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Oklahoma guitar builder honors his father's work

Oklahoma guitar builder Davey Romine is honoring his late father, Don Romine, by finishing his last guitar and restoring his first.
by Adam Kemp Published: June 16, 2013

Two guitars rested next to each other on the wooden workshop table. A pile of sawdust collected nearby as a saw blade screamed to a stop.

The two instruments were made more than 40 years apart. The older has scratches clawed into the front, and a crude fret board sticks out of the body. There is a slight bow to the guitar's frame from being stored in the heat of many Oklahoma summers.

The younger guitar looks more polished than its elder as a more practiced hand shaped its body; an intricate inlay designed into the top of the head caps off its smooth frame.

Don Romine built both guitars, his first and his last. His son, Davey, is back in the workshop to finish what his dad started, piecing together the final works of a master craftsman.

Davey said his dad's hands could build anything made out of wood, from dining room tables made of oak to an antique chest of chestnut; Don was the nemesis of furniture dealers everywhere.

Davey never built a guitar and doesn't have any notes from his dad to go by. He has his memories of watching his dad and a few YouTube videos to help guide him.

As Davey, 54, worked through the learning curves of a first-time luthier — bending the wooden sides over heat to fit the frame, learning how to carve out a fret board and examining the guitar with his hand to find little imperfections in his work — he said his admiration for his dad began to swell.

“Everything he did, he did so effortlessly and perfect,” Davey said. “This started out as me wanting to prove to myself that I could do it just like dad and to show him that I could.

“But now ... I don't know. It just feels different.”

‘A tough year'

Mary Romine didn't know how to turn the air compressor off in the garage for a few days after Don died. The monstrous thing would click on sporadically and rattle the walls of the garage, reminding Mary of all the times she would find her husband out in his workshop working on one project or another.

It also reminded her of all she had never learned from her husband.

“If you had a question, he was the person who would tell you to scoot over so he could do it,” Mary said with a smile as she looked at a picture of Don holding a large fish he caught.

“Hearing that air compressor go on and off, it tormented me some. It just made me miss him like crazy.”

Mary and Don met in July of 1971. They worked for different companies within the same building in Oklahoma City. One afternoon Mary walked into the parking lot outside the building and was met head on by the grill of Don's car.

“My hands went out on the hood to stop myself,” she said. “Donny got out and was real concerned and made sure I was OK and then we went out for coffee, and that was it.”

The two were married shortly after, blending Don's four boys, John, Don Jr., Davey and Joe, with Mary's son, Darrin.

Mary said Don was a good father to the boys, though he was often very rigid in his discipline. Once, after one of the boys ruined his favorite pen by grinding it up in the pencil sharpener, he punished all of them when nobody confessed to the crime.

“The boys would get mad at us because we were so strict,” she said. “Donny was loving but not in the traditional way. He cared but wasn't the one to give a hug and say I love you.”

Don had open-heart surgery in September. Because of an unforeseen condition, the surgery caused Don's kidneys to fail, and he never woke after the procedure.

Machines kept him alive long enough to allow Davey, his brothers and their families to say their goodbyes. Don was 80 years old.

“It was so sudden,” Davey said. “We were all kind of lost for awhile.”

Mary, the self-professed head of the household, has had trouble navigating through her grief.

Don was the life of the party at family get-togethers, joking with his granddaughters and playing guitar with Davey's son, Shelby. Now, Mary is trying to get through all the firsts without her best friend.

“It's been a tough year, a much different year,” she said. “Once in a while I'll be sitting here and thinking about him and walk out into the garage and expect him to be there. It just takes me a minute to realize.”

Mary was relieved when Davey started coming over every Saturday to work on the guitars. The familiar buzzing and screeching of power tools was a sound she had missed.

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by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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Everything he did, he did so effortlessly and perfect.”

Davey Romine,
Speaking about his father, Don


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