News / USA

Mountain Guitar Maker Enjoys Worldwide Acclaim

Wayne Henderson
Wayne Henderson

Multimedia

June Soh

Wayne Henderson has earned a reputation as one of the best acoustic guitar makers in America.  He has made guitars for some half a century in his hometown in the mountains of Virginia, about 570 kilometers southwest of Washington.  There is a long waiting list for his much-coveted instruments.  Even legendary guitarist Eric Clapton had to wait 10 years for his Henderson guitar to be ready.  Our producer visited Henderson's workshop, set deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and brought back this story.   

"That sounds really good now,  all that tone, ring and everything going on," said Wayne Henderson.

With his keen ear for the vibration of each piece of wood he uses, Wayne Henderson is known - especially among musicians - for his finely-crafted guitars.  

"Well when I am making these guitars, people always ask me how do you do it," he said. "And I just take this, a good sharp whittling knife like this and cut away everything that does not look like a guitar."  

Sounds simple, but it takes a long time.  Normally there is a five to 10-year wait for a Henderson guitar.

"Because you do this little process like I am doing right here right now so slow and it takes me long time to do everything," said Henderson. "And I do it slow and easy and try to do exactly right."

Henderson, who is now 63, says he started to make guitars as a young boy, out of necessity.

"My family played Old Time Music and my cousins and the people around house played but I couldn't afford a good guitar," he said. "I always made things so I thought I might be able to make one.  That is what really got me started."

Starting from this guitar made out of a cardboard box and fishing line, and this one, bearing serial number "one," Henderson has been making acoustic guitars for friends, neighbors and others for nearly 50 years in his hometown in Grayson County, Virginia.  He builds guitars from Appalachian spruce and nearly-extinct Brazilian Rosewood.

"Besides great material, they have to be put together right," said Wayne Henderson. "You know the thickness, tolerances of wood has to be exactly right for the right tone, and volume of a soundboard has to be measured exactly, and that's done mostly by ear. You can hear the wood sort of speaks to you while you are working on it."

So far, Henderson has built about 500 guitars.  He does not have regular assistants in his roadside workshop next to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  But folks are often dropping by to lend a hand.  Don Wilson has driven up from Florida every few months since the early 1970s.

"It is a 500-some-mile [800 km] trip and in eight hours I am here," he said. "It is a vacation to me to be included.  It is not just a guitar.  It is the whole atmosphere of this shop. You never know who or what might walk through the door.  All of our guitar friends and the music and that [is what] I enjoy."

Friends and music lovers are always welcome in his cluttered shop and play mostly traditional Bluegrass music together.  Henderson says that is another reason why it takes long time for him to build a guitar.

"The music has just been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember," he said. "And not many days goes by when I don't hear music, or see music, or feel music, or some way or another have some connection to an instrument."

Henderson is also in demand as a performer. He feels equally at home at a local event or a prestigious stage such as Carnegie Hall.   He received a National Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995 for contributions to American Culture.

He also toured the world playing traditional American Bluegrass music for the nation's cultural exchange programs.  

"I've been real fortunate to get to travel and play my music," said Wayne Henderson. "When I was a kid I never dreamed ... I'd never been out of this community right here.  I've lived right here in this community my entire life. "

Henderson also sponsors an annual music festival to raise scholarship money to help young musicians. 

"Wayne [is] just a very humble hero in this area," said Becky Ward, president of the Wayne Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition. "So we honor him in having a festival in his name.   We have a guitar competition in which the [top] winner wins a Wayne Henderson handmade guitar, which is a very coveted item."  

"I've really been blessed with being able to do what I like to do, and being able to sort of make a living at it, or being able to still be here," said Henderson. "I can't imagine doing anything different."

Beyond his great talent as a guitar maker and musician, Wayne Henderson is known as a friend to everyone and shares his talent and knowledge unselfishly.   Henderson says if he were born again, he would like to do exactly the same thing.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid