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Photo Gallery

Somsak home: Pomona, CA

Bela and his family. Jim and his dad play Somsak cimbaloms. Bill is on accordion. Margaret Somsak and little Marlene enjoy the music. Photo by Paul Gordon Sr., a family friend and professional photographer.

Jim time exposure

Photographer Paul Gordon took this picture by attaching tiny lights to the tips of the mallets and asking Jim to play a fiery tune. A long exposure was followed by a flash. Bela met Paul when he rented a room from Paul’s mother in Cleveland, Ohio.

Bill & Jim: San Diego, CA

Bill and Jim often played for local festivals and cultural events. Bela was filled with pride seeing his talented sons on stage.

Portrait: Jim at cimbalom

Portrait taken by Paul Gordon Sr. in Pomona, Calif.

Bela with young sons

Bela Somsak holding his sons Bill (left) and Jim in Ohio.

5 Somsak cimbaloms lined up

The Somsaks had a large home in Pomona, Calif., but five cimbaloms were too much. Margaret said some needed to go or Bela needed a more manageable hobby.

Kozmosz Cimbalom

Jim, Bill and Bill’s wife Lin visited Hungary in 2002. Here they’re at the Kozmosz Cimbalom factory. Jim got a chance to play a few bars. Bill is in the background taking video.

Bela in cimbalom shop

Bela built cimbaloms in a modest shop at his Pomona, Calif., home. Somehow, he created things of beauty out of this hodgepodge of machine tools, woodworking equipment and everything else. A fantastic cimbalom player named Corey Beers, based in Los Angeles, asked if the story was true of Bela using the weight of the apartment above his shop to help him press together the cimbalom’s many layers of wood after being glued. It’s true! Bela indeed made a makeshift vice by pressing the glued and layered wood between a 4×4 and a 10-ton capable hydraulic truck lift. C-clamps weren’t good enough for him.

Father & son

Bela took pride in making cimbaloms, and Jim mastered the instrument, delighting his dad. Known for his sense of humor, Jim has a tip jar at the ready.

Bela and the band

Bela on stage with band at the Southern California American Hungarian Club. He was president of the club for many years and sometimes sang Hungarian favorites to the crowd. He had a good voice!

Jim, his uncle Al Vilagi, and the band

On the first Sunday of every month, the Somsak family would head to the Southern California American-Hungarian Club House in Bloomington, Calif. Jim and his uncle, Alex Vilagi, would often play cimbalom. The head of the band was always a violinist, in this case, Julia.

Al Vilagi playing cimbalom with band

Jim’s uncle and Bela’s brother-in-law plays the cimbalom in the patio of the Southern California American Hungarian Club in Bloomington, CA.

Matyas Pince Restaurant/Budapest 2002

This legendary restaurant not only serves fabulous food but also features gypsy music. Here Jim, brother Bill and Bill’s wife Lin enjoy the meal and music.

Cimbalom with a skirt

Bela experimented with each cimbalom, refining them in small and large ways. Here is one cimbalom with a removable skirt and an alternative spelling of cimbalom just to sound more exotic — cymbalom. Here Jim and brother Bill play in the family home in Claremont, Calif.

Bill & Jim – Ohio home

In the family home in Ohio.

Bohaks with Somsaks

Mr. and Mrs. Lajos Bojak Jr. (left) with Margaret Somsak in Budapest in 1972.

Mr. & Mrs. Lajos Bohak

The highlight of Bela and Margaret’s trip to Budapest in 1972 was a visit with Lajos Bohak Jr., son of Lajos Bohak Sr., who invented the modern-day cimbalom.  Bohak Sr.  (1870 – 1900) taught his son well.  Bohak Jr. further innovated on the cimbalom design.  Bohak Jr., passed in 1984. More information on the Bohak story is at

Bohaks Toasting

Lots of good food, good wine and wonderful gypsy music with the Bohaks – one of the most important events in Bela Somsak’s life.

Bela at work in Ohio

Bela owned and operated a gas station in Ohio, and that’s where he began renovating a broken-down cimbalom during work breaks. He soon learned the instrument needed an entire overhaul and only the legs were salvagable. A life-long passion was born.

Bela and Margaret

They were married 60 years and shared a love of Hungarian music, food and culture.