A Brief History

Back in 1978, I was attending college at Southwestern College in Winfield, Ks. The first fall I was there, I saw an ad for help at a local Bluegrass Festival. A college student, broke, chance to make extra cash? I was all over this, so I signed on. Not only did I get paid, but I received free tickets to the festival. So there I was, walking around on Saturday, when on one of the back stages was a mountain dulcimer workshop given by three attractive women. I still remember two of them, Cathy Barton and Mary Faith Rhodes. I sat back and watched. I also fell in love with the dulcimer. Here was a simple instrument that originated in the USA, the Appalachians in fact, and made with woods that I was very familiar with due to my families mid western logging business. I went to these ladies shows, watched the Dulcimer Championships. I spent my earnings on a very cheap dulcimer. I could not learn to play.

The strings were too high, it was poorly made. The next June, there was a June Jamboree segment of the fall festival. Once again, I worked it, this time I spent my earnings on a dulcimer kit. I built this with less than half the recommended tool list, I remember using a rock to pound in the frets and a stack of bricks for clamps. I ended up with an instrument that was more playable, and amazingly enough, better looking.

It was at this time I transferred to Iowa State. A few years into school there, I discovered that there was a wood shop available for student use. Wood from the family sawmill, and my first dulcimer was made. Again I looked at it, thought about it, saw my mistakes, a cherry board from Dad, and I built number two. It was an hourglass, all cherry, natural knotholes for the upper sound holes. My Mother still has this one, A-2. I made 5 dulcimers at Iowa State, except for #2, I have no idea where or who has them.

I ended up back at home next, worked for the family logging business, built a few more in the basement of my parents house. One of those was shipped back to Winfield, Ks. I also entered one in the county fair, it received a ribbon. Can't remember how many I built in Woodbine, but they were numbered W-6 on.

I ended up back in Winfield, Ks next. Here I decided to get serious about the dulcimer business. It was here that I also took first place in a major art show with one of my dulcimers. These dulcimers were numbered Wf-XX. Not sure the starting number, but when I moved I was in the 50's.

My next shop was in Wapello, Ia. Here I got busy. The last dulcimer built there was Wp-149. Formed a loose partnership with a singer/teacher named Pat Walke. She had me build a student model. These were very simple in shape and design, allowed me to use a lot of scrap lumber and also try out new and "exotic" woods such as mulberry and honey locust. It was here that I also branched out into other instruments. I built two 3/4 size guitars, 18 old-time banjos, 2 hammer dulcimers, some kalimbas, and assorted other things.

My next move was to Winfield, Iowa, where I built WFI-150 for my wife. That was over ten years ago, and I am ready to re-open my shop in Webster Groves, Mo.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dulcimer sounds

In the world of musical instruments, getting the "proper" sound is of utmost importance. There are reams of written instructions on how to tune in the violin or guitar. The dulcimer is a little different. We use a much wider variety of woods, different shapes, string lengths, etc, and as long as it sounds pleasant, it is good to go. This is one reason I think everyone should buy their dulcimer in person, hear the different sounds, pick one you like.
I put together a short video showing the differences between a very soft top, eastern red cedar, and a very hard top, curly white ash. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Guitar number 6

I started my next guitar, it is curly walnut with a red spruce top. I love the appearance of red spruce, but worry if it is being harvested responsibly. The seller said he bought a mountain top of red spruce trees and is cutting only the ones suitable for guitar tops, letting the others grow. Hopefully, this will be a continuing source of red spruce.
The next dulcimer up is almost finished, curly walnut with a curly ash top. needs a fretboard and scroll.
I have noticed that while I post pictures of finished instruments here, I do not post anything else. I'm hoping to keep this blog up to date from here on out!
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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Bowed Psaltery

Finished the bowed psaltery, top is German Spruce (salvaged from a pallet), sides and pin block are curly sugar maple and the back is catalpa. Has a wonderful sound nd my wife, Pam has claimed it and is learning a few Christmas carols.
Today, I work on a hammer dulcimer.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fall shop work

It's been over a month since I've been able to get into the shop, but I should finally have time. Up to today, I've been without heat, the shop heater was brought into the house because the house furnace was dead. That has been fixed today.
I have several projects that need to be finished, a white oak guitar, a sycamore dulcimer, a bowed psaltery and a hammer dulcimer. I have been asked to make a bowed dulcimer and another banjo. Life has become very busy.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

#160 almost done

Put the first coat of finish on #160. The dulcimer is all walnut, looks nice, all quarter sawn, no fancy figure, but still stands out. Walnut is a great wood!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Guitar #5 is coming along nicely. Here's a few photos of yesterdays work.

The top is glued up. This is Sitka Spruce sourced thru Alaska Speciality Woods. They do not cut down trees, but rather obtain the wood from fallen trees, trees that were once used as floats, etc. A very green way to obtain some spectacular lumber!
This is the back. It is quarter sawn white oak, a hard dense wood that should ring out as well as the best rosewood. Logging oak in the USA is a sustainable enterprise. Where as most tropical hardwoods are the result of rain forest being cut down to make way for farms and cattle ranches. I use nothing but US and Canadian woods in my products.