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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More