Shep – a special gift for Brandon Shuping

Brandon Shuping with Glenda Martin Fuller when he picked up Shep

The late Charles “Speedy” Shepherd was musician and luthier from Salisbury, NC. He primarily built fiddles, but once and only once, he made a mandolin. It was a more difficult task than he had envisioned and vowed he’d never build another. In the process, he enlisted the aid of Garland Shuping, a friend and banjo picker, who did inlay work. He designed and installed a unique inlay on the headstock and fretboard. Garland died a few years after the mandolin’s completion in 2000.

Speedy offered to sell the mandolin to Bobby Martin, a musician that he knew; however, Bobby didn’t like the way it played. The luthier suggested that Bobby show it to his dad, Sam Martin, but Sam wasn’t interested either. He said the neck was too big and thick.

Speedy went back to the drawing board, took apart his creation, and using measurements from Sam’s mandolin, he reworked the neck. When he returned the refurbished instrument to the Martins, both father and son agreed that the mandolin was now perfect.

Sam began playing Speedy’s mandolin at fiddlers’ conventions throughout North Carolina. Winning top honors, he was told countless times that it was primarily due to the wonderful sound that came from his instrument. Sam was offered large sums of money, but he refused to sell the mandolin for any price.

Speedy kept his word and never built another mandolin. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 86. Following three years of sickness, Sam died in 2022 at the age of 89. Sam had requested of his wife and daughter that when he was gone that Garland’s son, Brandon, who was a mandolinist himself, receive his mandolin.

Glenda Martin Fuller, Sam’s daughter, said that, “After he passed away, we called Brandon to let him know that Daddy wanted him to have his mandolin. Brandon, along with his mom and stepdad, drove from Charleston, WV to Salisbury, NC to pick it up. Mama (Ruth Martin) and I were excited to see Brandon get the mandolin.”

Brandon Shuping, mandolinist with the Ohio-based band, String Therapy, told the same story.

“I was contacted by Glenda Martin Fuller on behalf of Sam and Ruth Martin. She said Sam had passed and wanted me to have a mandolin that he owned. It was built by Charles ‘Speedy’ Shepherd in the mid 1990s. He built fiddles also, but to my knowledge, this is the only mandolin he ever built. My dad had done the inlay work on the fretboard, and did the inlay of a bell and the ‘Shep’ script inlay on the headstock. 

Sam knew that I played mandolin for a living, and thought I should have it because of the connection to my dad, Garland Shuping. I first played it in the mid-’90s when it was new, and liked it, but it had a really big and wide neck on it. Sometime after he bought it, Sam had Speedy slim the neck down closer to a regular mandolin neck so it’s more playable now than when I first played it.

When I received it from Glenda and Ruth, it was in in need of a setup and new tuning machine heads. I took it to Ohio luthier, Todd Sams, for a setup and a set of Waverly tuners along with a new tailpiece.”

Elaine Vance Looney, Brandon’s mother and Garland’s former wife, shared, “My children’s father did the inlay work. We had a wonderful reunion with Ruth Martin and Glenda Martin-Fuller when they presented Brandon with this special mandolin.”

Brandon readily agreed. “It was a very generous gift that came as a total surprise. I’m grateful to the Martin family for their generosity. That’s the really cool part about these instruments is that they can outlive several owners when properly cared for. I look forward to playing this mandolin for many more years to come.”

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.