Southern Heroes

Doug Naselroad: The Teacher

The Kentucky luthier helps addicts in recovery by teaching them how to make musical instruments

Illustration: Barry Falls

In Hindman, Kentucky, one of the poorest areas in the eastern part of the state, and a community ravaged by opiate addiction, hope comes with strings attached—for guitars, mandolins, and dulcimers. That’s thanks to Doug Naselroad and Culture of Recovery. In 2012, Naselroad became the Appalachian Artisan Center’s Master Artist in Residence in woodworking, and shortly thereafter, he created the Appalachian School of Luthiery there. Soon, he received a phone call. The man on the phone, Earl Moore, told him that he needed a luthier. “I’m like, who in the world needs a luthier?” Naselroad recalls with a laugh. Moore, a recovering addict and an ex-felon, was looking for something to occupy his time. He ended up apprenticing with Naselroad for six years and inspired him to cofound in 2017 Culture of Recovery, a program offered through the AAC that allows those in addiction recovery programs to learn blacksmithing, ceramics, or instrument making. 

So far, 150 people have come through the program, which is funded in part by grants, as is the AAC’s Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company, the nonprofit factory Naselroad helped start to employ some of the apprentices afterward. The outfit is one of the few luthiers that exclusively use Appalachian hardwoods such as oak, black walnut, and Osage orange—Naselroad says the quality of the Virginia and North Carolina wood rivals that of more traditional luthier woods from Central and South America. And while the business is thriving, Naselroad values most the program’s ability to provide a nurturing environment as the recovering addicts craft a tangible product they can be proud of, reducing the chance of a relapse. Says Naselroad: “We’re just enjoying making some really cool instruments with people that we care about.”


NextRudy ReyesFull list: See all 30 heroes