Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Musician’s Walking Stick

The last two weeks have been interesting, and it’s kept me busy. I haven’t been this inspired for quite a while.

Two weeks ago, I came across, quite by accident, an auction house web site listing a 19th century French walking stick and musical instrument combination. The following is the auctioneer’s description:

French duclimer cane1This highly important and versatile French cane combines a four-stringed dulcimer and a flute in its handsomely crafted form. Probably hailing from the region of Méricourt in eastern France, this walking stick allows beautiful music to be played by separating the dulcimer from the bottom of the stick, which is French duclimer cane2actually a flute. Beautifully crafted and in flawless condition, this cane is an exceptional example of rare musical canes. This instrument was almost certainly used by students who traveled from tavern to tavern singing or reciting poetry. This cane also comes with a tool for tightening the strings. Circa 1880. 35" length.

The price? Would you believe $24,500!

Ok. The problem with the above description is 1) This is not a dulcimer. It has chromatic fret spacing, not diatonic, which means it might be set up as a tenor guitar; and 2) That’s not a flute. It is a recorder, missing its fipple. The auction web site has a magnifying function that displays a close-up window that shows the parts in fine detail, and the finger hole layout suggests a recorder. Also, there’s no embouchure to make it a flute.

They’re probably right about Mirecourt being the place of origin, since that has been the main French luthery center since the 1600s. Many of the best French violins, guitars, and epinettes des Vosges (Mirecourt is in the Vosges valley) came from this area.

The idea that this instrument was used by students traveling from tavern to tavern is strictly conjecture (i.e., spindoctoring to make it sound romantic).


Anyway, I saw these pictures and thought, “wow, I can make a similar one as a real dulcimer!” And I started on it right away.

Musician walking stick1Twelve days later, here it is! The main “stick” is maple. I turned both ends on the lathe then carved the body, neck, and handle by hand. The fingerboard and bindings are black walnut, and the bridge and nut are ebony, as are the embellishments at both ends. I added a brass cane tip Musician walking stick1 detail_edited-1and collar to finish it off. It has a short 18” scale, and the sound is as sweet as a small epinette des Vosges. It’s sturdy, functional, and fun! I’ll price this a little lower than the French one. Say $1200.

I’m already making plans for the next one, which I’ll probably make an attempt to add the “flute” to the base. Stay tuned.

On another note, I started restoring another 1920-1925 Kumalae Ukulele today. I successfully removed the top by using a little steam to soften the old hide glue. There’s a few cracks I have to fix on the top and sides, then I can put it all back together.You can see the first one I restored on the Repair Logs page on my web site at http://www.roncookstudios.com/Repair-Logs.htm.

Until next time, once again, onward through the fog. (Yes, the fog returned this week after our previous week of very warm, Spring weather.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Quarter Way Through the Year Already

Seems like only yesterday we were celebrating Christmas, and here it is April already. Outside the roses are getting ready to bloom, trees have mostly blossomed and some are showing fruit, and grasses and wildflowers are making me sneeze. Inside, I finished restoring an antique dulcimer, started restoring a very unique concert zither (circa 1930s), and I’m getting ready to restore another 1920-1925 Kumalai Ukulele.

PA German Scheitholt-combinedAs for my own work, I finished another Pennsylvania German “Scheitholt”. This is the second one I made from the plans I drew up when I restored the original 1850-1865 instrument. (See the repair log on my web site at http://www.roncookstudios.com/Repair-Logs.htm. Click on “Pennsylvania German Scheitholt” to view the PDF file.)

The first one I made was all black walnut. This one is made of poplar, like the original. The double heads depict “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender”, who are the subjects of an old Scottish folk song. (Child ballad #73.)

I’m still working on the medieval 3-legged chair, and carving away on a new harp. These two projects are very time consuming and it seems like I’ve been working on them forever. Well, at least since before last Christmas.

Last week I finally got my new work, nearly all I made last year, professionally photographed. My photographer here in Santa Cruz is Paul Schraub, who has snapped great pictures of my work for the last 12-13 years. I’ve known Paul a lot longer, because he photographed the band I was in back in 1980 BGH (Before Grey Hair). But that’s another story. Anyway, here are some of my new photos by Paul:

Autoharp-JH Large-blogAutoharp-Model 1-blog

              Experimental Autoharp (circa 1929)                   Autoharp: Model 1

Autoharp-Model 2 3-4-blogAutoharp-Model 2 3-4-detail-blog

                           Autoharp: Model 2 3/4                     Autoharp: Model 2 3/4 (detail)

Medieval Trestle Stool2-blogRush Seat Stool 1-blog

                       Medieval Trestle Stool #2                  Medieval Rush Seat Stool #1

Rush Seat Stool 2-blogDulcimer-Molly Malone-combined

             Medieval Rush Seat Stool #2                             Dulcimer: Molly Malone

Last but not least, I set up a shop on Etsy back in January that’s been relatively successful. I’ve sold a few items, including a dulcimer, and there’s been a lot of interest in several more pieces. Take a look at http://www.etsy.com/shop/roncook.

I’ll be updating my regular web site soon to include all my new work, new photos, and descriptions. Stay tuned!

Until then, Onward…