We are now one year into our pandemic self-quarantine. It seems incredible that exactly one year ago, my wife and I were in San Diego volunteering for the annual Left Coast Crime book convention and anxiously awaiting the impending excitement of it when notice was posted at the end of the first day that the event was closed and after one last evening of nervously socializing we hurried home to lock ourselves up for the duration. We're doing well and finally got our first "anti-Covid" shot a few weeks ago. We'll have our second one shortly. There have been no arts and crafts shows during this time except for a couple of virtual gallery exhibits at the end of last year. I've been making a lot of sawdust in both my studio and my shop and working on new furniture, instruments, and carvings, and also been working on antique instrument restorations for customers. I've been writing! (I have to use my gallery for something, after all, so I use it for writing.) To read more about what is going on in my little corner of the world, see below.
In the News
50th Anniversary Dulcimer
Fifty years ago I made my first mountain dulcimer. It was a simple coffin-shaped instrument with mechanical gears from a broken guitar. The frets were reclaimed from that same broken guitar. It was coffin shaped because I hadn't yet learned how to steam bend wood for curved sides. The woods I used were cheap mahogany and pine. I played it on stage in one of the bands I was in back then. (Photo below on the left.)
My 50th anniversary dulcimer (photo below on the right) is shaped the same, but with much better wood than my first: nice figured maple. Whereas my first had a simple head stock, this one has a head carving. It also has hand-carved tuning pegs. My first dulcimer had a very sweet sound and my new one sounds even better.
This is the third of my popular "Cantigas de Santa Maria" symphonies. It is made of white oak with maple pegs, tangents (button keys), wheel and handle. The soundboard is 100+ year old salvaged first-growth Douglas fir. The tangent ends are black walnut. The bridge is laminated salvaged ziracote. The handle shaft that turns the wheel runs into the box through the wide-open mouth of a character's face that I carved out of a tagua nut. It has two melody strings and two drones.
Like my other symphonies, this one is also based on an image in the 13th century Spanish illuminated manuscript "Cantigas de Santa Maria" by Alfonso X, which is a series of songs and prayers to Mary profusely illustrated with images of characters playing the instruments of the time. I've made several of the instruments.
Before I completed my 50th anniversary dulcimer, I finished another I had in the planning stage for several years, a resonator dulcimer. The 5 inch "paint lid" resonator is hand-spun aluminum and has a biscuit bridge similar to the National Guitar style. This one is 28 inches from nut to bridge. The body is several inches longer than my traditional dulcimers and a little thicker. The resonator and the large "box" size give this dulcimer a very interesting and lovely sound.
Restoration of Aug. Richter Zither
This year started out with a restoration of a lovely German concert zither that was made sometime in the 1920's by Aug. Richter, who belonged to a family of instrument makers in Munich.
The owner purchased this through eBay and got a great deal on it. It had no strings, the metal bridges were lost, and five of the tuning pins were missing. Fortunately, the frame was solid and there were no cracks. I just finished restoring it, and I'm now putting together the repair log, which I'll post on my web site when it's finished.
Restoration of West German Jubeltone Zither Earlier this month I was sent another Jubeltone chord zither to restore. I restored another identical instrument a couple of years ago. That one I had to totally disassemble because it had cracks on the front and back and some failed glue joints. The one I just finished was in better condition. It did have two shrinkage cracks in the back and some corrosion on the hardware and strings. It was missing only one string, and I was able to salvage all the existing strings. This brand of zither was made in the 1960s before German reunification in 1990. It even has a stamp on the back stating it was made in Western Germany. It might have been made in Munich, which was a zither manufacturing center since the 1880s. Etsy
Restoration of West German Jubeltone Zither
Earlier this month I was sent another Jubeltone chord zither to restore. I restored another identical instrument a couple of years ago. That one I had to totally disassemble because it had cracks on the front and back and some failed glue joints. The one I just finished was in better condition. It did have two shrinkage cracks in the back and some corrosion on the hardware and strings. It was missing only one string, and I was able to salvage all the existing strings. This brand of zither was made in the 1960s before German reunification in 1990. It even has a stamp on the back stating it was made in Western Germany. It might have been made in Munich, which was a zither manufacturing center since the 1880s.
The instruments and folk art pieces I completed in the last twelve months are all on my Etsy shop. More coming soon.
It's been a good year, and several of my instruments have gone to good homes. I believe people who are sheltered in place have put their time to good use by playing music or learning to play music.
Behind the Scenes
I took some time out from working on instruments and medieval furniture to build a bookcase for the back of the loveseat sofa in our living room. We've accumulated so many books over the years at mystery book conferences and bookstores. They were stacked by the bed, three deep in our large built-in bedroom bookcases, and stacked in piles in the living room. Now we have much more room for them. It's all black walnut. One side had a large open knot, so I filled it with a turquoise epoxy. It turned out wonderfully. It is so wonderful that my wife wants one, too, for her craft room.
Hot off the Press
Besides loving to do woodworking for over 50 years, I've always loved to write and have been writing stories since grade school. I recently published my third book, "On Guard in the General's Chorus." A semi-fictionalized memoir of my time in the army, 1966-1968, primarily during my time in Korea in the entertainment corps.
A little over a year ago, I published "A Young Upstart", a series of poems and stream of consciousness writings, along with some of the hundreds of contour drawings I made in the late 1970s.
"Onward Through the Fog", published several years ago, is a series of short stories and two mystery novelettes, many that I started writing in English classes at San Jose State back in the mid 1980's.
All three books are available at independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
That’s it for now. Later today we’re getting our second Covid-19 shot (ouch). Now two weeks more of sheltering, then we can look forward to getting out a little more (still masked, of course). As I always say, onward through the fog…