Written by Dean Woon
Wednesday, 31 January 2007

As a young man living in the small Cornish fishing village of Looe, inevitably Simeon Daley would become a commercial fisherman working on the Trawlers from his home town. While at sea Sim would often take a portable cassette player with him & while working, he would listen to his favourite music known as “Bluegrass”. Little did he know then, that one day in the not too distant future, he would become one of the worlds best Luthiers making & repairing instruments for the stars he had spent hours listening to while out at sea.

Sim Daley working as a fisherman in Looe
Sim working as a Fisherman In Looe

It all began for Sim back in 1985 when he purchased a “teach yourself Bluegrass Banjo” book by Pete Wernick & began to teach himself to play. Once he had mastered the tunes in that book & unable to find any more locally, he contacted his father who lived in Rugby & was able to get hold of a copy of the Earl Scruggs Banjo instruction book & it was this book that was to start Sim on a journey that even he would never have dreamt possible.

Sim worked his way through the tunes in the Earl Scruggs book but it wasn’t until he reached the final chapter that something clicked. It was the Chapter that gave instructions on how to build a banjo that sparked an interest that was to change Sims life forever. Unfortunately, Sim’s idea to build a banjo began to fall at the first hurdle when he found that just locating the raw materials was to prove difficult. Unperturbed he went to the local library & although unable to find any banjo building literature he discovered the “Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin” book by Roger Siminoff giving him a different direction for his new found interest.It was at this point that Sim got together with friend & local antique restorer, Nick Greenwood who had the tools & carpentry knowledge enabling them to construct their first mandolin, all be it by using Nicks back door & off cuts from a UPVC window frame!

Sim Daley winner of Edale Banjo Championship
Sim Daley winner of 1994 Edale Bluegrass Banjo championship

During this time Sim was annually attending the famed Edale Bluegrass Festival which, at the time was the biggest Bluegrass festival in the UK & it was at Edale that he got to see some of the best musicians in the world including Alison Krauss, Del McCoury & the legendary Dr Ralph Stanley. While attending the 1994 festival Sim entered & won the prestigious Edale Bluegrass Banjo championship which spurred him on to get together with some local session musicians from Looe & form the “Wild Turkey Band”. The band played mainly local gigs with the occasional trip “up Country” but as Sim says “with ever increasing rules & regulations in the fishing industry, playing gigs with the Wild Turkey Band actually put food on my table”.

The Wild Turkey Band
The Wild Turkey Days

Sim had long been harnessing a yearning to travel to Nashville Tennessee & in January 1995, with the uncertain future of the fishing industry hanging over him the draw became too much to bear. Sim had, in the past purchased two banjos from a famous instrument dealer & professional banjo player by the name of Curtis McPeake & it was to be this link that set him on the road to where he is today. Once grounded & settled after his transatlantic flight, Sim headed straight for Curtis’s Instrument Store. While he was there Cutis had a call from the famous Gibson factory informing him that they had a banjo ready to be collected and so, the next day Sim went with Curtis to collect the banjo.

While at the Gibson factory Sim was introduced to Ed Webber who at that time was working on the Gibson production line, shaping the Banjo necks & he & Sim hit it off immediately. Ed took Sim under his wing & drove him around to the various Bluegrass jamming sessions in Nashville & it was at one of the sessions, a series of chance meetings would change Sims life for ever.

Missey and Sim
Missey & Sim

Ed played in a band which had a young female fiddle player called Renee, or “Missey” to her Bluegrass friends & meeting Missey that night has stayed with Sim ever since as Missey is now Mrs Daley. The second introduction was by Larry Sandlin, he was the Bass player in Ed’s band, Larry introduced Sim to the famous Charlie Derrington who owned the “National Guitar” Repair Shop & whose claim to fame was, that he was the person that rebuilt Bill Monroe’s mandolin after it had been smashed with a poker. Now that Sim had a connection with one of the best mandolin repairers in the USA, he decided to take the bull by the horns & take one of his Cornish Mandolins for Charlie to look at. Charlie recognised immediately that Sim had something to offer & so gave him a job working in the National repair shop. On Sims first day at work none other than Sam Bush walked in, Sim says “I thought that I had died & gone to heaven”.

Sim worked with Charlie at National for two years in which time he got to meet almost every Bluegrass star from in and around the South Eastern United States, he also used his time there to study some of the world’s finest mandolins which he diligently documented for future reference.

Charlie Derrington
Charlie Derrington

Charlie was offered a job working at the famed Gibson factory, spearheading the development of the Gibson Bluegrass division but insisted that he would only undertake the project if he could take Sim with him, Gibson agreed & very soon Sim found himself working at the very facility he had visited with Curtis McPeake only a couple of years earlier. Sims first position at Gibson was to run the resonator production & within 6 weeks had completely revamped the whole operation to streamline the process, enabling them to more than double resonator production.

Gibson formed the OAI (Original Acoustic Instrument) division & moved it into their new facility at Church Street where Sim was once again asked to work with Charlie Derrington this time in the repair department. While there & due to ever increasing demands on Charlie’s time, Sim found himself becoming more & more responsible, almost to the point where he was running things single-handedly, so when the position of Mandolin Division Supervisor became vacant Sim put his name forward. Gibson recognized his drive & ambition to build mandolins & taking into account his work streamlining Banjo production offered Sim the job. This was to prove a major turning point not only for Gibson but for Sim. He got together with Charlie & between them they assessed & revamped the whole mandolin building process that Gibson had in place. Sim says “The mandolins just weren’t right” they had bolt on neck joints & their construction was way off from the original 1920’s mandolins.
So with Charlie responsible for research & development & Sim in charge of production the new processes were put in place & it wasn’t long before they had taken instrument production from four mandolins a week to four a day & it was down to Sim & Charlie’s incredible success with the mandolin production division that ensured the future of the whole Gibson OIV department. It was to be four & a half years after Sim went to work for Gibson that he decided it was time to make the move & to go into business for himself. Sim opened “Daley’s Instrument & Repair” on the 1st January 2001, at first concentrating mainly on repairs & after being in business for only 2 years, Sim had taken Charlie Derringtons place as the top mandolin repairer in the USA & had already attracted some of the biggest names in the Bluegrass world, including Dan Tyminski, Ron Block & Alison Krauss.

As time went on Sims clientele increased & he was regularly visited at his repair shop by top musicians entrusting him with their prized instruments enabling him to build a reputation second to none. These performers read like a “Who’s Who” of the Bluegrass & Country world, he found himself working on some of the actual instruments that he had been listening too as a young Cornish fisherman including the guitar of one of his greatest influences the late great Jimmy Martin. He also had the honour of working on a guitar belonging to June Carter Cash.

SIm Working on Jimmy Martin's guitar neck
Sim working on Jimmy Martins Guitar neck

Now that Sim had established himself as a repairman, his desire to build mandolins became more of a priority and so, slowly but surely he started applying the skills & experience he had gained from working with Charlie Derrington at National Guitars & the Gibson factory to create the “Daley” Mandolin knowing that, to be considered as a serious Mandolin maker in Nashville he would need to call on every bit of that knowledge. Well, it seems that he need not have worried as he is now in his 6th year of production & his now world famous mandolins have graced some of the world’s biggest stages including perhaps the most famous “The Grand Ol’ Opry”. His instruments are now endorsed & played by the best in the world including Dan Tyminski, mandolin player with Alison Krauss & Union Station & Adam Steffey from Mountain Heart. The great Patty Loveless band appeared on stage at the Opry with not one, but two Daley Mandolins & Vince Gill was heard to remark “Sim Daley, now there’s a guy who knows how to build mandolins”, an endorsement to be proud of.

Adam Steffey playing his Daley mandolin
Adam Steffey playing his “Daley” Mandolin

Because of all his success, Sim is more than a little overwhelmed he remarks” I feel like a fisherman from Looe that is just getting away with it & someday, someone will walk up, tap me on the shoulder & say that they have found me out”. Sims success in the field of instrument construction & repair has come at a cost, in recent years because of his workload he has had little time for his first love, that of playing music. Because of missed opportunities to play banjo at professional gigs, Sim has decided to start taking his playing seriously again. He has recently formed a band called “Cages Bend” & intends to play as often as required, his work as an instrument maker will always take precedence but he now feels that its time he & Missey enjoyed some of the fruits of their labour. Sim says “The band all have day jobs, so not having to rely on the music for our livelihoods means that we can focus on playing really good music & just enjoy what we do”

Cages Bend
Cages Bend

The traditional Bluegrass line up comprising of;Sim on 5 String Banjo, Missey Daley on fiddle & vocals, Tony Watt (formerly of the band Meridian) on Guitar & vocals, Jennie Gardner on Mandolin & vocals plus former Liberty Pike Bassist Daniel Hardin will concentrate on performing a mixture of modern & traditional Bluegrass with the emphasis being on the vocal arrangements. They are in the process of recording their debut album which will comprise of all original material taken from several sources including tracks written by Becky Buller (Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike), Randy Kohrs & Stephen Mougin (Sam Bush Band). Stephen will not only be producing the band & album but he will also be engineering & recording the project at his “Dark Shadow” recording studios. “Cages Bend” will be coming to the UK for the first time in September to play at the 4th Annual Cornish Bluegrass Festival. Sim says “Playing at the Cornish Festival will be a dream come true for me, I really miss Cornwall, so to be playing at my local gig really means a lot” He will also be playing at one of his old drinking dens in Looe showing the locals just what this Cornish boy has achieved & in doing so, bring the story full circle.

To sum up this amazing adventure, Simeon Daley the young Cornish fisherman proved that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything

Daley "Celtic" Classic
The Daley “Celtic” Classic Mandolin


Adam Steffey Distressed Classic