Over fifty years ago, in 1970, I made my first dulcimer. It was a simple solid-body electric dulcimer made from a trashed, cheap Japanese electric guitar. I pulled the frets off the guitars neck to use for dulcimer frets. The electronics, pickup, volume and tone controls, and tuning gears also came from the guitar. The body was a piece of 3/4” plywood, shaped like a standard hourglass dulcimer, and painted white. It worked great, and I even used it on stage when our group, Throckmorton, played a rock version of “Shady Grove”. I still have it hanging on my studio wall.
Since then I’ve made over 500 instruments, furniture pieces (medieval and modern), sculptures, and wood turnings. I’ve taught wood carving at Cabrillo College, and I’ve taught wood turning, wood carving, luthiery and general woodworking in my studio and shop for twenty years. For the last twenty-five years, I’ve been restoring antique and vintage stringed instruments. I became the go-to person in North America for zither repairs, both concert style and chord zithers. I’ve restored many dulcimers, ukuleles, guitars, and even autoharps.
From 2001 to 2016 I exhibited at craft shows and arts festivals across the country, at one point attending six shows a year. I was juried into many American Craft Council shows, starting out in Charlotte, North Carolina, with three years in the ACC flagship show in Baltimore, and too many to count in ACC San Francisco. There was the Bellevue Art Museum show in Washington state for three years, six or seven years in the Scottsdale Arts Festival in Arizona, and a few years each at the King’s Mountain Art Fair and the Sausalito Arts Fair.
I’m tired. After all that, it’s time for me to retire. Well, about time to retire.
Since December, I’ve made three Mbiras (thumb pianos), two large ones and one mini. Also, one of the Mbiras (left in photo) is electric with an internal pickup. It also has a volume control knob.
The electric one is salvaged cocobolo with a maple sound hole rosette. The mini is purpleheart with maple binding. The one on the right in the photo has a salvaged cocobolo back, wenge (pronounced whengay) sides, and spruce top. The little hammers are for tapping the tines for tuning. These three mbira’s are available on Etsy.
The one on the left is salvaged cherry. The middle one is salvaged black walnut. The one on the right is salvaged white oak. These are also available on Etsy.
Be sure to check out Etsy for all my original pieces. Shipping is free.
On The Workbench
I am currently working on my last two restorations, zithers I had promised to do late last year. The concert zither on the left is an Anton Kiendl zither from around 1899. This is the second of two identical Anton Kiendl zithers I’ve restored for the same customer. The chord zither on the right is a Phonoharp Model 2. When I’ve finished restoring it, it will have five chords and fifteen doubled strings. This zither had a very scaly “alligator” surface, large cracks on the back, and the frame was coming apart. I had to remove the back to make all repairs.
Last November I was commissioned to make a custom dulcimer cane. This is my last commission. Like the last time I was commissioned, I’m making a second one to sell on Etsy. These are numbers 5 and 6.They both have maple bodies with a decorative piece of black walnut on the back. The fingerboards, handle, and “foot” are black walnut.
My dulcimer canes are based on an 1845 original from Mirecourt, France. The original was a four-string guitar. I adapted the design as a Mountain dulcimer. All the dulcimer canes I’ve made have been very popular.
The unfinished dulcimer cane (top in photo) will be available on Etsy when completed.
Retirement doesn’t mean I’m going to sit around and watch television all the time. No, I will be using my time writing more. I’ve actually been a writer since grade school, and when I was working in the private sector, I was a technical writer. I’ve been published in several magazines and trade journals and published four books so far. Lately, I just finished another novel (still in edit mode) and started another. More news about this coming in future blogs.
For now, it’s time to finish up these last restorations and instruments then celebrate with a glass of vino!