of opportunities to pursue music as well as art.

“My mom and grandmother were both artists. There was a lot of emphasis on art because we were interested and Mom was able to teach it.”

McDonough spent much of his education drawing, painting, and woodcarving, and from an early age he spent time with his father in the family’s home-based woodworking shop.

“When I was old enough to use the tools, I would build toy boats, a stool, small things like that. If you wanted something, you’d try building it out of wood.”

One of the things he wanted was a harp. 

“I really wanted to play one but couldn’t afford it. We visited a shop in Maine that had a bunch of harps. A lot of them were simple. One was sort of a gag made out of scrap wood and cardboard. I remember thinking, if they can build a harp out of cardboard, I could surely build something.” 

So he and his father ordered plans and began the project. They had to do quite a bit of modification and research, but with their furniture-making skills and their basic knowledge of music, they succeeded, which gave Silas McDonough the encouragement to experiment with other projects. His most recent creation is his own design--a custom-built acoustic guitar which took about six months to finish.

“Some weeks I didn’t do anything, but toward the end I spent a lot more time on it. I intentionally went slowly, because I wanted to do it the best way I could.” 

Attention to detail worked to his advantage. It was imperative to get everything aligned perfectly for the sound to be just right.

“The mental challenges were the hardest. When you’re dealing with a largely finished project, one cut could mess up everything. I prevented some major mistakes by taking my time.”

His patience was rewarded with a one-of-a-kind instrument, a spruce-top guitar with solid sides and back made of quarter-sawn cocobolo rosewood. The rosewood headstock is inlaid with an oak leaf that McDonough carved from spalted maple. While the aesthetic appearance of the guitar was very important, he’s also very pleased with how it plays.

“It has a crisp sound with a strong bass,” he said. “I really wouldn’t change anything.”

As for what instrument McDonough will tackle next, he said he wouldn’t mind playing with the solid-body styles of electric or bass guitars. He’s also considering a Clàrsach, a wire-strung Gaelic harp that produces a unique and brilliant ringing sound similar to a steel-stringed guitar but fuller.

McDonough is currently working on a different kind of project, one that honors three generations of artists. “I discovered that we have three oil paintings--one by my grandmother, one by my mother, and one by me, so I’m making custom frames for each of them.” 

His larger focus, however, is on the fall. He has been accepted to Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, where his mother received her art degree. He plans to major in fine art.

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