The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina have nurtured many great folk musicians over the years. Less well known are the folk craftsmen, who built the instruments used by many of the fine singers and players since the area was first settled. One of the region’s most respected instrument makers was Leonard Lucky Glenn, a resident of Watauga County’s Laurel Creek community, near Beech Mountain.
Glenn began building traditional mountain banjos as a young man. He made them almost entirely of wood—maple, walnut, and cherry mainly—and covered the heads with small animal hides. He did not attach frets to the instruments’ necks. This style of banjo bears kinship to its closest antecedent, an African instrument carried to America by slaves.
Glenn’s father made banjos and undoubtedly influenced his son in this direction. However, Leonard Glenn’s instrument-making skills were largely self-taught. He began building dulcimers in the 1950s, when the instrument’s popularity was boosted by post-war folk music and craft revivals. “I just decided,” he said, “to get me some wood and go in on the dulcimer business, and the first dulcimer I ever made I just studied it out for myself and made it.” As noted by his son Clifford Glenn, who also took up the instrument-making craft with great success, “I think we were sort of pioneers. There weren’t many making the dulcimer back then.”
Glenn was an expert player of the instruments he made. For years he and his family taught and entertained a steady stream of musicians and school children who came looking for a taste of the old-time mountain culture. While crafting instruments that are prized for their superior sound, they can be credited with preserving some old and wonderful Appalachian folk arts.