John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

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John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby pristine2 » Mon Nov 15, 2010 12:27 pm

I'm not the only one who's been curious about the Dulcimer Factory, whose label appears on scores of eBay mountain dulcimers sold every year.

The wording in this listing caught my eye. Turns out the seller is none other than the elusive John Naylor:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?Vi ... 0520400873

Here is his reply to my query (I obscured the phone number in case he did not want it published):

"I am John Naylor, the owner of the Dulcimer Factory in Fredericksburg since 1986.. I sold my business in 2003 due to health reasons after producing over 30,000 mountain dulcimers, over 1,000 hammered dulcimers, bowed psaltries, plucked psaltries, and kits for all my instruments sold. This is one of a kind dulcimer that I made out of a beautiful piece of Koa wood that I brought back from the big island of Hawaii. I have included a case, notor, playing book, and pick also. I still have about 8 dulcimers left that I am selling due to the fact that I just can't keep everything that I have made--just built 5 more hardwood dulcimers which will be the last in different woods and soundholes. The label inside my dulcimers reflect the name of the "The Dulcimer Factory" with the model number, production number, and year built. You can call me at 325-xxx-xxxx for more information. Thanks for your interest, John Naylor"
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby Zira » Mon Nov 15, 2010 3:00 pm

If that number is correct, he must have been neck & neck with McSpadden when he closed down. That also explains why there are so many on e-bay, and why they run the gamut from cheap plywood DSO's to fairly nice instruments.
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby pristine2 » Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:09 pm

Zira wrote:If that number is correct, he must have been neck & neck with McSpadden when he closed down. That also explains why there are so many on e-bay, and why they run the gamut from cheap plywood DSO's to fairly nice instruments.


This post probably belongs in the history section, but since I started it here I'll keep going.

I just had a very pleasant telephone conversation with John Naylor. He gave me the keys to the Dulcimer Factory labeling system. He also shared lots of information about the business, which existed in some form or another between 1986 and 2003. Since then he has continued to make high-end mountain dulcimers in his own workshop, in much smaller quantities. These also say Dulcimer Factory on the label, as he retained rights to the name after the business was sold, and also use the DF instrument master number sequence.

History

John and his wife Shirley learned to make dulcimers from Bud and Donna Ford, authors of the Cripple Creek Dulcimer Book. They moved from Colorado to San Antonio, TX in 1986 and set up the Dulcimer Factory. They got very good local press coverage (including a spot on the "Eyes on Texas" TV show out of Houston) and soon orders were pouring in. They moved the following year to Fredricksburg, TX and expanded operations. At the height of its production, the Dulcimer Factory had 20 employees. In 1991, Newsweek ran an article featuring the company. By the early 1990s, its mountain dulcimer production was the largest of any maker in the world. More DF dulcimers were produced in those years than McSpaddens or Folkcrafts.

In 1998, John and Shirley sold the business to Randy Thompson, who made instruments under the Hill Country Dulcimers name. Instruments with the Dulcimer Factory label were still produced under the new ownership, under the auspices of the Naylors. In 2003, mass production ceased.

Distributors

Between 1986 and 2003, the Dulcimer Factory supplied instruments directly to retailers, to wholesale distributors, to other dulcimer makers, and to large entertainment venues like Disney. Magazine ads netted individual customers as far afield as Australia.

The largest wholesale distributor was Kaman Music in San Antonio, which moved 1,000 Dulcimer Factory instruments every year. DF also supplied Cripple Creek dulcimers when that company re-located to Sedona, Arizona.

The labelling system. There are two numbers on every Dulcimer Factory mountain dulcimer. The first is the master production number. This sequence included other instruments made by DF including hammered dulcimers, bowed psaltries and plucked psaltries. (DF also made door chimes -- I forgot to confirm whether these were numbered as well). There was a single label stamping device that increased by one digit automatically everytime it punched a label. The mountain dulcimer John will compete this month, which he says will be his last, is numbered 31,008.

The second number (model) looks something like this: DF491. The last two digits of the model number are the year of manufacture. No month was noted. The first three digits specify the model:

DF1 The Backpack Dulcimer (Birch Plywood, fish shaped)
DF2 The Vinewood Dulcimer (Birch Plywood, fish shaped)
DF3 The Rocky Top (Birch Plywood, pear-shaped/teardrop)
DF4 The Appalachian (Birch Plywood, hourglass)
DF5 Hardwood (various high quality hardwoods. Both teardrop and hourglass.)
DF6 Deluxe (Hardwood teardrops and hourglasses with inlay work)

There are unlabelled Dulcimer Factory instruments out there, too. These were assembled from the 2,000 or so hammered and mountain dulcimer kits that were sold.

Richard
Last edited by pristine2 on Wed Nov 17, 2010 7:12 pm, edited 14 times in total.
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby kwl » Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:14 pm

Richard, thanks for sharing all this information from John Naylor. You are correct that it probably belongs in the history section, but I still enjoy reading it here. Besides more people will probably read and learn from this thread as I doubt that many of them read the History section.

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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby pristine2 » Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:57 am

kwl wrote:Richard, thanks for sharing all this information from John Naylor. You are correct that it probably belongs in the history section, but I still enjoy reading it here. Besides more people will probably read and learn from this thread as I doubt that many of them read the History section.

Ken
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Thanks. I hope eventually the post will turn up on google, so people looking for info about a DF dulcimer will find it here. It's nice having definitive label information, like Howard Rugg provided for the early Folkroots dulcimers.

It answers a lot of questions, too. There are definitely some Dulcimer Factory dulcimers out there that are very desirable, even if business considerations forced them to produce quite a few that are not. Now we know which ones to look for.

You can be pretty sure the plywood specimens are going to be of unpredictable quality, given the volume at which they were produced and the way they were distributed. Some are probably great.

But the hardwood instruments, labelled DF5xx and DF6xx, should be much better, as these would have been sold in much smaller quantities, at higher prices, directly to music stores and musicians.

And those from 2004 and after (eg, DF504--DF510 & DF604-DF610) should be nicely handcrafted instruments from a very skilled luthier. These are probably the most desirable.


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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby rendesvous1840 » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:59 pm

My first dulcimer is one of their kits, in solid sassafras. I built it in 1990. Nice to learn some of the company history.
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby recap » Wed Apr 11, 2012 9:48 am

There are definitely some Dulcimer Factory dulcimers out there that are very desirable, even if business considerations forced them to produce quite a few that are not. Now we know which ones to look for.


Terribly sorry about responding to an old thread, but I just saw this after my long absense from this board. A couple years back, I spent a little time once looking into these instruments and I found some information which I believe may help identify what one should look for in purchasing one of these. It appears that the bulk of the DF "wallhangers" floating around out there were produced after the sale of the business in 1998. I read something somewhere (from a former employee, I think) which indicated that production quality began slipping somewhere during the 1998-2003 period, as the business began to suffer and there was more emphasis on producing more instruments with less manpower. Once I found that out, I began to notice that complaints from people with lousy instruments seemed to center on instruments from this time period.

As a result, when asking about a DF instrument, I always ask for the date/model number. I also ask if the name "Naylor" appears on the label, since it appears that many of these later instruments lack that name on the label. If it is a later instrument, I generally lose interest. I do have one of the simple but delightful Backpackers from 1995. It will not turn heads when you enter the room, but it is well made and it sounds lovely, especially given its small footprint. It also has a different numbering scheme, a hand-written number with a half dozen or more digits in it (don't have it in front of me), the first two of which are the year ("95" in my case).

It is sad that the irregularities in the final years of this company under different management has managed to mar the reputation of the DF name.

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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby Dulcimerplayer » Thu May 03, 2012 12:44 pm

Re: john naylor & the dulcimer factory


What would be a fair price on a dulcimer like the one you descibed made in 95? Thanks
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby recap » Thu May 03, 2012 2:25 pm

What would be a fair price on a dulcimer like the one you descibed made in 95? Thanks


Well, I'm certainly no authority on dulcimer value. But, when I bought my 1995 DF Backpacker in 2008 (including appropriately sized case), I paid US$56 plus US$20 shipping on eBay (yes, I am just annoying enough to keep a record of such things). That represented a fairly low price for similar models with case from the Naylor period on eBay back then.

If I had both the need and budget to pick up a similar item today, I suppose I would be willing to pay something in the US$100-$125 range in person; maybe US$80-$100 eBay, since I factor risk into the sale and no amount of pictures can cover every possible flaw present on the instrument. And, certainly, there is always the possibility of sound issues with an unheard instrument.

Keep in mind that the one I have also lacks a 6 1/2 fret, which is fine for me, since I play a lot using Ionian tunings. Someone who spends most of the time in DAd may not find the instrument as interesting or valuable. I am also notoriously cheap when it comes to purchasing dulcimers, so I might not be the best gauge for determining instrument value.

FYI/FWIW

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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby Porro » Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:44 am

The labelling system. There are two numbers on every Dulcimer Factory mountain dulcimer. The first is the master production number. This sequence included other instruments made by DF including hammered dulcimers, bowed psaltries and plucked psaltries. (DF also made door chimes -- I forgot to confirm whether these were numbered as well). There was a single label stamping device that increased by one digit automatically everytime it punched a label. The mountain dulcimer John will compete this month, which he says will be his last, is numbered 31,008.

The second number (model) looks something like this: DF491. The last two digits of the model number are the year of manufacture. No month was noted. The first three digits specify the model:

DF1 The Backpack Dulcimer (Birch Plywood, fish shaped)
DF2 The Vinewood Dulcimer (Birch Plywood, fish shaped)
DF3 The Rocky Top (Birch Plywood, pear-shaped/teardrop)
DF4 The Appalachian (Birch Plywood, hourglass)
DF5 Hardwood (various high quality hardwoods. Both teardrop and hourglass.)
DF6 Deluxe (Hardwood teardrops and hourglasses with inlay work)


That was interesting and useful information.

I just found a Dulcimer Factory instrument used and found this forum searching the web for more information. (new here... Hello all :mrgreen: )

Inside the tag reads: (hand written in red)

89-1349 DF2

Would that be a 1989 SN1349 Model DF2 ? It's not quite the same as I read the above, but does identify the year and model? I guess I got one of the good ones.

Came with no noter, I'll have to find a stick until I get to Arkansas. ;)

Also I AM very clueless so how should it be tuned? Four strings.

Image
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby pristine2 » Wed Sep 19, 2012 10:24 am

The information came from John Naylor's memory, and there were undoubtedly variations to the system -- but you obviously have an hourglass, it looks like birch plywood, and 1989 seems plausible.

Tuning it D-A-dd or D-AAA are safe bets to start with. Work with which ever appeals, and whichever holds its pitch better.

Enjoy your instrument!
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Re: John Naylor & the Dulcimer Factory

Postby KenH » Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:22 pm

Porro - as Richad said, tuning to DAdd or DAAA (bass to melody) is most common . However there are a dozen or so common tunings depending on the particular song and song type being played. If you've got other questions, ask here in the appropriate forum. The Article section here is not back on-line; but you will undoubtedly find useful an article I wrote a couple years back called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What? It is an illustrated glossary of dulcimer terms, plus answers to beginner questions about tuning, playing styles, care and feeding of your new instrument. You can find the article here:
http://mountaindulcimer.ning.com/profil ... r-now-what
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