The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Stan Scott - Mountain Craftsman

By Bob Heafner © 1991

Issue: August, 1991

Stan Scott, with his new mandolin.Stan Scott, with his new mandolin.A fellow dropped by the office one day wanting to know if we could layout some sign templates on our computers. Debbie Stone over at Top Printing here in Wytheville, had put him on our trail. Top Printing prints all our "Mountain Laurel Seeds," renewal cards, etc. and we, in turn, do her typesetting.

The fellow wanting the sign templates was Stan Scott, who owns Southwest Signs here in Wytheville. Over the next week or so Stan dropped by the office several times to check on the sign templates. On nearly every occasion his visits brought a halt to the work in progress as we all drew up chairs and talked "mountains." Stan's one of those outgoing people who seem like an old friend from the first time you meet him. He's easy going, interesting and just a good down to earth person. He was born in Bluefield, but considers himself a native of Wythe County. He went out into the world beyond for many years, but is now settled back in his home county.

Somewhere long about his second or third visit the conversation turned to mountain music and we discovered Stan was a musician and also in the process of building himself a new mandolin. When I asked what made him decide to build a mandolin he said he'd built one 15 years ago and had been wanting a new one but couldn't afford to buy so he just decided to build it.

That conversation started "Mountain Laurel" wheels to turning and I asked if we could "interview" him for an article in the paper. He agreed and invited me to come by his shop - which is in his basement - last Saturday. Saturday morning at 10:00 am, I was being invited into the living room of his house on Valley Street by his 13 year old daughter, Misty. Stan was close on her heels and soon leading me through the kitchen and down the stairs to his shop.

I'm not sure what I was expecting to find in the way of equipment but, being somewhat familiar with woodworking, I expected some pretty impressive jig saws, planers, jointers, table saws, etc. Anyone familiar with mandolins know how intricate the body curves and mother of pearl inlays on a nice instrument can be. That's why a well made mandolin can cost well into the thousands of dollars. The workshop was a surprise since Stan's equipment consisted primarily of small jewelers tools.

The instrument he had just finished was gorgeous. The neck contains intricate patterns of mother of pearl carved into the shape of vining flowers topped off with a red cardinal and his last name "Scott" all seamlessly inlaid into the wood. Matched blocks of curly maple were used for the back, sides and neck and sitka spruce for the top. The body of the mandolin is finished to a deep luster with the wood curved and arched to perfection. It was easy to see why it had him taken between 350-400 hours to complete. While I was admiring the workmanship of the mandolin, Stan proceeded to tell how he "tuned the wood." It is not enough, he explained, for an instrument to look good - it must sound right. The wood must be shaved to the proper thickness and shape in order to create the proper resonance needed for the crisp clear notes which bluegrass music is noted for.

In order to determine that the wood is shaped properly, he uses a "strobe tuner" which emits an electronic signal indicating the pitch of the wood itself. Needless to say, if too much, or too little is shaved the pitch will not be correct. This is where precision is a must! It must be just right. With the finish hardly dry on his new creation, Stan won first place with it at the Ivanhoe Fiddler's Convention in late July. Must be right, wouldn't you say.

Stan has been making music for "about 16 or 17 years" and has played with several bluegrass bands. He's quick to point out that the "honesty" and "feeling" of this type of music is why he loves it. Leaning back against his workbench with his mandolin cradled in his arm, he recalled a time when his band had played a fiddler's convention in Mount Airy, North Carolina. The convention had ended on Saturday night but on Sunday morning the band broke out their instruments and gathered around a tailgate to pick a few more tunes before starting home. A couple passing by strolled over to listen. Stan said, "we [the band] were really feeling the music, everything was just right. I looked over my shoulder at the couple and there were tears running from the young lady's eyes. That's what this kind of music is all about and why I love it. It touches people. Both the audience and the musicians."

Standing at his work bench examining his new mandolin with a critic's eye, Stan pointed out imperfections that I had not, nor would have, noticed. They were minor points, but concern over such detail is a trait I've come to appreciate, in all good craftspeople. A good craftsperson is constantly striving for perfection and any blemish, no matter how small, is magnified in their eyes. That drive for absolute perfection is what separates a craftsperson from a hobbyist. Stan Scott is a craftsman.

If you're in the market for a mandolin or a sign, give Stan a call (703-228-5591). From what we've seen, he'll do his best to make either as close to perfect as possible.