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A pocket knife and a dream launched Wayne Henderson’s career

BOONE—A pocket knife, some wood and the desire for his own guitar launched Wayne Henderson’s career.

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The noted musician and luthier from Rugby, Va., was the guest speaker for convocation Sept. 4 at Appalachian State University. Henderson is the subject of the book “Clapton’s Guitar” Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument,” which incoming freshmen at Appalachian were invited to read and discuss before the start of fall semester as part of the university’s Common Reading Program.

In a talk interspersed with folksy tales and fingerpicking on the guitar, Henderson shared his simple secret for success.

“You’ve got to have goals and you’ve got to be persistent and never think there’s anything you can’t do,” Henderson told his audience.

Henderson built his first guitar when he was 7, crafting it from 2-by-4 lumber, fishing line and an empty snuff box.

Because he said he “couldn’t afford (to buy) a good guitar,” he made a second guitar in 1968 working with little more than some wood, abalone and pearl for the inlay, a pocket knife and a few tools that were on his farm. He soon sold that guitar for $500. “You take some nice wood and that sharp whittling knife and cut away everything that does not look like a guitar,” he said.

Henderson used the money to purchase more wood and some wood working equipment and started building guitars to sell. “I told my granny that ‘Lord, if I can make money like this, this is what I’m going to do.’”

Now, his guitars sell for about $5,000 according to one report and can bring more than $20,000 at auction. He has been making guitars for more than 50 years and in that time crafted more than 500, including one for Eric Clapton.

“Nothing’s impossible,” he told the students. “Follow your dreams.”