Rick Stone juggled his time between woodworking, sculpting, painting, playing music, and occasionally writing songs. He was also one of the finest instrument builders in the area. Rick grew up outside of Washington, DC, and his teenage interest in acoustic guitars and desire for a new instrument inspired him to build a guitar. The teacher of his woodshop class in high school was also interested in building an instrument, and when the two combined resources, Rick was able to build his first guitar. “It was a little rough around the edges,” he remembered, “but it had a great loud sound.” He had caught the instrument-building bug, and so began his lifelong passion for making guitars, dulcimers, mandolins, and other stringed instruments.
Rick’s family was from Watauga County, but his parents moved north for work in the 1930s. They made frequent trips back to visit his grandparents, and it was on one of these trips that Rick saw his first dulcimer. “It was at the old craft shop on ‘Greasy Corner,'” he recalled. Later, he visited a dulcimer exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. “I was intrigued with the variety of shapes and styles,” he said. “You could see the personal expression the individual makers left.” He started building dulcimers, and enjoyed experimenting with designs.
Working in a guitar factory in Maryland, after high school, he honed some of his luthiery skills. The factory made electric guitars modeled after Fender styles. He got experience in carving fingerboards and installing frets. The foreman was also interested in acoustic instruments, and he passed along advice about the craft. Rick continued making his own instruments in his free time, including flat-top mandolins.
Rick ran a shop in Vancouver, Canada, and then in Maryland, but in the mid-1970s he moved to Watauga County, to live near his parents, who had already returned. He continued to build many instruments out of his home in the Aho community, including a four-string mandolin-like instrument of his own creation that he named for the neighborhood. The aho takes a number of shapes, and was designed to be an easily and inexpensively constructed stringed instrument. Rick invented a free-standing fingerboard, or staff, that is not connected to an instrument’s tail piece, increasing vibration and projection. He particularly enjoyed building guitars and mandolins, which were his instruments of choice to play as well.
Rick performed and recorded with the Laurel Creek String Band, Ora Watson, Kirby, Welsh, and Stone, and the Sheets Family. He was an excellent old-time mandolin player and finger-picked guitar player.
Rick passed away on February 23, 2013 at the age of 66.