Cheerful days spent in the company of master luthier Wayne Henderson as he oh-so-slowly handcrafts guitars.
Henderson’s guitars—there are fewer than 300 in existence, journalist St. John reports—are revered for the quality of their sound and workmanship. Described as a “Stradivari in glue-stained blue jeans,” Henderson, who lives in a rural Virginia town of seven people, is here portrayed as your standard slow-poking, generous soul, unawed by celebrity (Eric Clapton is among his clients), who just happens to know how to make wood sing. Sports journalist St. John (The Mad Dog 100, not reviewed, etc.) follows Henderson through all the steps, from choosing the wood (Henderson uses Brazilian rosewood and Appalachian red spruce, though readers will sense he could make a rotten stump warble) right through to the abalone and pearl inlays. Like the sculptor who sees the end product in a piece of raw marble, Henderson whittles away everything from a piece of wood “that isn’t a guitar.” St. John’s writing shares a deceptive lightness with Henderson’s guitars. There is a wash of fascinating material in these pages: playing techniques; guitar history (Les Paul made his first functioning electric guitar from a railroad tie); how to find the near-extinct rosewood without going felonious (Henderson located a stash when the floors of Truman Capote’s yacht were being replaced); and the pleasures of sitting in a cluttered workspace with a handful of friends, swapping jokes and stories.
Henderson will probably make about 600 guitars in his lifetime. Get on his list, but don’t hold your breath.