Oliver's Ozarks: Mandolin Maker Creates Sought-After Instruments

By David Oliver | doliver@kolr10.com

Published 02/19 2014 09:02PM

Updated 02/20 2014 09:03AM

JEROME, Mo. -- Bluegrass has been a part of the musical landscape in the Ozarks for generations and a Phelps County man knows a thing or two about what it takes to play bluegrass and the instruments it requires.

Jerry Rosa loves to pick and play.

“It took me 30 years to figure out it's really easy,” says Rosa.

In his late 20's, Rosa decided he wanted to get involved in music.

“I started on a fiddle and played it religiously for six months,” says Rosa. “And at the end of six months I went, ‘I'm not a fiddle player.’ So then I thought maybe I can switch to mandolin because noting is basically the same.”

As it turned out, the mandolin came naturally to Rosa. He even decided to make his own, bought a book and went to work.

“I literally spent every waking hour for about a month on that mandolin,” says Rosa.

That mandolin turned out pretty well and when Rosa would play it at gigs around the Ozarks, other players took notice of its sound and wanted to buy one.

That's when Rosa String Works outside Jerome was born.

“I sold them all over the world and in no time at all I had customers in all 50 states and 17 countries,” says Rosa.

After nearly 30 years, Rosa’s carved creations are some of the most sought after in the world of bluegrass.

He also makes and fixes fiddles and guitars.

“I've got a good reputation for setting instruments up to make them sound their best,” says Rosa. “That's an art by itself almost completely different than building them.”

And in the recording studio beneath his workshop, Rosa teaches up and coming mandolin players the tools of the trade. It's a passion this Phelps County man hopes to share for generations to come.

“I always tell people if I'm not at home look for me at Lowe's because I'm building something, or look for me playing at one of these gigs,” says Rosa.

Rosa believes his mandolins have such a unique sound because he uses deer antlers to make the saddle, the part the strings cross over.

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