Making music for a lifetime
By Hugh Carey

Bryan England began Custom Inlay after quitting his factory job at General Electric in 1987. By hand, he cuts inlays and adds them to banjos and other string instruments for clients including Gibson Guitars and Bluegrass musician Bobby Osborne. “I couldn’t just sit down and quit,” Bryan says of his work that keeps him moving at age 71.

Bluegrass music fills the Old Judicial Building in Leitchfield as feet tap in sync with the songs. Once a month Bluegrass Opry Night brings in 175 people, mostly older locals who have known each other since high school. Their faces light up when they recognize Bryan England, 71, and the McDonald Road Band.

Bryan and the band have been playing together since high school. For 22 years, they practiced one night a week in Bryan's luthier shop next his home on McDonald Road before they started playing in public. They don't charge for their performances.

Bryan spends his days in his shop where he builds guitars, mandolins and banjos, and creates custom inlays for the stringed instruments. His clients include Gibson Guitars and Bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne.

With tools he has used for decades, he creates the inlays, including bridge pins made of fossilized Wooly Mammoth imported from Russia and walrus from Alaska.

Bryan was working at General Electric when in about 1975 he bought a used banjo and fixed it up. Then a co-worker at General Electric started a business called First Quality Music and asked Bryan to fix banjos. He repaired banjos for several years before leaving his job to work as a luthier full-time.

Bryan and his wife, Faye, were teenagers when their son, Dwight, was born. Now they have two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren. Most of the family still live on McDonald Road where they can easily swing by Bryan and Faye's home for dinner. Faye also works in the shop, building inlays for banjos and other stringed instruments.

On an October evening, Bryan and the McDonald Road Band warm up for 30 minutes before their Bluegrass Opry performance, their only rehearsal. Since going public, they rarely practice at Bryan's shop on Tuesday nights. However, they knew exactly what they are going to do on stage.

Bryan and the other members of the band hope to be playing together for years to come:
"You know, when you get old and you go into a nursing home?" We're trying to all get in the same one so we can play music."

The bridge pins, hand-shaped and built by Bryan inside his shop, are made of various types of ivory, including fossilized woolly mammoth from Russia and walrus from Alaska. “The custom inlay is always something different,” Wilbur says.

Photos of Bryan’s father (top left) and his mother (top right), along with Bryan and his four brothers, hang on the wall in his shop beside the instruments played by family members. In her photo, his mother is playing the guitar hanging on the wall at right.

Megan Luedke settles her daughter, Brynn, in her baby carriage as her husband, Jason, (sitting at left) chats with his brother-in-law Dylan Snyder after dinner at their grandmother Faye’s house. Faye (far left) and Bryan have one son and two granddaughters. Faye hunted the deer on the wall on their property.

From his favorite chair, Bryan chats with his granddaughter Lauren Snyder, who holds her daughter, Luca, Bryan’s great-granddaughter.

After buying a used banjo in the 1970s, Bryan fixed banjos for a friend and eventually began building guitars for Gibson Guitars, a large manufacturer. He displays photos and the stringed instruments he and his family used over the decades at this shop.

On his way to a performance, Bryan stops to chat with Carla Wynn, holding a baby carrier, on McDonald Road. Bryan and Faye as well as several other family members live along the dead end road outside Leitchfield.

Members of the McDonald Road Band, Leon Davis (from left), Myron Wedman, Bryan England, and Roger Dermitt, sing together before their performance at the Old Judicial Building during the Grayson County Bluegrass Opry on a Friday evening. “We met at (my house) every Tuesday night for 22 years and they started calling us McDonald Road,” Bryan said.

Every morning Bryan goes for a walk on his land outside Leitchfield.