A 1995 National Heritage Fellow, guitar master Wayne Henderson was born, raised and still lives in tiny (population seven) Rugby, Virginia, a very remote area of the Appalachians' Blue Ridge near the North Carolina border. His father Walt, an accomplished fiddler, and his uncle were musicians who played for a time in the string band of Estil Ball, a renowned guitarist in the area who had been recorded by pioneer folklorists John and Alan Lomax. Wayne admired Ball's music and was impressed by his guitar, a steel-string Martin. Unable to afford a Martin, he ordered a different, less-expensive guitar from the Sears catalogue. He was disappointed in the instrument and began making his own, launching him on a career as one of the nation's best makers of fine guitars. Doc Watson, Peter Rowan, Gillian Welch and Eric Clapton are among well-known musicians who use Henderson guitars.
As a guitar player, Wayne has won more than 300 ribbons at fiddlers' conventions. He has taken first place 13 times in the Galax (Virginia) Fiddlers' Convention guitar competition, and is honored annually by friends and neighbors at the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition. Sometimes Wayne's playing is mistaken for flat-picking but actually he uses a thumb pick and fingerpicks to achieve amazing speed and fluidity, transforming fiddle and banjo pieces and even the occasional jazz standard into stunning guitar solos. According to Allen St. John, author of Clapton's Guitar, "Wayne is a musical chameleon, straddling the very different aesthetics of bluegrass and old-time music. Henderson has the chops of the very best bluegrassers playing with blazing speed and almost surgical precision. He picks the lead clean and fast, always with a distinctive bounce that's a result of his unique playing style…. But like his old-time friends, he eschews flash for its own sake, preferring instead to just play the tune."