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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs