Wood Worker: A Profile of Luthier Randy Wood

 

Sometimes, life is like driving on a twisty mountain road; you never know what is around the next curve. Not long ago, during an extended visit to see my Mother on Hilton Head Island, SC, I was watching the local cable access channel.They were showing a "filler" piece about a local dentist, Dr. Sandy Termotto.

Dr. Termotto was talking about having worked his way through school as a studio musician in New York. He picked up a D'Angelico archtop & played for a few minutes. Then he went over & picked up a Thomas Humphrey's classical guitar& played it for a few minutes.

It just so happens that I was looking for someone to help with the guitar review section of GuitarNation.com. I remember thinking to myself, "Geez, I ought to give this guy a call."

Looking through the local phone book, I found his number with the notion that I would call & ask the receptionistif she would please take a "personal message" for Dr.Termotto. When she asked what the message was about, I told her a little bit about the cable access show, GuitarNation.com & the new guitar review section. She replied by saying "Hold on, he's right here."

We chatted for about 20 minutes or so, &,the chat ended with 2 helpful suggestions. The first was to call Howard Paul, a jazz guitarist from Savannah, GA, to help with the guitar reviews. The second was to pay a visit to a guitar builder in Savannah named Randy Wood.

The name sounded familiar. Could it be thesame Randy Wood who: 1) started GTR Guitars in Nashville with George Gruhn & Tut Taylor in 1970 that later became Gruhn Guitars; 2) left GTR to form the Old Time Picking Parlor in 1972; the Old Time Picking Parlor was a combination custom instrument shop & nightclub that featured Bluegrass music; &, 3)has made guitars for Elvis Pressley, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, &, one of my favorite guitarists, Danny Gatton.

I called the number Dr. Termotto had given me & spoke to Randy's assistant, an extremely helpful fellow named Don. Don told me that yes, it is the same Randy Wood & invites me to visit. "Come on any Saturday", he says,"you never know who will drop by & do some pickin'." "Pickin'", I am learning, is a big word in the guitar-playingSouth.

A quick visit to MapQuest.com gives me directions. I throw my dog in the car, &, about an hour later, I'm in a suburb of Savannah called Bloomingdale. An obviously handcrafted wooden sign on my right says "Randy Wood Guitars" tells me my navigation efforts were successful.

Pulling in, there was a plaid-shirted gentleman playing with a dog. When he saw me parking under the shade-tree with my dog in the backseat, a friendly voice called out, "Bring him in."

An assortment of vintage Gibsons & Martins mingled with a few lesser known acoustics & a couple of electricguitars lined the walls along with some mandolins. A few violins (read: fiddles) were laying in a glass display case. The combination of guitars, fiddles & mandolins, along with a banjo I barely noticed, tipped me off that I was about to spend some time chattingwith certified Bluegrass fan, who had been making & listening to Bluegrass music long before the guys who made the "O Brother,Where Art Thou" movie were born.

"Are you Mr. Wood," I asked, though in my mind I already knew the answer.

Mr. Wood exuded a sense of genuine humility.My Grandad had long ago told me that "The bigger the man,the more humble he is." I would have bet my last dollar that I was in the presence of a quiet humble man, who had no need to brag about the quality of his guitars & mandolins or about his impressive list of clients.

The apparent paradox between vintage & new handmade guitars prompted me to ask how he got started building guitars. His answer brought together the relationship between vintage guitars & new hand-made ones.

It seems Mr. Wood had always loved working with wood. To this day, he considers himself a wood worker who makes guitars. After getting out of the service in the 1960's, Mr. Wood, an avid guitar player, mandolin player & Bluegrass fan, began repairing vintage guitars for his friends in Nashville.

Having built his first mandolin in 1967 & through the days of GTR Guitars & the Old Time Picking Parlor, the progression to guitars was inevitable. He built his first guitar around 1972 or 1973 for Sharon White Skaggs, Ricky Skagg'swife. As a testament to the quality & sound of the guitar, she still owns it.

There seemed to be a drive for quality that motivates Mr. Wood. With a great deal of pride, he showed me some photos of inlays, neck joints & rosettes. Taking me in theback, he handed me a carved & intricately inlaid neck from a vintage Bacon & Day banjo.

Lamenting the relative rarity of skilled, competent craftsmen who can "do it all", he proudly describes his restoration efforts that give older instruments a second life. Referring back to the banjo neck, he says, in a very matter-of-fact manner, "that is the kind of work I do."

We went back in the retail part of the shop & I couldn't help but pick up some of the vintage guitars along the wall. Looking around, there was one more question Iwanted to ask.

"How would you like to be remembered" is a note on which I thought it was important to hit before I ended my visit. Very straightfowardly & after a moment of contemplation, Mr. Wood replied "I would like to be remembered as a fair man, someone who treated others as I would want to be treated, even if it was to my own detriment."

He relates a story about a New Yorker who owned a mandolin built by an extemely well-known archtop guitar & mandolin builder. The mandolin needed to be refretted & when the owner took it back to the builder for a re-fret, the builder informed the owner that he had a policy of not doing repair work, not even on instruments he had built.

As Mr. Wood had always been known for his superior fret work, the New Yorker called to ask if Mr. Wood would kindly consider refretting his mandolin. When Mr. Wood suggested he take it back to the builder, the owner tells him of the builders "no-repair" policy. Agreeing to do the work, the mandolin was sent down, & Mr. Wood proceeded to do the work.

The mandolin was shipped back to the owner who promptly & proudly took it to the builder, who criticized every aspect of the re-fret, saying that he would not have done the re-fret like that, among other less than kind criticisms.The New Yorker calls Mr. Wood, &, in a similar less than kind tone of voice, tells him how the builder said that the refret was not done as the builder would have done it, nor as good as the builder would have done it.

Keeping in mind that his work was being criticized by someone who, for all practical purposes, would not stand behind his work, Mr. Wood tells the New Yorker that if he wasn't satisfied,his money would be refunded & that a check would go out that same day. The New Yorker received a free re-fret by one of the finest luthiers in the world because Mr. Wood was more concerned with standing behind the quality of his work than making money.

Standing behind the integrity of his work, trying to be fair & doing the right thing, even when it is to his detriment, speaks volumes about a person. I take my dog & shake his hand, knowing that I had indeed met a man whose ethics, business practices & instruments make the world a better place.

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Randy Wood may be reached at Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. Highway 80, Bloomingdale, Georgia 31302. Tel. (912) 748-1030. E-mail: info@randywoodguitars.com. URL: http://www.randywoodguitars.com