The Woodrow Handcrafted Appalachian Instruments

In our travels to Boston’s New England Home Show, we came across the Woodrow Instrument Company which is located in Southern Appalachian in western North Carolina at the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville. The Woodrow Company was named after master woodworker, Woodrow Branscombe from Jacksonville Florida. Dan studied under Woodrow for a few years, developing the Appalachian instruments in Woodrow’s shop. Before passing, Woodrow worked in his woodshop into his early 90′s. Woodrow grew up during the depression and being from the old school, he would use every scrap of wood including making projects from pallet wood. Dan said,“The major lesson I learned from Woodrow was his patience working with wood and products, learning how elements react with each other and how to manipulate those elements to make them work together.” Dan remarked, “You can’t buy that lesson in any school!”

“It takes 10 years to learn how to build a string instrument, but it takes a lifetime to learn how to finish it!”…Dan Williams

For about 20 years, Dan Williams has made over 5000 string instruments. Dan’s creation’s combine the musical flavors of a dulcimer and a banjo expressing the sounds of blues, bluegrass, celtic, and whatever else you would care to play on these Appalachian style instruments. Each personally attended piece produces different depths of tones depending on the different woods and finishes used,  and the  instrument sizes created. Currently, Dan tends to the business and sales side of things, as well as designing and coming up with new finishing technologies for his instruments, while his son Aaron runs the woodshop.

Dan stated, “Finish is the key to a fine sounding instrument. For example, the grain of red oaksycamore and curly ash is twisted, but when it’s quartersawn, it creates strength in a piece of wood, carries vibration, and is beautiful to look at. Hard maple refelcts vibration creating a higher pitch. Soft hard woods like cherry and black walnut absorb vibration creating a more mellow tone.”

From left to right above, 5 products are offered.

First is “The Rambler” with a mandolin type tone. It is the smallest, lightest and simplest of all the models. It has seven frets, four strings, two of which are double drone strings, three are tuned to the same note (high and low). This one has a black walnut body and a maple top.

Second is “The Old Time” with a banjo sounding, 7 note fretboard and a maple body with a quartersawn red oak top.

Third is “The Crysta-Cell”, named after Dan’s wife Crystal. It is made with a solid cherry body and a curly ash top. With a dragonfly design in the front, this 7 fret beauty has a deeper cello type tone.

If you are looking for more playability, “The Artist” has an extended fretboard, increasing the range and dynamic sound levels. Made from a solid black walnut body, an exotic hardwood fretboard and a quilted maple top, you will also have abalone headstock options when ordering from The Artist Series.

Finally, “The Elite” is the deeper toned guitar sounding acoustic-electric version with a standard amplifier plug-in. Made with a black walnut body, maple inlay, maple top, and a bacote fretboard, it also has an extra abalone inlay, and 12 frets for expanded higher range play.

Listen to the demo provided by Julia Rooks from The Woodrow String Instrument Company as she takes us through each of the instruments offered one string at a time!

In addition to the high quality woods in each of these instrument series, Dan finishes them with a vinyl sealer, followed by nitrocellulose based laquer and a hand polish for years of protection. Dan follows the Stradivarius method of finishing in that the violin was cross-cut to determine what finish is correct for each instrument created. In Dan’s word’s, “It takes 10 years to learn how to build a string instrument, but it takes a lifetime to learn how to finish it!”

The Woodrow String Instrument Company is not only committed to making and supplying the best quality instruments. As a previous music teacher, Dan would travel to private homes, providing instruction in all string instruments. Carrying that forward in his own company now, the dedication to music education continues on The Woodrow website where he provides a Tuning & Playing page. In addition, you will find Dan & company performing and marketing their talents at craft shows, festivals, and a few wood shows across the country. You may check out their 2012 schedule HERE.

Dan is currently working on 3 studio performance instrument models for the recording artist Zee Avi for their European recording tour.

For additional information on The Woodrow String Instrument Company, click on the link. You will also find them on Facebook. The song list mentioned in the video can be found under at this link:

Also, replacement strings are as follows:

The lower two are E strings light gauge.

The bass string is G light gauge.

The middle is B string light gauge.  

Here’s an April 2015 update:  Dan Williams, musician and creator of the Woodrow stringed instrument, plays the Old Timer piece he made for songwriter Josh Kear to play with Lady Antebellum at the 50th annual Country Music Awards on Sunday, April 19th, live from AT&T Stadium, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.  Josh is an award winning songwriter for Big Yellow Dog Music, writing for many country stars.  Click on the Citizen-Times link HERE for the full story!

Now head to your shop and make some music!
auf Wiedersehen…Frank

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