Kentucky Life meets Neil Kendrick, a luthier who makes guitars for some of the country’s best Bluegrass musicians.
Neil Kendrick of Menifee County has been making guitars for over 20 years. He was taught by the late master luthier Homer Ledford. Guitar players like Josh Williams, of Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, come to Kendrick for guitars that sound just the way they want them to.
“Neil’s the best luthier that I’ve ever met,” said guitar player Jeffery Fannin. “When you play one of Neil’s guitars, none of the other guitars that I’ve played compared in quality or sound.”
What is the key to making guitars?
“The whole idea of a guitar is to get the string vibrations transferred to the inside of the guitar, so they can resonate back out the sound hole at a maximum volume and a maximum tone,” said Kendrick.
He said most of his customers are bluegrass musicians. “So the wood of choice in my opinion … is usually East Indian rosewood,” he said. “And that is for the back and the sides. The top wood is various spruce woods. My favorite is German spruce for the top. I’ve had the most success with that for getting the kind of tone that I want.”
Kendrick tries to balance the treble and the bass. His ultimate goal, he said, is to “make an instrument that could be heard out well with someone jamming outside, and still be able to take the same instrument and go to the studio with it and have a good sound.”
Kendrick recalled learning from Homer Ledford. “He’d always take the time to stop and talk to me about the business and about the skills and the processes that it takes to do different tasks,” he said. “Homer had already built thousands of instruments – more than 6,000 instruments in his lifetime.”
Kendrick recalled that Ledford built many things by hand. “To claim that it is a hand built instrument, I expect it to be everything by hand that I possibly can,” he said. “Homer carried that tradition all the way to the end.”
Kendrick loves every part of the process, from designing to crafting. “I used to have trouble with stopping to eat. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t get myself to stop – especially if things are going well and you’re just really moving along, it’s hard to stop.
“You get that passion about building the instrument–and then the final result, when you get to see that instrument played on stage, and you look around in the crowd and you see people enjoying hearing that instrument that much, that’s really satisfying.”
This video is part of Kentucky Life episode #2116 which originally aired on May 7, 2016. View the full episode here.