Wynn Mandolins- How it all began

Located in the Ozark hills is a small red barn that sits behind the home place of John Wynn. Since 1975 this has been the home of Wynn Mandolins. A self-described tinkerer who has spent his life taking things apart to see how they work he started this business to fulfill his dream of building quality musical instruments. With a focus on banjos and mandolins John Wynn began by seeking out those in need of having their musical instruments repaired. When he discovered that he needed to add to his income in order to feed the family, John began building mandolins and banjos.

Having experimented with building a few mandolins in California before moving back to Missouri, John Wynn found that there were customers in need of quality hand-made instruments. In fact, one of the first mandolins he built upon the pattern of an old "F-Style" Gibson was quickly purchased by a music store for $550 in 1973. At that point John Wynn knew he had a talent that would later become his life-long passion.

Since that time he has continued to improve his luthier skills. His first mandolin had frets made from nails due to no one having supplies to purchase for self-made instruments. This made John continue to improve his product to satisfy his desire of building a quality instrument. While never advertising his product, John Wynn has had a continuous string of orders for his mandolins. Many times customers wait months if not a year or more for their custom built mandolin. All of his business comes from those people who have either played someone else's Wynn Mandolin, own one already or from those who have heard his instruments. Even today Wynn Mandolins are built one at a time. Hand tapping wood for tone along with selecting choice pieces of wood for his mandolins is an art form that is lost in production built instruments. John has stepped outside the "norm" when it comes to the types of wood he uses. Traditionally mandolins are made with spruce tops and maple backs/sides. In his efforts to perfect the mandolin further John has incorporated woods native to the Ozarks into his mandolins. Walnut backs/sides along with Douglas Fir tops have become a mainstay in the variety of woods he uses. The exceptional tone these instruments produce is second to none. Many first generation Bluegrass musicians own and respect the quality instrument John Wynn builds.

John F. Wynn- The story behind the man

John F. Wynn's ancestry dates back to Welch immigrants. "His people" as he often refers to them, migrated west to California through Oklahoma not long after the Great Depression. His father was from Harrison, Arkansas and his mother from Macks Creek, Missouri; John has ties to the Ozarks from the beginning. He was born in California in 1938 and his parents worked the farm fields to provide a way of life. Growing up John was fascinated with discovering "how things worked." While his father at times found this very annoying John continued to "take it apart to see how it worked."

After serving his country in the military, John married Betty in 1959 and began raising a family. He worked in a factory and began experimenting with building acoustic instruments out of need. He had a musical talent but not the funds to purchase quality instruments. When he played music on his "store bought" instruments it just could not match the sound he was hearing from other musicians. One of the first instruments he built was an "F-Style" mandolin modeled after a Lloyd Loar Gibson. Knowing he would probably never be able to afford a Gibson Mandolin, John inlayed the words "The Gibson" upon the peg head. He did this after collecting abalone shells from the nearby beach and hand grinding them flat, then cutting then to fit. A short time later he and Betty were in a local music store in Claremont, California when John showed his mandolin to the store owner. The owner immediately wanted to know if John would sell his mandolin. John, not knowing what his mandolin was worth, asked what the owner wanted to pay for it. He was offered $550, a large sum of money in 1973. John parted with "The Gibson" and immediately began building himself another mandolin. He would build five more mandolins in California, each selling before he had a chance to lay claim to it.

Wanting a better life for his family and in an effort to escape the crime and smog of southern California, in 1975 he moved them to Ozark, MO. Once there John went to work for the Paul Mueller Company. After a short stint in factory work, John knew he could not survive and live his dream. Each morning waking and dreading going to work led John to tell his boss one day "take this job and shove it!"Not knowing where it would lead him John shared with Betty his dream of building custom instruments. Betty encouraged John to fulfill his dream.

John visited each music store in Springfield, MO and informed them of his intentions. He was introduced to Charlie Wells, a well known and respected repairer of musical instruments. John shared with Charlie his dream of working on musical instruments and offered to take "any job that Charlie did not want to do." Charlie welcomed the newcomer to the area. John returned home to his little red barn and began repairing musical instruments. John said he was overwhelmed with the amount of work he had. But after one year he realized that he was not charging enough money to make the repairs. Instead of increasing costs, John decided to begin building mandolins and banjos for sale along with his repair business. The response was beyond what he ever imagined. With each mandolin John built the demand for another one came in. As of late 2006 John has built approximately 200 mandolins, 160 are the "F-Style" Wynn's.

In the early days John did not keep exact records as to serial numbers or who the mandolins were sold to. He believes there are possibly 40 Wynn Mandolins without serial numbers in circulation today, many of them the "A- style."Since that time John has incorporated labels noting the serial number and to whom the mandolin was sold inside each of his mandolins. Check the website to match your serial number to his records. With less than 200 Wynn F-Style mandolins in circulation world wide they truly are a "one of a kind."

To further create a self-identity with his "F-Style" mandolin John incorporated a "third point" into his mandolin in the late 1980's. It was his effort to identify his mandolin as a "Wynn." John said many times he would be at a music show or watching the television and he would see a mandolin, while he recognized the tone of his mandolin the visual confirmation that it was one of his was difficult. He decided to incorporate the "third point." Since that time many other custom builders of mandolins have copied John's idea.

As was mentioned earlier, John has continued to build mandolins since parting with his first "The Gibson" mandolin. To this day John still does not have a Wynn mandolin of his own. Several attempts to do so have fallen short with the instrument winding up in the hands of a customer. John is committed to building Betty and himself "a mandolin of our own."

Today, John still shares his love for Bluegrass music, he and Betty along with son's Berry, John Jr. and granddaughter Amanda have a Bluegrass band called "SouthWynn." They perform throughout the Southwest MO region.  For more information on SouthWynn's schedule check the SouthWynn Band Page.

John is involved in helping other Bluegrass bands in the Ozarks by either sharing advice upon request or "putting in a good word" to area promoters. John and Betty travel to Nashville, TN every year to volunteer at the IBMA awards show. They spend the week reminiscing with many of the first generation Bluegrass musicians who they call "friends" and watch as the newcomers take their place in this legendary American art form. You can also find John and Betty at many of the Bluegrass Festivals in the Ozarks including the annual Silver Dollar City, MO Bluegrass Festival.

Words of advice concerning Wynn Mandolins

If you are fortunate enough to own a Wynn Mandolin, consider yourself lucky. If you are interested in purchasing one, contact John at the number listed. If you are lucky and happen upon a Wynn Mandolin abandoned in a music store or pawn shop, take the first opportunity you have to adopt it,it won't be in the store very long. They have a tendency to jump into the arms of a true follower of Bluegrass music.

Copyright (c) 2007 www.wynnmandolins.com
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