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Randy Wood, Guitar Maker to the King and Cash

Elvis, Clapton, Emmy Lou. They’ve all flocked to this music pioneer—a luthier who carves his instruments by feel.

A self-proclaimed “old-fashioned” craftsman, Randy Wood has built the music-making machines of Elvis Presley, Emmy Lou Harris, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, and others. The longtime luthier is still carving wood for custom-made guitars, basses, and mandolins in his studio/music hall in Bloomingdale, Georgia.

Wood has been in the business since the late 1960s, when he first made a mandolin and in short order founded one of the world’s best-known guitar shops in Nashville. It was a place where stars like Presley and Cash would stop by before their shows. He told Garden and Gun that it was during that period when he personally laid the mother of pearl into the King’s guitar fingerboard, and the acorns and oak leaf engravings on Johnny Cash’s Martin D-28S.

But Wood’s success might as well come from his fortuitous last name—he never studied the field he has now become a legend in. “I don’t have any training in acoustical engineering or any of that stuff,” Wood told American Songwriter magazine last year. “I do everything more by feel… Those are things you just learn over time. I don’t know if it’s anything you can teach somebody. It’s just something you learn through trial and error.”

A few years after his first guitar-shop venture, he migrated to just outside Savannah, and launched Randy Wood Guitars. Now, decades later, he’s still at it, not just building guitars and other instruments, but decorating them with an artist’s touch—be it inlaid mother of pearl or an ornate, hand-drawn scene. He also does repairs, a work he considers more difficult than the initial instrument building.

Each instrument needs a player, and Wood has found room to showcase those, too. Next to his studio, he’s built Randy Wood’s Pickin Parlor Concert Hall, a 100-seater venue featuring a rotating cast of bluegrass bands, and a popular barbecue restaurant for visitors to enjoy the countryside and listen to some tunes.