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.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Joined a wormy chestnut top today, not real fond of how the butternut top soundholes turned out. The line is drawn whether to scrap the top or fix them, guess I'll try the latter first, hopefully it will work. The chestnut will have hearts, very traditional!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Things are progressing

The back is on #154, #155 has its sides bent and its back joined. Tomorrow I'll cut the soundholes in 154 then do end blocks and lining on the next, followed by gluing on the top of 154. Need more clamps, etc.!

Why do I always print work schedules on this? Needless to say those things did not get done yesterday, or today (watching my 2 year old grandson today :-)) 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

WG-153 is finished

Quilted Cherry sure looks nice.

Notice the repair on the lower corner. This was the dulcimer I started for the Church auction early last winter. It fell, the piece broke off, but I could not throw it away, so here it is. This will be selling for $200.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

#154 is coming together, end blocks and lining glued in and the back is jointed. This will be curly walnut with a butternut top.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Back to old rules

Years back, when I sanded out a dulcimer, I would never finish it the day I sanded. Seems after hours of sanding, maybe its sawdust in the eyes, that a scratch or rough spot would be missed. This has happened, tomorrow morning, I must sand out the back of 153, seems I missed a spot....sanding out finish ruins a few sheets of paper, not too mention wastes a lot of time. Lesson learned.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


As I look at my chestnut boards and mourn the fact that I'll only get two sets, maybe three if I go to a four piece top, I ponder the question why? Why do I spend premium dollars on boards that are 100 years old and this is the major risk? What is the draw to American Chestnut? Historically, American Chestnut was the dominant tree in the Appalachian forest, stories were told about an entire cabin built from one tree, wagon loads of nuts scooped below one of the giants. Surely a tree so important to the early settlers with such beautiful wood was used by the earliest dulcimer makers. But alas, the Chestnut Blight hit, for all practical measures, the American Chestnut is extinct. But it was rot resistant, old barns are being recycled into lumber. I seek this lumber to carry on the tradition! Watch for it, it is lovely wood.

Chestnut Resawn

Years back, I acquired a 2X4 of American Chestnut. The board was wormy, had nail holes in it, and two 1/2 inch checks on one face. Re sawed it today, two boards in a new check showed, disappointed, might only get two dulcimer tops out of this board. But they will look very nice!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sneak preview

Sealer coat of finish applied. The wood looks great, was looking at pics of old dulcimers, and a lot of them had the heart soundholes orientated this way, not sure I'll do it like this again, but you never know till you try....

Monday, September 2, 2013

#154 is on deck!

Will be curly walnut with a butternut top, nice teardrop shape, unsure on soundholes yet. This one will be nice!