Anderson & Strickland

Gerald Anderson and Spencer Strickland play with an exuberance and joy that is infectious. Whether they are jamming in the sawdust of their instrument-making shop, at a local performance in Grayson County, Virginia, on a festival stage, or in the recording studio, Gerald and Spencer play from the heart and never hold back.

Gerald grew up in Troutdale, Virginia, a small rural town in musically rich Grayson County. He didn’t play much as a boy, but started picking more regularly as a student at Emory and Henry College. In 1976, he received the opportunity of a lifetime, apprenticing in the shop of legendary guitar builder and player Wayne Henderson. Gerald worked in Wayne’s shop for 31 years. There he was able to hone the craft of guitar and mandolin making, as well as bear witness to a lot of great jokes and some fine guitar playing by Wayne and his constant flow of hot-picking companions. Much like Wayne, Gerald became known over the years both as a fine luthier and as a gifted player. His crowning achievement was winning the prestigious Guitar Contest at the 2003 Galax Fiddler’s Convention.

Spencer grew up in Lambsburg, Virginia, near the North Carolina border in Carroll County. Born into a musical family, he began taking mandolin lessons from local player and sound engineer Wesley Easter when he was about 10 years old. Spencer’s playing developed quickly, and in 2004 he became one of the youngest contestants ever to take home the coveted title of “Best All-Around Performer” at the Galax Fiddlers Convention, later winning the mandolin contest at Merlefest. Spencer has quickly become a mandolin player of choice in Southwest Virginia, and has appeared on numerous recordings, including the Buddy Pendleton CD in the Crooked Road Series.

Spencer apprenticed with Gerald in mandolin making through the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the two quickly formed a strong working partnership and friendship. Since the apprenticeship, “Anderson and Strickland Stringed Instruments” have become greatly coveted by musicians throughout the region and the country. “Anderson-Strickland” has also come to signify the name of the performing duo, which has gained popularity for its clean, searing instrumentation and soulful vocal harmonies.

This recording presents Gerald and Spencer at their best. They are joined here by two members of the smoking-hot bluegrass band No Speed Limit; Jacob Eller (bass) and Josh Pickett (guitar), as well as the legendary Jimmy Edmonds (fiddle) and John Saroyan (banjo). Fittingly, these recordings were made just a few miles down the road from Lambsburg in the Cana, Virginia recording studio of Wesley Easter, the man who taught the young Spencer his first licks on the mandolin. Wesley even joins in on banjo. The result is Crooked Road Music at its finest, played by two good friends, having fun and laying it down.

1. Lorrie (R. Leigh)

During his college days at Emory and Henry, Gerald learned this tune from Richard Leigh, who wrote many number 1 songs for country singer Crystal Gayle.

Spencer–mandolin and harmony vocals
Gerald–guitar and lead vocals

2. Everyday Miracle (P. Trianosky, Thornrose Music)

This song was written by good friend and mandolinist Paul Trianosky, who performs regularly with the Grayson Highlands String Band.

Spencer–mandolin, harmony and lead vocals
Gerald–guitar and lead vocals

3. Harrisburg Drive (Spencer Strickland)

An original song of Spencer’s that was named while he was on his way to a show in Harrisburg, PA.


4. Been All Around This World (Traditional)

Gerald learned this song many years ago from the innovative old-time band Skeeter and the Skidmarks. Good friend John Saroyan from New York City joins in on old-time banjo.

Spencer–mandolin and harmony vocals
Gerald–guitar and lead vocals

5. Devil’s Dream (Traditional)

Gerald and Spencer decided to “swap” instruments on this popular old tune.


6. In the Garden (C. Austin Miles, Hall-Mac Comp.)

A gospel favorite Gerald and Spencer both love to play and sing.

Spencer–mandolin, lead and harmony vocals
Gerald–guitar and lead vocals

7. Tennessee Stud (J. Driftwood, Warden Music Co.)

Spencer and Gerald’s version of a song popularized by the great Doc Watson, who inspires both Spencer’s and Gerald’s playing.

Spencer–lead and harmony mandolin
Gerald–lead guitar

8. Blackberry Blossom (traditional)

A traditional song Spencer and Gerald have played all their lives, and one of Spencer’s successful contest tunes.

Spencer–mandolin and rhythm guitar
Gerald–lead guitar

9. River of Jordan (H. Houser)

The fine duet singing of the Looping Brothers from Germany was the inspiration for this gospel song.

Spencer–mandolin and harmony vocals
Gerald–guitar and lead vocals

10. Brilliancy (H. Foster)

This is a song Spencer learned from one of his mandolin heroes, Sam Bush. Spencer used this tune frequently as a competition tune and played it when he won the 2005 Merlefest Mandolin Championship.


11. Momma Don’t ‘Low (traditional)

This jammin’ tune was recorded live in Scotland during a 2006 Crooked Road tour.

Spencer–mandolin, lead and harmony vocals
Gerald–guitar and lead vocals

Gerald Anderson of Troutdale, VA

After hearing the accomplishments of some of the skilled caftsmen of the Crooked Road, we contacted Chuck Riedhammer, director of the Galax Department of Tourism, to ask if we could meet an area luthier in his workshop. The title of “luthier” has been expanded from referring to someone who made lutes to someone who makes any stringed instrument. Mr. Riedhammer referred us to Gerald Anderson of Troutdale. I asked if it would be appropriate to bring something for Mr. Anderson, maybe a homemade pie. He laughed and said, “I don’t know about appropriate, but it certainly would be appreciated.”

We left a message for Gerald on Friday, and on Saturday I met him after he finished playing in the Grayson County Old-Time and Bluegrass Music Convention (Elk Creek) competition. He graciously agreed to have us stop by Wednesday afternoon.

On Monday, we began our search for a baker. Conversations with another customer at Skeeter’s led to meeting another local merchant, Bill Kirk, of The Paper Clip (office supplies). He said there really wasn’t a bakery for pastries in town, but he referred us to Jerry Yonce, the chef at The Log House restaurant.

When I explained our upcoming meeting with the luthier, chef Yonce, seemed a bit amused by my request, but he suggested either a pecan pie or a Kentucky Derby pie. The description of the Kentucky Derby pie (chocolate chips, coconut, and the words “it’s like candy”) sealed the deal. We made plans to pick up the pie around 1:00 on Wednesday. (We then made plans to have lunch at The Log House on Wednesday.)

So, we called Gerald today to get directions to Gerald’s workshop, and, not to our surprise, they included the words “winding,” “uphill,” and, finally, “a very narrow, uphill, winding driveway” to the workshop.

We had lunch at the Log House, picked up the pie, and were off to Troutdale, about 22miles south of Wytheville on Route 16.

We were met at the door by Spencer Strickland, Gerald’s apprentice. He then showed us into the workshop. There was sawdust in the air–not merely the smell of sawdust, but sawdust. We stepped outdoors to present the pie to Gerald, who was both surprised and appreciative of the gift

Gerald Anderson is probably in his mid forties, but looks younger. Both men are two of the most respected luthiers in the region, but both are very humble. We were warmly welcomed to their “office.” One local resident and his friend were already talking with Gerald when we arrived.

As we were shown around the two work areas, I felt like Jimmy who would come over to Mr. Wizard’s workshop (1950’s TV) and say things like, “Gosh, Mr. Wizard, how did you do that–bend the sides?” Both craftsmen answered questions in detail, often reforming the question somewhat to provide a more complete answer to the questions that I asked and to those that I could have asked if I had more knowledge about the art of making guitars and mandolins.

We walked around the workshop, talking about the red spruce grown nearby that is used for the front of the guitar, the mahogany used on the curved sides and back of one guitar, the forms used for the mandolins, and the device (shown above) used to form the curve in the wood providing the sides of the guitar.
Gerald then showed us some of the finished products.

Finally, Gerald showed us a guitar, parts of which four outstanding luthiers (Wayne Henderson, Jimmy Edmonds, Gerald, and Spencer) had made. It is going to be raffled off to pay for their concert trip to Baltimore, the Gibson guitar factory near Allentown, PA, and New York City this fall. It had the words “Crooked Road” in an inlay in the neck of the guitar. We bought some tickets, but I hope someone who can already play well wins the drawing.

After about an hour of conversation and demonstration of the steps involved in creating an instrument, Gerald and Spencer played three songs. To my untrained ear, the sounds from both the guitar and mandolin were both richer and fuller than those of many other guitars.

We then headed for Independence, VA, to listen to a jam session on the lawn of the 100-year-old courthouse.

With every jam session we attend, we understand a little more about the role that these sessions play in the life of the community. The benefits of performing for an appreciative audience is a distant second to the joy of connecting with other people of similar interests. The interplay, both musical and conversational, is all-important.

We were fortunate to see and hear 11 musicians enjoying each other’s company. As a bonus, we heard the full complement of the instruments in a band playing old-time music: fiddle (2), banjo (2), guitar (5), string bass (1), and mandolin (1). (The mandolin player arrived late and occupied the empty chair in the photo.)

I have forgotten to mention in earlier entries a noticeable characteristic of the climate of the region. The effect of the sun can be intense, but when the sun goes behind the mountains, the temperature can drop by what seems to be 15=20 degrees. You go from sweltering to feeling cool/cold enough to need a sweatshirt within 20 minutes.

Transcript for the Piece Audio version of Handcrafting Mandolins

For master craftsman Gerald Anderson, creating an exceptional mandolin or guitar is a lot like playing one—it’s in the hands, the truest meaning of hand-made.

( Gerald Anderson) “There was a quote in Bluegrass magazine recently that instruments that are made by computers have the warmth of computers and instruments made by hand have the warmth of the maker. ”

Once an obscure Renaissance instrument, the mandolin became one of the emblematic sounds of American music thanks to Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. Ask this luthier just how to make a mandolin and he’ll start in with this old saw:

(Gerald Anderson) ” You get a bunch of wood and cut away everything that don’t look like a mandolin. ”

The reality though involves a lot more know-how, elbow grease and sand paper. Just one of these beauties, made of maple and spruce, can take up 80 hours to complete. The waiting list for an Anderson mandolin or guitar is about 6 months. His custom-made instruments, popular around the region, have also found homes as far away as Canada, New York, Oregon and even Saudi Arabia.

(Anderson) “I like instruments that are not overpoweringly bassy or overpoweringly treble, that have a lot more mid-range.. Different types of wood make different types of sound. ”

Anderson began his study of the craft nearly 30 years ago-—he apprenticed with Blue Ridge musician and luthier Wayne Henderson

(Gerald Anderson) “He started me on sweeping the floor to start with and then sanding for a while, then he started teaching me how to do repair work and I did that for several years. The first years I worked with him, I would make maybe one instrument a year. ”

Now Anderson has his own apprentice, Spencer Strickland, whose daily presence in the workshop is made possible by a grant from the Virginia Folklife Program. The 21-year-old is surrounded by an assortment of electric belt, drum and rotary sanders. But he spends hours each day with an instrument between his knees sanding it by hand, back and forth.

(Spencer Strickland:) “You can have a very quality instrument, constructed well, will hold up for many years and if somebody got lazy on the sanding with scratches and gouging, the finish won’t look nice and sometimes it will get overlooked.”

Strickland is an acclaimed mandolin player himself, he even won Best All Around Performer at the 2004 Galax Fiddler’s Convention. He’s also taken top honors at North Carolina’s MerleFest. So he knows firsthand that it’s the handwork that gives an instrument its soul.

(Spencer Strickland) “Just the thought of it being a completely handmade instrument—not something where you put a piece of wood in a machine and out pops a mandolin, so to speak. There’s always going to be flaws in it because a person made it, but that’s what gives it character.”

Anderson and Strickland don’t just build musical instruments together. They play them, too. They recently released a duet c-d titled “Heading South.”

[NAT SOUND FULL: Anderson and Strickland cd “Cherokee Shuffle” :04]

Whether they’re cutting, shaping and sanding a new mandolin, or cutting loose on one of the old songs, here in this tiny shop an old tradition is in good hands.

For VHF Radio, I’m Connie Stevens.

GERALD ANDERSON, Virginia Mountain

Guitar And Mandolin Maker
By Robert C. Buckingham

Southwest Virginia is one of the most beautiful places on earth if you are into that rugged, rural beauty. It is not a place for the faint of heart. Opportunities are often self-made and the result of much effort. Employment often involves driving for over an hour, unless you are fortunate enough to find work locally.

Thirty some years ago, Gerald Anderson graduated from college and started to look around. He was playing guitar and was interested in bluegrass and old-time music. He knew about Wayne Henderson, as everyone seemed to know about the guitar player/builder if they had been paying any amount of attention to music. Anderson worked with Henderson’s former wife during a summer job in college and found himself hanging out at Henderson’s shop, learning about guitars and bluegrass guitar. His interest in music piqued there and the obsession began. He didn’t have a job, so he just hung out at the shop.

At first, all he did was sweep the floors, but after a while, in September of 1976, Henderson put him to work doing repairs. About 1977, Anderson built his first guitar, a copy of a Martin D-28. He averaged about one guitar a year those first few years. He made his first mandolin in 1980. Now, Anderson mostly makes new instruments and does a few repairs on the side. Anderson also discovered that he, Henderson, and Carson Cooper, renowned banjo player in the area, were all related. It turns out that all of their great grandmothers were sisters. This speaks to the deep roots of the people who live this area. They all lived in Rugby, Va., with a shared ancestry.

When Anderson heard the album Will The Circle Be Unbroken, by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Doc Watson on it, he knew what he wanted to do on guitar. It was then Wayne Henderson taught Anderson how to really play guitar and make instruments. Anderson so followed Henderson’s lead that he also worked for the United States Postal Service just as Henderson had done. Anderson credits his time with Henderson well spent for teaching him all he knows about woodworking and instrument building and ninety percent of what he knows about guitar playing. Anderson recalls, “When I was in college, we played mostly chords. When I started learning from Wayne, he uses that pinch picking style with a thumb pick and two finger picks. I learned that style from him. And now that’s the only way I can play, with finger picks and thumb pick. I can’t operate with a flat pick.”

In 1980, he began making mandolins. Anderson recalls that there were not many instrument makers back then. “There was Wayne making guitars and Albert Hash up on the mountain.” Henderson was making some mandolins and he had a guiding hand in Anderson’s development as a mandolin builder. Anderson quickly realized that since Henderson was really known for making guitars and Albert Hash was making fiddles, there seemed to be an open niche for a mandolin maker, and Anderson decided to fill that niche. He relates the story of his first mandolin. “The first mandolin I built, I had no customer for it at all and wasn’t sure anybody would even want it. I had just barely gotten it done and probably the next day a guy comes into the shop. He had an Indian Rosewood D-28 and he was looking to trade this Martin guitar for the mandolin I built. Everyone loved Martin guitars. Those old Martins were what everybody wanted. I could turn something I made into a Martin guitar, so I thought that was great.” When he realized that he could trade a mandolin he made for his first Martin guitar, Anderson got more interested in making mandolins. He changed his emphasis to making mandolins. He didn’t really make that many at first, but increased his output over time while still doing mainly repair work.

In the spring of 2005, Anderson moved out of Henderson’s shop into his own shop in the current location in Troutdale, Va. At this point, he started making more guitars as well as the mandolins he had been building. He focuses on F-style mandolins, making A-styles as well, but the demand he sees is for his F-style. His efforts are to capture as much of that Lloyd Loar design of the Gibson F-models from 1922 to 1924 as possible. He has made some F-4 and A-4 oval-hole models as well. Lately, Anderson has even been using some Carpathian spruce for tops. This spruce comes from Romania, and Anderson feels that the sound is better than with the Red Spruce and Sitka tops that he had been using. So far, he has made 157 mandolins and 97 guitars. Before leaving Henderson’s shop, he had made only 12 guitars.

“I worked in Wayne’s shop for about 28 years and Jon Lohman of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities had an apprenticeship program and he asked me if I could do that. The person I ended up taking on was Spencer Strickland. He was a young fellow from Carroll County who was a great mandolin player and was real interested in making mandolins. His folks had gotten him a mandolin when he was about 12. I had built it for them. So I knew Spencer well and he did not want to quit making instruments. He wanted to do it full time and Wayne’s shop was just too small. So we turned my basement into a shop and Spencer helped me here for about five years. About two years ago, he started his own shop in Carroll County in Lambsburg. I kind of felt that is something I should do. Wayne taught me and I taught Spencer. And that’s the way those things go.”

While most of his guitars are based on a Martin design, he has found that a lot of folks like having one made from local woods. Walnut, maple, and spruce from this region, rich in hardwood forests, make a fine instrument. While these are not the traditional bluegrass guitar woods, these guitars are popular with folks who want an instrument made of local woods. On tone woods, Anderson has this to say, “Rosewood tends to be bassier sounding and mahogany is brighter. Walnut falls in between these two and the maple tends to be bright sounding. Curly maple makes a real beautiful guitar. That’s what I make my mandolins out of, and it is really good wood.”

Anderson was lucky enough to procure some local red spruce from White Top Mountain. It tends to be a little wider grained due to the altitude where it grows. He also gets red spruce from West Virginia and Maine.

Perhaps the most famous of the folks Anderson has built a guitar for is Mumford & Sons. When asked how this came about, he had this to say. “I got asked by the Virginia Tourism Corporation in Richmond to make a guitar for a band from England called Mumford & Sons. I didn’t know much about their music. So I looked them up on the Internet and they are a really popular band. I looked them up to see what kind of guitar he was playing on their videos. Most of the time he was playing a regular D-size Martin kind of a guitar, so I thought that was what I would build. The Tourism people were interested in showcasing Virginia, so I decided I would make it out of the local woods. Local maple and spruce from right around here. I made him the equivalent of a D-18 with some fancier ornamentation. I put his name, Marcus Mumford, in the fingerboard. The weekend that all of this was to happen was also the weekend of the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention. So I went down that Friday for their big show in Bristol and as the day was going on, I didn’t know about it, but they wanted another guitar for the banjo player because he plays some guitar in that band too. I didn’t have another guitar to take to him. There was a guitar at a place called Heartwood in Abington, which is an arts center that displays crafts and instruments made by Virginia makers. They had one of my guitars there. So Mumford & Sons bought that one, too.

Well, I met Marcus in Leah Ross’s office. She is in charge of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, and I gave him that guitar. The tourism folks made a video of me and Spencer and Jimmy Edmonds, a local fiddle maker, working on that guitar and playing some music. They showed the video to Marcus and he got real emotional because he didn’t know that this whole deal was happening. He was getting emotional and the tears started welling up in his eyes. I handed him the guitar, and he did not take to bawlin’, but you could tell he was real emotional. Tears were coming out of his eyes for sure. He said he had never had anyone give him a gift like that before and he was real appreciative of it. He played it a little bit and I played it a little bit and Dorie Freeman, Scott’s daughter, sang a little bit, and he actually sang along with her, and that was pretty cool. He really liked the guitar. The next day, the tourism folks interviewed him and it’s on YouTube, Mumford and Son Guitar in the Making. The whole thing turned out really good, and he is no doubt the most famous person I ever made a guitar for.

“Most of the instruments I make are for local folks in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. I have sent some out to Washington and Oregon. In the past few years, we have traveled overseas to Scotland and England some and I have taken instruments and sold them over there. Spencer, Jimmy, and I went over and we took four instruments for customers.”

 Besides Spencer Strickland, who played number 53 on the road with Kenny & Amanda Smith, Scott Freeman with Skeeter and the Skidmarks plays Anderson mandolins. Spencer Strickland still works with Anderson and does some pearl and inlay work on Anderson’s instruments as well as the spraying of varnish finishes. “He has very good setup for that. After last year’s Reno Festival where we did a set with Jimmy Edmonds and Wayne Henderson, someone put it on the Internet and called it the Virginia Luthiers. So we have been playing some gigs under that name.” Everybody plays instruments that they have made except for Anderson when he switches over to the bass. He says, “I never made a bass because I never found a piece of wood big enough.”

When asked what other projects he might have up his sleeve, Anderson said, “A couple of months ago, the four of us made a video for the tourism folks at the Carter Fold. We did four songs. They asked each of us to do a song that was special to us. Wayne did ‘The Carter Family Medley’ because Wayne is a big fan of the Carter Family. Jimmy and Spencer each did a fiddle tune and I did a tune that Dale Morris and I had written together called ‘Home.’ The tourism folks are using the video for promotions.

“The director of The Crooked Road now is Jack Henshelwood. He occasionally asks me to go down to Charlotte to promote The Crooked Road. The Crooked Road is a tourism thing having to do with Route 58 that goes through several counties in Virginia where music pretty much thrives and has always been going on. The name describes this area that has eight major venues like the Carter Fold, the Rex Theater in Galax and that sort of thing. Then there are smaller venues where you can drive through the area and hear live music on any night of the week. It starts at Ferrum College and goes West to the Ralph Stanley Museum. Along that route there’s Ferrum College, the Floyd Country Store, the Rex Theater, the Carter Fold, the Country Cabin, and several more. The tourism people and the Crooked Road people hope to promote the state of Virginia by getting folks to visit the area. It has been a real successful thing. The Scotland tour we did was partially sponsored by The Crooked Road. They had a Crooked Road fiddlers’ convention in Abington and they made me one of the judges for that. They are just trying to promote the music and culture of Virginia.”

In a beautiful part of the world where things don’t always come easy, Gerald Anderson has made a living while making a life as an instrument builder and musician. He has made more than 25 recordings and has won over 200 ribbons from musical competitions. The most prestigious of these competitions is the ribbon for first place guitar at the 2003 Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax, Va.

Tryon Arts Crafts hosts luthier Gerald Anderson

Tryon Arts and Crafts School will host a guitar building workshop with renowned luthier Gerald Anderson on Sept. 20-30.

A guitar made by luthier Gerald Anderson, who will teach a guitar-building workshop Sept. 20-30 at Tryon Arts and Crafts. (photo submitted)

This workshop will offer students the opportunity to build their own, one-of-a-kind guitar. The workshop will end with a concert for the students and Anderson.
Over the 10 days, students will learn the entire procedure of guitar building. Students will construct a Martin D-18 style acoustic guitar with a spruce top and mahogany body.
Anderson, one of the most respected luthiers in the country, will share the expertise he has gained over the past 30 years.
The workshop begins on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 9 a.m. Each day will offer students new information as they work with Anderson and his apprentice, Spencer Strickland. Because of the special nature of the workshop, space is limited to four students.
Anderson began making mandolins 29 years ago under the guidance of Wayne Henderson and has since crafted more than 200 instruments. After he graduated from college, Anderson spent considerable time in the famous guitar maker’s workshop in Rugby, Va., observing and playing music with Henderson. He soon developed a desire to create his own fine-quality instruments.
His early goal was to reproduce the sounds of the classic Gibson-Loar mandolins of the 1920s. He continued to share a workspace with Henderson until just recently when Anderson moved his tools and instruments into the bottom level of his home.
Anderson now shares his expertise and workshop with apprentice Spencer Strickland.
In the many years Anderson has been crafting instruments he has also played old-time music with friends including Wayne Henderson and Butch Barker.
Anderson has made more than 25 recordings and has more than 200 ribbons from musical competitions; the most prestigious being best guitar player at the 2003 Galax Fiddlers Convention. Anderson was among the region’s 12 musicians who participated in the Crooked Road Goes to Scotland Tour in May 2006.
Advance registration and a deposit is required to reserve your place in the workshop.

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