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:
This 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 actually 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.
Twelve 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 and 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.)