Luthiers: Along Virginia's Crooked Road
August 30, 2011Instrument making is an art form, not usually learned from books, but from someone who learned it from a relative or apprenticed under a professional luthier.
The art of instrument making is still being handed down from generation to generation, as it has been for centuries.
• One of the greatest teachers in our region was the late Albert Hash of Whitetop in Grayson County, Va., who influenced some well-known luthiers and fiddle makers along The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail. Hash's daughter, Audrey Hash Ham, carries on the tradition today.
• Now 85 years old, Jack Branch of Bristol began building fiddles and other stringed instruments at the age of 54 after an accident left him unable to continue his career as a stonemason. He apprenticed as a fiddle maker with Hash, his brother-in-law. Later Branch went to New York to learn how to make Stradivarius-type violins from Karl Becker. Branch's violins now command a high price and are played in several orchestras across the country. To see a video of Branch discussing his work, CLICK HERE.
• Another of Hash's apprentices was Tom Barr, who owns and operates Barr's Fiddle Shop in Galax, Va., where many professional musicians hang out, jam, and purchase their instruments and music supplies. To read a related story, CLICK HERE.
• Randal Eller of Chilhowie, Va., studied with Hash, too. Today, he and his sons make fiddles and mandolins at Cabin Woodworks, and Eller was recently accepted into Heartwood's Southwest Virginia Artisan Center. To read a related story, CLICK HERE.
• Another Hash apprentice was Wayne Henderson of Rugby, Va., now a master luthier known around the world for his guitars. Even legendary Eric Clapton waited several years for one of Henderson's guitars. You can read all about it in the book Clapton's Guitar by Allen St. John, available online and in bookstores.
• Henderson taught Gerald Anderson from Grayson County, Va., how to make guitars and other fretted instruments. In the last 40 years, Anderson has built more than 100 mandolins, modeled after the classic instruments made by Gibson in the 1920s.
• One of Anderson's apprentices is Spencer Strickland in Troutdale, Va. Anderson and Strickland made the handcrafted mandolins and guitars offered as prizes in The Crooked Road Sweepstakes.
• Also on Virginia's Crooked Road is another Hash apprentice, Walter Messick in Grayson County. Messick makes mountain dulcimers, hammered dulcimers, and bowed/plucked psalteries. He has sold them at Holston Mountain Artisans, Capo's Music Store, and William King Museum's gift shop, all in Abingdon; and his instruments were recently juried into Heartwood's Artisan Center. He has exhibited his work at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; the National Folk Festival in Richmond, Va.; and the Abby Rockefeller Museum in Williamsburg, Va.
• Other notable luthiers and fiddle makers on the Crooked Road include John Huron of Bristol; John Dancer of Damascus (Washington County); Mac Traynham of Willis (Floyd County); James Savage of Pipers Gap (Carroll County); and Wayne Powers and Bradley Hill of Haysi (Dickenson County).
For information on how to purchase handmade stringed instruments, visit www.thecrookedroad.org or call 866-686-6874.
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Jack Branch of Bristol makes Stradivarius-type violins.