Bespoke instruments made in WNC

MADE WELL, PLAYED WELL: Patrick Heavner of Pisgah Banjos holds one of his creations. The local sustainable instrument company is currently building 300 banjos per year. Photo by Rob Howard

Both the music and craft heritages of Western North Carolina are long and storied, expressing the region’s history and evolution through sound and aesthetics. The idea that the music of the area might just sound better on a locally made instrument doesn’t seem too far-fetched. And there’s a luthier for every strumming style. From modern and edgy to rooted in tradition, local makers imbue their instruments — from fiddles and guitars to bouzoukis and bagpipes — with Appalachian materials and far-flung inspiration. Here’s a partial list of luthiers in WNC:

• Old Fiddle Road Banjo WorkNoel Booth blends historic and contemporary designs, along with traditional and unusual woods, in his banjo creations. According to his website, he’s currently constructing open-back, gourd and Antebellum minstrel-style banjos.

• Billy Radd — Musician and instrument-maker Bill Raddatz, aka Billy Radd, showcased his unique creations — a license plate guitar and a “canjo” — at the Buncombe Built exhibit held earlier this year at the Asheville Area Arts Council.

• Wicozani Flutes — Native American flutemaker Geri Littlejohn has been working at her craft for 23 years and is also known as a musician. She’s performed with Grammy-winners Mary Youngblood and Peter Kater and has released a solo album.

• Bogdanovich GuitarsJ.S. Bogdanovich started playing guitar as a tween and went on to study performance, composition and classical guitar. When performance anxiety dampened his career aspirations, he turned to woodworking, engineering and eventually found his way to instrument-making. He opened his company in California in 1996 and relocated to Asheville in 2004.

• Saraz Handpans — Handpans look like spaceships but sound earthy and meditative. According to the Saraz handpan website, instrument-maker Mark Garnier was “inspired by builders and tuners of singing steel from Trinidad to the USA, Russia and Switzerland.” The company is not currently taking requests for new orders as the current waitlist runs to 2016.

• Buscarino Guitars — Franklin-based luthier John Buscarino worked with famed guitar builders Augustino LoPrinzi and Robert Benedetto before starting his own business. He works with wood that has been seasoned for a minimum of four years and only crafts a small number of instruments each year, keeping his guitars in high demand.

• Cooley Cardboard DulcimersJon Cooley not only builds environmentally friendly mountain dulcimers (the instruments are made from recycled cardboard), he leads workshops where others can build their own dulcimers. Buy one directly from Cooley and paint the soundbox yourself.

• Tidy Cottage Smallpipes — Musician EJ Jones, aka Piper Jones, not only performs and collects bagpipe tunes from around the world, he also builds custom sets of the instrument on which to play said tunes. Look up the bellows-blown bagpipe, or Scottish smallpipe, on Wikipedia — it’s Jones who is in the photo.

• Pisgah Banjo Co. — Located just outside Asheville, Pisgah Banjo Co. crafts professional-quality instruments from native Appalachian hardwoods (persimmon, maple, walnut and cherry). The sustainable company is solar-powered; luthiers Patrick Heavner and Topher Stephens are area natives.

• Gernandt Stringed Instruments — Bryson City-based artist Bob Gernandt is known for his work with mountain dulcimers, Irish bouzoukis and citterns. He also builds acoustic and electric guitars and mandolins and has been crafting instruments since the late ’70s.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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