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Making repairs is music to Smakula’s hears

February 28, 2011
By Shay Maunz and Paul Espinosa

(Editor's note: This is the fourth in a six-part series by students from the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. The students traveled to Elkins in January as part of their West Virginia Uncovered Immersion Weekend project.)

Bob Smakula has been making and repairing old-time instruments for more than 35 years.

His first was a dulcimer he made from a kit when he was 14. Smakula has never known any other type of work.

Article Video

Smakula's parents found the old-time musical tradition later in life, but adopted it wholeheartedly and passed it on to their children.

The family formed a band when Smakula was a child. Over the years he learned to play the fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and dulcimer.

Smakula repairs instruments in a small shop built adjacent to his home in Beverly with his assistant, Andy Fitzgibbon. Fitzgibbon has worked with Smakula for 11 years, since Smakula recognized his talent during an instrument-repair class he was instructing with the Augusta program at Davis & Elkins College.

Article Photos

OLD-TIME CRAFT — Bob Smakula works to repair cracks in a guitar. Whenever possible, he tries to use the same techniques that were used when the instrument was built, sometimes around the turn of the century. (Photos by Shay Maunz and Paul Espinosa)

Now, the two consider themselves a pair. When repairing brokent instruments, they try to honor the original workmanship that went into the instruments when they were made.

Fact Box

What is the

West Virginia Uncovered Project?

The "West Virginia Uncovered" project was created to cultivate online innovation and storytelling among the Mountain State's community newspapers.

Since 2008, students from the West Virginia University P.I. Reed School of Journalism have crisscrossed the back roads and small towns of West Virginia, working with about a dozen weekly newspapers and looking for untold stories. In addition, the participating newspapers receive training in online and multimedia journalism at WVU. The West Virginia Uncovered project is supported by grants from the McCormick Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Each year, organizers choose a different small town as a setting for their stories. Elkins was selected for the January project.

Elkins native Mary Kay McFarland is the project coordinator. For the Elkins visit, she was assisted by coaches Bob Lynn, a former photo editor at The Virginia Pilot; Doug Mitchell, an adjunct professor at City University of New York who also has worked for NPR; and Sara Magee, PhD, who teaches in the broadcast sequence at WVU.

To learn more about the program and view other projects, visit



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