Several years ago I spent weeks fiddling with the shape of my standard model dulcimer. After thinking I had finalized the shape I built several prototypes and again made some changes to the outline; some based on looks, some based on acoustics. I was very happy with the results.
During the months I was unable to work at the bench I spent a lot of time contemplating dulcimer designs and methods of construction. Passion is rarely static.
Sometimes the process of bending the sides produced subtle variations in the outline of the dulcimer that seemed a little more natural than what I had originally drawn on paper.
I decided to incorporate the results of some of these subtle variations into the outline of my dulcimers, though I may be the only one who notices them!
I have softened the curve leading from the waist to the upper bout and slightly increased the recurve near the tail.
Passion is rarely static.
Wood is full of surprises.
I had just finished bringing a beautiful butternut dulcimer soundboard to final thickness when I noticed some odd-looking marks in the wood. Ends up there was a bit of deep checking inside that wasn’t revealed until I got it to final thickness.
Wood often has flaws and flaws are part of the wood’s beauty. Sometimes the flaw is merely cosmetic and ads beauty to the wood, sometimes the flaw is structural and decreases the strength of the wood.
In this case the flaw was a checked (cracked) area about an inch wide that went completely through the soundboard. This flaw across the grain weakens the top enough to make it unusable.
I am happy I learned this soundboard was unusable before putting the dulcimer together! There are often surprises within a board but I usually find them much earlier in the process. This one almost made it into a dulcimer! I probably would have discovered it before the dulcimer was finished but that would have meant a lot more time and work. It is much easier to replace a soundboard before the dulcimer is put together!
Sometimes wood is very cooperative. In the illustration below a piece of wood is telling a dulcimer maker that it will indeed make a fine dulcimer.Wood that talks often has wonderful resonant qualities. It is important to make sure the wood speaks the proper language for the music you plan on playing on your dulcimer. If you play French dance music you want your dulcimer made out of wood that speaks French, etc.
There is a tradition of shipping logs around the world for many years so the wood becomes multilingual and can play most types of music. All this time and travel makes multilingual dulcimer wood very rare and costly.
I’ll stop now.
I’m currently working on two dulcimers I began this past Fall before the last back surgery. I am so happy to be working again! It will still be a while before I am back to working full-time in the shop, which for a self-employed person who loves his job usually means most-of-the-time, but I am thankful and grateful for what I am now able to do.
The two current dulcimers I’m building both have walnut backs and sides. One will have a butternut soundboard and the other was to have a cedar soundboard but after planing and cleaning up the top I realized it was not cedar but redwood! I have a few sets of redwood I sawed up a few years ago that were unusually hard and stiff for redwood and one of them sneaked into the pile of cedar soundboards when I wasn’t looking. Soundboards do that. I have to keep them in a corral or they end up all over the house.
Also on the bench is a knife I picked up at an antique mall a few years ago.This knife has a massive brass handle with rosewood scales. The handle has a set screw so the blade can be adjusted for length. The leather strop is a piece of an old guitar strap with some compound on it. Since using a strop I spend more time working and less time sharpening; a moment or two of stropping restores a fine edge and delays the need to hone the tool again.
I have several custom orders I look forward to starting in the near future. In the photograph below my lovely wife Cynthia is helping me sort through my wood stash to find just the right wood for these dulcimers:Life is good!
Today I rang in the New Year a little early; I went back to the bench for the first time since having back surgery 6 weeks ago. I am being careful, listening to my body, and working in short shifts with plenty of down time in between sessions but I am working again!
The bench shot shows some wood that will become several walnut dulcimers. I have some orders for walnut dulcimers and have had a few more inquiries about dulcimers in walnut. Is some famous celebrity playing a walnut dulcimer?
I had already bent the sides in the photograph but they needed a little touch-up on the hot-pipe to get them just right. The small crock-pot is my glue-pot. When I heated up the glue-pot I knew I was really getting back to work!
I have a few other instruments in the queue and will take on the tasks to make them as I am able.
By having to work slowly and in short installments I find myself focusing more on each small process. I can’t remember the last time I felt such joy in trimming a side to length with a dozuki and bench hook.
For now it is a day at a time with no expectation of how often I can work or how much I will accomplish each time I enter the shop but life is rolling back towards normal.
Well, what I consider normal. Your mileage may vary.
Happy New Year!
Fortunat Savard – “Adieu, Parents Et Amis Ou Red River Valley” (1937)
(vocals, mandolin, harmonica)
Anything I could say about this remarkable piece of music would be a mere shadow of it’s awesomeness!
Be amazed and perplexed!
Listen to this recording several times in a row.
Mysteries will be revealed and created!
Your life will change for the better!
Someone told me that during the healing process a person is running a marathon even while sitting still. This makes sense to me.
I am healing well and i am eager to be in the shop making instruments. What has kept me from doing so is the fatigue that comes after a little physical and mental exertion.
This will pass.
I plan to start work slowly; short installments and lots of time to rest and recover.
It is interesting how multiple requests for dulcimers made from similar woods often come to me at the same time. I currently have several orders for walnut dulcimers and messages from a few people who want to see what I make in walnut once I’m back in production.
I’ve been enjoying digging through my wood stash and sorting sets for the instruments I will soon be making.
Life is good.