The building behind Chris Testerman’s home could be just another garage, housing perhaps a car, motorcycle or ATV.
But for Testerman, it houses much, much more.
In an effort to preserve the music he loves, Testerman, 26, has made a name for himself as one of the premier fiddle makers in the region.
And walking into his workshop and noticing the fiddle-shaped pieces of wood lying around it’s like walking back in time.
Testerman, a humble man, shrugs off any notion that he’s walking in the footsteps of history, but his lineage belies that fact.
And it all began when he was just a child.
“My interest in music started early,” he said. “I took up the banjo at 8 years old, then picked up the guitar and fiddle when I was around 9 or 10.”
He says it just started naturally.
“I just got really interested as a child in old-time and bluegrass music after listening to the music of Albert Hash, who is regarded as a world-class fiddle maker,” he said. “I started listening to as much as I could after my grandmother talked about him a lot.”
And like Hash, who reportedly built his own fiddle after hearing one play and not being able to afford his own, Testerman made a fateful choice.
“I got to where I didn’t just want to play like (Hash), I wanted to build instruments, too,” he said. “The fiddle, or violin, is such a mysterious instrument.”
A little encouragement from his band teacher, Emily Spencer, and Testerman was on his way.
“It started eating away at me,” he said. “My band teacher performed with the White Top Mountain Band, and she told me to go up there and talk to Audrey Hash-Ham, the daughter of Albert Hash.”
After agreeing to “help” Testerman, Hash-Ham wanted to see if he was indeed dedicated to the craft.
“I came back a little later, actually it was New Year’s Day in 2003, and she cut me out a fiddle back,” he said.
And then she told him to “sand it into shape.”
“She gave it to me and asked me whether I had a fiddle,” Testerman said. “I told her I’d gotten one for Christmas that year.
“She told me to go home and look at my fiddle and start from the center and sand to get the arch in the fiddle back.”
A few sleepless nights later he came back.
“It just went from there,” he said. “I finished my first fiddle when I was 16, in July, 2004.”
Testerman has since completed eight instruments, his latest for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History’s planned exhibit on Albert Hash, scheduled to open in late February.
His instruments sell for around $1,000, Testerman said, but it’s more about the music than making a living.
“The music has just meant a lot to me over the years,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of quiet and shy, so it’s more about getting out there and playing music than anything.”
And the idea that he’s preserving a dying art form isn’t lost on the 26-year-old.
“There isn’t much of this around anymore,” he said, looking around his workshop. “I make them the way Albert did, following his traditional methods. Everything is done by hand.”
Testerman uses maple for the instrument backs and spruce for the rest, just like Hash.
“Albert built his first fiddle when he was 10 years old after hearing one and not being able to afford it, so I want to continue making them the way he did,” Testerman said.
Testerman even uses patterns given to him by Hash’s daughter after his death in 1983.
It takes between one and two months to complete an instrument, depending on the detail.
“It doesn’t pay too well, but I enjoy it,” Testerman said, holding up the first fiddle he ever made. “It’s like I’m bringing a life into the world. You start from a dead tree and take the pieces and make something like this that makes such a beautiful sound.
“It’s just part of who I am.”
Then he picked up that first fiddle he ever made, now a little less pristine than in July, 2004.
With a small smile, his eyes closed and he started to play.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.