Edd Presnell was raised in a musical family and community near Beech Mountain. The area was home to storytellers, ballad singers, banjo pickers, instrument builders, and toy makers. He was particularly interested in woodworking. He first heard a dulcimer when his future wife, Nettie Hicks, came by with an instrument her father, Ben, built. “I was 15 or 16,” Presnell recalled, “and Nettie brought the dulcimer over and played it.” With help from his future father-in-law, Presnell made his first dulcimer in 1936.
Between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s, Presnell made more than 1,100 dulcimers. He and Nettie received the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award in 1974 for dulcimer making and woodcarving. In addition to making dulcimers, the Presnells hand-carved animals from wood, and they traveled around the region to fairs and festivals to sell their work, including at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.
Presnell had a strong work ethic. “We’ve been through every age,” he said in a 1970s interview. “The Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Machine Age, the Atomic Age put together, only to find ourselves smack in the Money Age. The Money Age. It’s got to where a fellow won’t speak no more than twelve words to you unless there’s money in it. Me, I work because I like to work.”
Edd Presnell’s instruments are still found in the area and coveted by dulcimer enthusiasts and folklorists around the globe. He helped establish the Beech Mountain craft and instrument-building tradition.