“I’ve worked on them ever since I was a young man,” Earl Moretz says of building instruments. Earl has been making instruments and playing bluegrass and old-time mountain music for most of his life, continuing family traditions that go back at least three generations.
Earl was born in the Meat Camp community of Watauga County. “My daddy and his brothers and sisters all played music,” Earl says. They played old-time mountain music at family and community gatherings.
Earl started playing banjo before he was 10 years old. “I was just a young’un when I started,” he says. “Me and my brothers played when we were teenagers at schools and gatherings.” When his brother got married, Earl started playing with other members of the community. He lived in Caldwell County for several years, and while there he played with Jerry and Doug Greene and Clarence Greene. For the past 30 years he has lived in Ashe County, where he spends much of his time working with wood and building instruments, another family tradition. “My grandpa used to build fiddles and fix them,” Earl says. “He also built mill wheels and traveled around the country wherever people needed their mills worked on.” Earl’s father worked in sawmills for a career, and Earl worked in furniture factories. “I always liked working with wood,” he says. He made his first banjo when he was a young man. “I had several good banjos, and seen how they were made,” Earl says. “I always liked the Gibson banjos.”
Earl has learned to make several instruments. He has built banjos, guitars, and mandolins, and he has made one fiddle. He made his first mandolin in 1986, an F5-style instrument. He has sold several instruments, and he has kept a few as well. “I pick on a couple of banjos that I made,” he says. Earl plays guitar, banjo, and some mandolin.
Earl plays music at home, where he builds his instruments. He welcomes visitors to talk about his craft and possibly sell an instrument.