Making music, one instrument at a time
DORSET — Will Mosheim put a lot of thought into the arrangement of his workbench, which is in a corner of his father's woodshop.
Mosheim builds and repairs banjos, and sometimes makes and repairs acoustic guitars as well. His chosen field requires both patience and dedicated production. He cannot rush through a build, but he must work fast enough to fulfill his bulging order book.
Tools, including clamps, wrenches, screwdrivers and drills, along with implements made expressly for luthiers such as Mosheim, are kept within easy reach and hang neatly from a board on the wall. Two windows look out on a section of lawn and the woods that border the property, located off a private road.
Mosheim's father, Dan, the owner of a custom furniture business, is frequently across the shop, working on his own projects. He provides woodworking counsel or friendly conversation, but he is not involved with the manufacture of musical instruments. That is all on Will.
"I really enjoy working alone," Will, the founder and owner of Seeders Instruments, said in a recent interview at his shop. "I like being the only one that's responsible for the instruments I produce. It does demand a lot of time. It does slow me down a little bit."
Seeders Instruments takes its name from Will Mosheim's middle name, which was the maiden name of his grandmother on his father's side.
Will Mosheim, 35, began playing music when he was 10 and plays the guitar, bass, fiddle and banjo as a musician-for-hire in a number of groups. The banjo is his latest instrument - he began playing it about a dozen years ago - and the one directly responsible for his line of work.
"After a couple of years of playing the banjo, I realized that I needed to upgrade to a nicer instrument," Will Mosheim said. "I couldn't really afford anything that nice at the time. My father and I put our heads together and we figured out the basics of how to make one."
Mosheim made his first banjo, Seeders No. 1, in 2010. When other musicians saw and heard his creation during his performances, they asked him for their own models. These banjos brought more orders, and Seeders Instruments became a full-time gig in 2013.
Production is slow but continuous. Will Mosheim recently was finishing his 93rd banjo. He now builds about 25 per year.
"I make almost everything I can," he said. "And the further I go and the more time I have to devote to figuring out new processes, I'm making more and more pieces."
Last October, Mosheim moved into an apartment above the woodshop. It takes between 25 and 50 working hours to craft a banjo, and he said there are days when he works from 9 a.m. until 1 a.m. the following morning.
From the time he was a small boy, Mosheim did odd jobs for his father in the woodshop. He said the five years he spent there as a full-time employee provided him with the commercial education necessary for launching Seeders Instruments.
"I think one of the reasons I've been so successful with my business is because I have such a huge woodworking background," he said. "I really understand wood and joinery and finishing and fine detail work."
That effort is much valued.
Banjo prices begin at $2,700, and go up to $5,000, depending on the different woods and inlays and other designs requested by the customer. Mosheim has sold banjos to customers in Ireland, and is making one for someone in Japan. But most of the instruments have been made for professional musicians, hobbyist players and collectors in the U.S. and Canada.
The Mosheim family moved from Arlington to Dorset in 1996, when Will was 12 years old, and his father, Dan, put up a barnlike structure at 23 Goodwood Lane. This was used as a house until a new structure, built next door, became the family home. The first building then became devoted to woodworking. Will Mosheim's brother, Sam, uses another building on the property for his metalworking shop, where he makes stair railings, fireplace screens and other custom pieces.
"It's really amazing, the little family creative compound we have here," Will Mosheim said.
Will Mosheim assembles each banjo and he fabricates all components except for the tuners and small metal hardware such as the nuts, hooks and shoes which hold tension on the head. In the wood shop, he uses his father's tools and some specialized tools he purchased for woodworking. The main bodies of the instruments are typically made of hardwoods, including maple, walnut, cherry and mahogany.
Sam Mosheim's metal shop is where Will Mosheim makes the banjo's tension hoops.
"I don't think of them as individual pieces," he said. "I'm not thinking about the rim, the neck, this and that. I think of the entire instrument as a whole and how, aesthetically and compositionally, that is a piece of art as well as an instrument, and it all has to work together."
His banjos are primarily open-backed musical instruments.
"My main focus is what's known as a frailing or claw-hammer banjo, which is played in a little bit different style than the bluegrass banjos are," Will Mosheim said. He has made acoustic guitars for previous customers and wants to build some more, but knows this work will slow his production of banjos.
"I have years of orders for banjos," he said. "I can't build them fast enough. It's a good problem to have."
Most of the banjos are made to order, though banjos from Seeders Instruments are sold from inventory at The Music Emporium, a large stringed-instrument store in Lexington, Mass.
Dan and Will Mosheim, father and son, once worked as employer and employee, proprietor and designated successor. Now they simply share space in the same shop.
"The original plan was for me to take over the furniture business," Will Mosheim said. "He was sad to see me step away from his business. Between the two of us, we realized that while I could probably do that, my heart was really in instruments."
Charles Erickson is a frequent contributor to Southern Vermont Landscapes.
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