Offbeat: Bluegrass Bass Fiddle Master

January 16, 2006---Posted at 8:30 a.m. CST

POPLAR BLUFF, MO-- Luke Medley is a master of the Bluegrass bass fiddle.  He not only plays them, he makes them too. He's an architect of sorts, still working to design and build the perfect bass fiddle.

"All bass' are made for orchestra's, to be played with a bow," said Medley. "Us bluegrass players have to have one we can pick with our fingers."  And Medley should know, he's been picking one most of his life, but it was 16 years ago when Medley retired from his real job of doing line work that he began wood work.

"More or less a hobby, but a good hobby," said Medley.  "I've had a good retirement."  That retirement and hobby have turned into a pretty lucrative business too. He's one of only a few in the world that still make the doghouse bass with their bare hands.

"You could buy machinery to cut our stuff out, but I can't afford them," said Medley. And he doesn't want to use them. He's spent years through trial and error perfecting just the right mix of wood, sweat and tears, all in search of perfection.

"You try this and try that," said Medley.  "I had to scratch my head many a time. I make everything but the strings and keys."  For the last four years, Luke's picked up a little half day help in making everything.  A fellow Bluegrass buddy, Ed Holden is the other part of the Medley Bass Factory.

"I'm 74 years old and I don't want to sit down and die," said Holden.  "I want to do something and this is what we've decided to do and it's enjoyable. Luke and Ed say it takes about three weeks, working steady to produce a medley masterpiece. Luke says there is a secret to his success and that secret lies within the sound of his instruments.

"That's what we're after, the sound," said Medley. "Something that pleases the ear."  The Medley bass is made of maple, baltic birch, and persimmon, with a little Medley magic dust thrown in for good measure.

"We've done no advertising what so ever, they just sell theirselves," said Medley.  He sells his bluegrass bass fiddle for $700, and that's about half of what a foreign made bass will cost you. Right now when he and Ed finish the ones they're working on, he will have made and sold 78 bass fiddles in his 16 years of retirement.