Thursday, March 18, 2021

One Year Ago…

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.

Symphony #3

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.

Resonator Dulcimer

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.


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…

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Fired Up

Over a week ago we had a very unusual, for our Santa Cruz coastal community, large lightning storm. According to the weather service, we had over 11,000 lightning strikes. This was the remnants of a Pacific hurricane off the Baja Mexican coast. Unfortunately, there was no rain involved, and the storm only produced dry lightningAsh-covered Jeep-better. Dry lightning on dry forests and fields. The resulting 7000 fires have now consumed over 1.4 million acres. More than 120,000 people were evacuated in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. At last count, over 500 homes and structures were lost, just in our county. Ash has fallen all over. (Notice my ash-covered Jeep in the photo.) Fortunately, we are far enough away that we were not threatened by the fires. But, added to the fires, we’ve had over five months of Covid-19 sheltering and mask wearing. Back in early July, Santa Cruz partially opened up, but that was short lived. More people tested positive, and things shut down again. Only a few restaurants and wineries with spaced outdoor seating have been able to keep partially open. This 2020 is turning out to be one hell of a year. Now, if we can just get through the Fall election.

Sigh… Enough of that…

Through it all, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot to do. My woodworking craft is advancing, and I’ve actually had seven Etsy sales, six of them large instruments.

New Work 

A few weeks ago, I finished carving a new dulcimer head and tailpiece for a resonator dulcimer I’d been planning to make before the pandemic locked us down. I purchased a 5 1/2 inch “paint lid” resonator Reso-dulcimerand biscuit bridge from C.B. Gitty, and made a special dulcimer top the resonator would fit in. I just glued the top on, and I’m ready to sand it down and then add the fingerboard. This dulcimer has cocobolo top and back and figured maple sides. The head and tailpiece are walnut, and the fingerboard is maple laminated over pine. I still have binding to do then a lot of sanding.

Waiting in the wings is another teardrop dulcimer. This will be a regular dulcimer with no additional bells and whistles…

Symphony-three photos combined

Another instrument I finished recently is my third Symphony. Again, I based this on a 12th century Spanish illuminated manuscript known as “Cantigas de Santa Maria”. This one is cherry, with maple tuning pegs, tangents, and handle. The one thing different with this Symphony is the hand-carved tagua nut head with the wheel handle coming out of his mouth.

It’s another lovely sounding instrument that harkens to the early medieval period. Picture monks sitting around chanting their offices in Latin while accompanying themselves on one of these instruments.

Before the Symphony, which was first created around the 1100s, was the Organistrum, which took two people to play. This was the first “hurdy gurdy-type instrument” and had a crank that turned a wheel. It predates the pipe organ and was used for the same function: to play notes to help everyone sing their offices in the same key.

Lesson time:

If you have read (or watched) Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael, you might have read or that the Benedictine monks always chant (and pray) during the following offices:

  • Matins (during the night, at about 2 a.m.)
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at dawn, about 5 a.m., but earlier in summer, later in winter)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour, approximately 6 a.m.)
  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour, approximately 9 a.m.)
  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour, approximately 12 noon)
  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour, approximately 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer ("at the lighting of the lamps", about 6 p.m.)
  • Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, about 7 p.m.)

If you noticed, there was not much time in those days to do other work around the abbey grounds, barely two hours at a time before the bell rings for the next office.

End of lesson.

New thumb pianoAnd now for something completely different. (Not Monty Python!)

I just started making a thumb piano, also known as a Mbira or Kalimba. I found a source for the flattened spring steel notes online and decided to order them. Many many years ago I purchased one of these at an arts festival I attended (long before I became a vendor at the same type of art festival), and have always loved the sound. Three years ago my wife went on a bus and cycling tour of Namibia. She brought back to me a primitive, but extremely lovely, hand-made Mbira, which also has a beautiful sound. Both of these inspired me to make one of my own. It is turning out to be quite a fun project.

I have the body made, and I’m making a top with a hand-carved quatrefoil sound hole similar to what I use on my psalteries and other instruments. The top and back are from a piece of redwood burl, and the frame is black walnut. All woods are salvaged.


Since I don’t have any current customer instrument restorations, I’ve lately been working on restoring several of my own antique and vintage autoharps and zithers. Sometime later in the year, I’ll be re-opening my Vintage Etsy shop and put these up for sale. So far, I’ve restored three antique Zimmerman autoharps, all from the 1883-1899 time period. All three autoharps were made by Charles F. Zimmermann in his Dolgeville, New York plant.

Z-model 2 34-1Z-model 73Z-model 2 34-2

The left and middle photos are both Zimmermann Model 2 3/4 autoharps. They have five chord bars. The left one is the earliest, from around 1885-86. It has a lovely stained natural wood (spruce) top. The middle autoharp is a few years newer (1887-88) and is all black. The top is also spruce, but painted black to match the sides and back. The right autoharp is the very familiar Model 73 with 12 chords. Even though Zimmermann’s Dolgeville Company closed when he died in 1889, the Oscar Schmidt Company restarted autoharp production with this same model. The Oscar Schmidt name is now owned by the Washburn Guitar Company, and Washburn is continuing the production of several Oscar Schmidt branded autoharp models, including the Model 73. This model has been around on and off for 140 years.

Chartola GrandI’m now working on what is known as a “gizmo” harp. The label says it is a Chartola Grand, distributed by the Chartola Grand Company, which is actually made by the Menzenhauer/Schmidt Company and has four chords that have spring-loaded “thumpers” that snap on the chords to play them. This is the before photo. I’ve just started removing the strings and tuning pins. It does have a full set of strings that seem to be in decent condition, so as I remove them I put a piece of tape on them denoting what note and number it is. That way I’ll know exactly where each string goes when I restring the instrument. Also, the zither’s body has no cracks or failed glue joints. Just a nice cleaning and waxing will suffice.

Coming Up

Because our area received so much ash fallout from the fires, I have to take off my work boots and put on slippers every time I come in the house, and vice versa when I go out so as to keep the house clean. Squatting down to put on and tie my boots is a pain for this aging body. So, I decided to make a low bench to go just outside the door into the garage and my shop.

Eight or ten years ago, I acquired quite a bit of wood that came out of a barn in Hollister, California. The woods, several planks of them, are actually lovely pieces of teak, cocobolo, black acacia, and others. Nearly all the wood came from Gavilan College, and some had been sanded and partially finished. I’ve used quite a bit of it on furniture and instruments. What’s left are a few odds and ends that are fine for stools or benches.

I’m just getting ready to rip and surface a few pieces for my low bench project.

Spoons etcOut back in my studio, there’s still a lot of work to be done. I have several spoon blanks cut out and started, but I need to take a day or two to just sit down and carve. Several hanging spoon racks are done and need to be filled.

And then there’s that dulcimer I mentioned earlier… The top and back are cut out and ready for some sanding. I still have to rip and surface wood for the sides. Eventually…

As you can see, I’ve kept busy every day working on one piece after another. I still have quite a large wood stash that’ll probably last the rest of my life.

That’s it for now. In a month or two, I’ll give another report from the land of sawdust…