“Whatever good things we build end up building us.” – Jim Rohn
Marty Rossiter, like so many of his generation, picked up a guitar and played in bar bands as a young man. But life – and responsibilities – stepped into his path, and he opted for a lifetime working in the concrete business. It took a formidable, prolonged investment of time, money and labor over a span of forty-one years, but it paid off. A lifetime of putting his nose to the grindstone gave Marty and his wife Cindy the freedom to enjoy their retirement.
Retirement means different things to different people. To Marty, it has opened up his time to pursue his love of musical instruments, to put into play his extensive knowledge about wood and old tools, and to indulge in his incredible ability to learn very complicated processes needed to fabricate and build these things for his own pleasure.
Marty and his wife Cindy put stakes down on the island in 1992. Both were born and raised in Northern Indiana, and they make the trek between that home and this one every year – not an unusual story in our community. But instead of hitting the golf course, or going out for happy hour every night, Marty can be found in his workshop beneath his island home, creating and restoring guitars, mandolins, old rifles, and many of the tools needed to do these projects.
Cindy says they are really happy with their choice to create their second home on the island. “Life in Indiana can be stressful. We grew up there and we know everybody. Marty’s so talented in all he does that people pull him in all directions.” One can imagine that Marty’s skills and expertise would be in great demand, and that he would have a hard time turning down his friends when there is an opportunity to build or repair something. Cars, guitars, guns, plumbing, electrical issues – if anything breaks down, anyone who knows him is going to call him.
But here on the island, says Cindy, “he has a nice shop and he can spend all day working on his stuff with very little interruption.”
Marty does have a shop up in Indiana. “It was an up-and-running bowling alley back in the late forties,” but by the time Marty bought it, it was ready for repurposing. Where his island shop is jammed to the rafters with wood, tools, instruments and more wood, the Indiana shop, measuring 50 x 120 feet, is also jammed to the rafters with even more wood, and every other thing Marty decides to pick up at flea markets, auctions, along the roadside, and things his friends and neighbors don’t want anymore. “When we bought the bowling alley, I wanted to produce a half-hour reality show called “Man’s World”, and I wanted to get all my crazy buddies to come over there. There’s an old hot rod, an old motorcycle… I never throw anything away. I thought people would be tuning in every week to see ‘what those lunatics are up to’.
It would be next to impossible to describe the processes Marty goes through to create the instruments he has built from scratch, or rescued from broken-down oblivion. The circa 1800’s George Washburn mandolin he bought in pieces at auction has been fully restored to its original elegance. There are drawers and racks full of what Marty calls ‘old-time tools’, many of which were brought back into full function after years of disuse or disrepair. There are tools he made himself, designed after those clamps and planes and spoke shaves of yore, which he uses regularly when building guitars, or restoring things like his grandpa’s old shotgun.
“My grandpa dropped it and cracked the stock,” and there were parts missing on the old muzzleloader. He researched exactly how the gun and all its parts were made, and was happy to show which pieces of wood he had used for the stock, and a metal part he fashioned out of a discarded pipe from a neighbor’s house. His knowledge about the design and history of these old shotguns is extensive. One comes to see that not only does Marty do beautiful work, he understands how things work. He researches and he asks those who know. “I’m a firm believer that if you don’t know how to do something, then find someone who does and watch them.” He adds, “You can find anything on the Internet.”
The guitar Rossiter built last year is a gem. Like all of his projects, he invested a lot of time and love into it. It represents months of work. “I took four days just fashioning the rosette around the sound hole,” inside of which is signed ‘Martin Thomas Rossiter, 2015’. At the top of the neck, above the tuning pegs, are the initials MTR. If you are lucky enough to hear this beauty, crafted mainly from a variety of native woods like Florida mahogany and curly eucalyptus, then you will appreciate the incredible quality of an expertly made instrument. This guitar is beautiful to look at and a joy to play.
Although Marty doesn’t get to play guitar as much as he did years ago, he and some island friends get together regularly and play when they can. “All my life I have been pretty artistic in my mind, but I was so burned out with the concrete business. Now I’m free from all that. I can sit down here all day in my workshop and work on whatever I want.”
If ‘sitting in his workshop all day’ produces such exquisitely crafted instruments and tools, then it would seem that many more folks than just Marty and Cindy Rossiter are reaping the benefits of Marty’s hard-earned retirement.