This is a partial list of vintage mountain dulcimer luthiers I began in 2009. Infirmities and irritations diverted my attention for awhile, but I'd like to start working on it again.It is far from complete.
I hope people will volunteer additional names. No doubt some of my omissions are shocking and inexcusable.
This isn't a place to list names from the labels of every eBay dulcimer that materialises. Every entry should be about someone whose contribution to the craft was objectively significant.
To be included, makers MUST:
* Be dead, or retired from making mountain dulcimers (but were making them after 1950).
* Have made a substantial number of mountain dulcimers
* Be recognized and respected by musicians and other craftsmen.
They should also satisfy any one of these criteria:
* Are noted as important luthiers by respected contemporary builders.
* Built mountain dulcimers widely recognized to be of excellent quality (eg, Simerman, Martin, Barringer)
* Made important contributions to dulcimer aesthetics (eg, Tignor)
* Popularised, or represented excellence within, a particular dulcimer tradition (eg, Davis, Carrell)
* Contributed significantly to the revival of the instrument (eg, Pickow).
* Were the subject of seminal profiles by credible folk music historians, journalists (eg, Hicks, Glenn)
* Served as an important conduit for pre-revival lutherie (eg, Ledford, Amburgey)
* Had wide influence among other luthiers (eg, Mize)
* Had a significant following among musicians, or made memorable/notable music on his own instruments (eg, Williams)
* Built instruments as part of a significant contribution to dulcimer history or ethnomusiciology (eg, Kardos, Melton)
* Contributed significantly to innovation and standards-building (eg, Hines, Mitchell)
* Created iconic instruments that achieved wide exposure (Lapidus, Maxwell).
* Were recognised as influential builders of other instruments (Sturgill, Abnett)
* Had important regional or local influence (Goodsite, Diamond, Medlin)
* Made important contributions to the commercialisation of dulcimers (McSpadden, Rugg, Jeffreys, Hughes, Levin)
I have an uneven amount of information for each individual at this point, so right now it is mostly just a list of names. As I find time, I'll fill out each entry with useful information. Please use this thread to provide any information you'd like others to have.
Not everyone on the list has left us, but all have stopped making dulcimers. The list includes only notable makers who were building after 1950 -- hence early makers like J. E. Thomas, Robert Kilby and others found in L. A. Smith's survey of pre-revival instruments are excluded.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ THE LISTPeter Abnett
Peter Abnett (1938 - ) the British luthier famous for developing the Irish bouzouki, started making mountain dulcimers in 1964 at the behest of his friend, the folk singer Peggy Seeger. He was one a handful of dulcimer makers in the UK in the 1960s, along with Terry Hennessy (another friend of Peggy Seeger's, now living in Australia) and John Bailey. Abnett dulcimers are unnumbered, but he believes he's made about 50 over the years. Most were crafted between 1965 and the late 1970s, after which he turned his attention almost exclusively to the Irish Bouzouki.
"The way I build them, they are really quite time consuming to make," Abnett said in 2011. "I try to make them as pretty as possible." The last dulcimer he made was in 2009 and he says he is unlikely to accept orders for any more. "I do appreciate the mountain dulcimer, but I'm 73 years old and I'm slowing down. Ninety-nine percent of my time is devoted to the bouzouki." Owners describe their Abnett dulcimers as concert quality instruments, with extraordinary sustain and extremely precise intonation. One described the voice as "very sweet, like sunrise through the east window." All are four-string hourglasses with geared tuners. Abnett lives in Rochester, Kent and still takes orders for bouzoukis.Sources: 1) Telephone interview with Peter Abnett Nov 2011. 2) Telephone interview with Gerald Lacey Oct 2011.
Jethro Amburgey (1895-1971) of Knott County, KY was probably the single most influential dulcimer maker of the 20th century. An apprentice to the old master James Edward “Uncle Ed” Thomas
(1850-1933), Amburgey and his lutherie constituted a direct link to the very earliest days of the mountain dulcimer.
For most of his adult life, Amburgey plied his craft at the Hindman Settlement School
in Knott County, where he had attended as a boy. He took a job as the school's woodworking teacher in 1931 and remained there until his death 40 years later.
In the early 1930s, he was sought out by the composer, folk singer and fellow Kentuckian John Jacob Niles
(1892-1980). Niles, who built a variety of unusual instruments
based on traditional designs, studied Amburgey’s building techniques and commissioned dulcimers from Amburgey for use in his performances.
When the folk singer Jean Ritchie -- Amburgey’s distant cousin from nearby Viper, KY -- arrived on the New York folk scene in the 1950s, she brought with her one of his dulcimers. After she wrote of Amburgey in the “The Dulcimer Book” (Oak Publications, 1963), orders started pouring in from all over the world.
Between 1928 and 1971, Amburgey built close to 1,400 numbered instruments. He was committed to preserving the craft of J. E. Thomas. His earliest instruments are virtually indistinguishable from those of his mentor, except that (according to Ritchie) they were unpainted. According to Homer Ledford, Amburgey made some modifications in the early 1930s, perhaps under the influence of Niles, to improve resonance and volume. At some point in the 1950s, Amburgey started experimenting with plywoods, and by the early 1960s most of his instruments were made almost entirely of laminates
This 1962 plywood Amburgey
sold for $1,000 in 2008.Larry Barringer (This entry requires more biographical information.)
Larry Barringer (1933?-2003) was a highly skilled woodworker and a friend of the eminent dulcimer luthier Robert Mize. Originally from upstate New York, he eventually settled in Houston, although he spent many of his later years travelling through the southern US with his wife Sylvia in an RV. He started building late in life, producing instruments based on Mize's design. Many have floral headstock carvings
Barringer also produced "Pick n' Sticks," based on Bob McNally's Strumstick, on a commercial basis. The Pick n' Stick is now made by Terry McCafferty
Jerry Wright's 1994 interview with Barringer is reprinted here
. Several ED threads like this one
and this one
provide some glimpses into Barringer's life and craft.
This Barringer hourglass
sold for $858 in 2008.John Bailey
A noted British guitar maker
who helped popularize the Appalachian dulcimer in the UK in the mid-1960s.J. R. Beall
Jerry "J. R." Beall (1933 - ), is a toolmaker, clockmaker and luthier. He made about 600 mountain dulcimers between 1969 and 1980, most bearing the label "Farkleberry Farm Steam Dulcimerworks." Later he devoted his energies to making clocks, kaleidoscopes
and specialty tools. He is still fully engaged with his work, saying in 2009: "there is no retirement in my future."
Along with guitar builder R.E. Brune of Chicago, Beall co-founded founded the Guild of American Luthiers
in 1972. In addition to Appalachian dulcimers, he made guitars, lutes, harpsichords, spinets, hammered dulcimers and autoharps. His profound influence on the craft is recounted by Robert Force in this ED thread
A native of Newark, OH, Beall served in the Navy in the early 1950’s and later worked at AT&T. He returned to his family farm near Newark in 1969 to become a full-time craftsman.
Beall’s dulcimers are mostly four- and six-string teardrops, with set-in sides like a fiddle. He was one of the first builders to offer a six-string as a standard model. Almost all his dulcimers have ebony viola pegs, although he put Schaller geared tuners on a small handful. On the back cover of “In Search of the Wild Dulcimer” (NY Vintage Books 1974), Robert Force and Albert d’Ossche are both holding Beall dulcimers. Beall designed the combination “f and hearts” soundholes, which have since been widely copied.
This Beall teardrop
sold for just $106 in 2009.Bert BerryFrank Bond
Frank Bond, of the Bounds Green area of north London, was a traditional British luthier who adopted the Appalachian dulcimer in the early 1970s. It is unclear when Bond began and stopped building dulcimers, but it appears he was active from about 1971 through the early 1990s.
According to Roger Nicholson, the British folk artist and dulcimer player
, Bond was born in the late 1920s. He learned the craft of instrument making from his father. Steeleye Span's Tim Hart, in 2009, describes Bond as "a round-backed instrument man - bazoukis, mandolas, mandolins."
Nicholson discovered that Bond was selling four- and six-string and dulcimers through an advertisement posted on a bulletin board at Collets record shop in London in the early 1970s. Bond, he said, was already known for making fine wooden banjos. The first dulcimer Bond made for Nicholson was "beyond excellent," prompting the musician to order several more over the coming years.
Over the next 20 years or so, Bond made dulcimers for a number of high-profile British folk musicians. Kudos and thanks to Bond for his lutherie are found on the sleeve of Steeleye Span's "Hark! The Village Wait" (RCA SF 8113, UK, June 1970) -- although Tim Hart points out that the dulcimers in use by the band were made by not by Bond, but by John Bailey
. The six-string dulcimer closest to the camera in this photo
, found on the memorial Web site to musician Richard Tallet
, is credited to Bond.Sources: 1) Telephone interview with Roger Nicholson June 2009. 2) Telephone interview with Tim Hart July 2009.
Jethro AmburgeySam Carrell
Ray and Colleen ChittumProper entry coming soon
Husband and wife who made dulcimers independently in Ohio. Ray made a total of 200, Colleen made 100. Ray modified Howie Mitchell's "floating tail" design -- popular in the 1960s but abandoned when players noticed the fretboard would curl up from the string tension -- by using a simple, removable metal nail to secure the fretboard end to the fixed tail when the instrument was not in use. McKinley Craft
William Barney Davis (1926-1995) was Navy veteran, plumber, folk musician and dulcimer luthier from Benton County, TN. He apparently started building dulcimers in the late 1950s. He was the proprietor of the Bill Davis Dulcimer Shop in Gatlinburg, TN, which opened in 1963. He ran the store with his fourth wife, Jean, a folk musician with a fascination for the dulcimer. Bill and Jean organised a number of dulcimer-related festivals in Gaitlinburg, Pigeon Forge and elswhere in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains through the late 1960s and 1970s. These included the annual Southern Highland Handicraft Guild gathering, the Folk Festival of the Smokies and the Dulcimer and Harp Convention. Davis also released several music LPs on their own "Tradition" label, featuring Smoky Mountain ballads played on the mountain dulcimer. Jean sang on some tracks.
Davis struggled with alcoholism. Drinking contributed to the failure of his five marriages and to the bandsaw accident which severed one or more fingers, ending his building career. Jean and Bill divorced (in the early 1980s?), and Jean later married Lee Schilling. Jean Schilling
died in 2005.
Davis experimented with a number of different patterns before settling on his now-iconic all-hardwood "fiddleside" dulcimer
. He apparently built more than 1,000 finished dulcimers and another 1,400 (estimated) kits, most of which have elegantly carved headstocks
and all of which have wooden pegs. Some were made in three-. four- and six-string configurations, but the majority were four-course, five-string dulcimers with a doubled melody string. None of them is labelled, but the non-kit instruments have Davis's signature etched on the outside back panel, and a few specimens appear with his business card glued or taped to the inside back panel.
Davis's essential design survives in Mike Clemmer's trademark dulcimer
today. At some point, the dulcimer builder Sam Carrell apprenticed with Davis and adopted some aspects of his design. Carrell (an important builder in his own right), in turn, mentored Mike Clemmer.
Distinguishing Davis's finished instruments from those made from kits is important, as the latter, while desirable, are considerably less valuable and more likely to have problems. The earliest Davis kits were very rudimentary, requiring the builder to cut the panels from stencils, install the frets and taper the pegs. Later kits were much easier to assemble, and even included Davis's distinctive, elegantly carved headstock. Amateurs who assembled Davis kits often had trouble centering the overhanging front and back panels over the sides. Kit-made Davis dulcimers also tend to show irregularity at the joints around the inwardly curved "waist" on the sides. Dulcimers completed by Davis himself have his signature etched with a jewellers tool on the back panel, like this
Sources: 1) [i]Decendents of Wyatt Arnold Author: Robbie S. Arnold and Doris M. Hightower, Turner Publishing Company 1999 2) Telephone Interview with Sam Carrell Oct 2009 3) Interviews with Keith Young (Annondale VA) and Carl Gotzmer (Accokeek MD) Feb 2011 4) Telephone interview with Mike Clemmer Nov 2011. 5) Billboard magazine Feb 24, 1968[/i] Lucky Diamond
Judge Arthur Dixon
Dennis Dorogi (1935- ) is a sculptor, woodworker and long-time dulcimer builder in Brocton, NY. He keeps an extensive collection of American and European diatonic instruments. He is notable not only for his fine dulcimer craftsmanship, but also his lectures and scholarship on the dulcimer as an art form. He is also a valued contributor
He has a Masters degree in sculpture from the Ohio University in Athens, where he began teaching in his mid-20s. His interest in dulcimers began in 1957, when he came across a pamphlet on dulcimer construction written by Howie Mitchell. "Something in those old mimeographed sheets stuck with me," he said in 2009. Soon afterwards one of his students brought him an old dulcimer to restore, and "it just took off from there."
In the early 1960s, Ann Grimes called on him to help maintain her vast collection of dulcimers and early American diatonics in Granville, OH. Dorogi took full advantage of the opportunity to study scores of different designs. In 1965, Dorogi moved to Brocton to take a post on the arts faculty at nearby SUNY Fredonia. By 1969 he was making dulcimers full-time in a workshop he built behind his house. In the early 1970s he published a catalogue with eight different dulcimer designs, including both traditional shapes like this teardrop
, courting dulcimers, and a number of experimental, asymmetrical models, some of which won awards for design and innovation.
Dorogi's output tapered off in the 1990s and he stopped building altogether in 2005. He did not number his instruments
, but he estimates a lifetime total of 1,500 finished dulcimers. Owners are fiercely loyal and Dorogis rarely come up for sale. His instruments are coveted even in Canada
, where the contemporary diatonics luthier André Audet describes Dorogi as one of the most important musical craftsmen of the era.Clifford Glenn
Jim Goodsite (1927-1994), a packaging designer from Sandusky, OH, started making dulcimers in 1980. Four years later he retired from his job to make mountain dulcimers and other instruments full time in the basement of his Sandusky home.
According to his wife Jan, a mountain dulcimer player and teacher, Goodsite began building to satisfy her growing appetite for dulcimers. “I wanted to buy every one I saw,” she said in 2009. “He thought it cheaper to build them than to buy them!”
After selling their home, the Goodsites lived in an RV before settling in Huron, OH. Jim did most of the building, while Jan designed many of the soundholes. Their instruments were either sold at festivals or by word of mouth.
By Jan’s count, Goodsite used a varity of native and exotic woods to make 172 teardrop
and hourglass four-string dulcimers, 79 “tag-alongs” (soprano) dulcimers, 40 MacArthur harps
, four mini-psaltries, 14 short-scale length dulcimers, 32 Pickin' Stix, three baritones, five courting dulcimers and many, many sets of spoons.
Upon learning of Goodsite's death, ED veteran Mike Oliver wrote the poem "The Builder"
(scroll about halfway down the linked page). Ken Hamblin
Albert Hash(This entry could use a link to a photo of a Hash dulcimer.)
Albert Hash (1917-1983) was a fiddle maker, old-time musician and machinist in Grayson County, Virginia. His ornately carved fiddles, and the innovative shop techniques he employed to create them, earned him worldwide recognition. Although not his primary instrument, he also made dulcimers, now highly prized by virtue of his fame as a fiddle maker. He had enormous influence on the evolution of folk lutherie, both in the Blue Ridge Plateau region and farther afield, training notable instrument makers such as Wayne Henderson, Thomas Barr, Walter Messick, and his own daughter Audrey Hash Ham
Hash’s talents as a musician equalled those he possessed as a luthier. When the fiddler G. B. Grayson
of Grayson and Whitter died, Albert Hash replaced him as Henry Whitter's performing partner. Later in life, Hash performed with the Whitetop Mountain Stringband.
According to Audrey (a highly respected luthier in her own right), her father's dulcimer pattern, a variation of the Virginia teardrop, was based on an old instrument found in a farmhouse in the Whitetop area. -- Thanks to Greg (Banjimer) for his helpful research.Samuel Hicks
A. W. Jeffreys
Andy & Sue Kardos
Tam Kearney (1940 - ) is a Scottish folk musician, luthier, sanitation engineer and former owner-manager of the Fiddler's Green folk club in Toronto, Canada. His is a founding member of the Friends of Fiddlers' Green
folk group, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011.
Kearney crafted several hundred dated (but mostly un-numbered) mountain dulcimers between 1959 and 2006, when advancing arthritis forced him to stop building. He built his first dulcimer in the late 1950s after his friend, the British folk music great John Pearse, introduced him to the instrument during a visit to Scotland. Entranced with the beauty and simplicity of the instrument, he told Pearse "I can build one of those." Pearse was sceptical and bet Kearney £5 that he could not. Kearny produced one in short order, earning Pearse's £5 and another £12 when he sold it to his first customer.
He continue to build after emigrating to Toronto in 1968, where he soon befriended noted guitar maker Jean Larrivée. Larrivée, whose acoustic guitars had already gained considerable fame, gave Kearney valuable lutherie tips that further improved both the building efficiency and the sound of his dulcimers.
are noted for their silvery, shimmering voice, strong volume and precise intonation. Both headstock
are distinctive. Many or most have feet
for table play. Kearney's instruments are sought-after and rarely come up for sale. Joellen Lapidus
http://www.backroombluegrassband.com/hl ... hlhome.htm
Hank Levin (This entry requires more biographical information.)
Hank Levin, a luthier and ethnomusicologist, built some 3,000 instruments for his shop in New York City, the House of Musical Traditions, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of these were assembled by people he trained in the small factory he set up for the purpose. He later made about 100 instruments on a contract basis for Jean Ritchie.
Along with McSpaddens, Musical Traditions instruments like this one
were among the first production dulcimers available. Once the bridge and nut were replaced, the intonation on the pictured instrument proved surprisingly precise. This 1979 article
in Dulcimer Player's News reveals the forumula Levin used for fret placement.
HMT is still in business, but it is now located in Takoma Park, Maryland and is under different ownership. Its Web site has a little information about Levin here
About halfway down this page,
you'll find a post from Hank Levin dated 2005 in which he describes how he solved the problem of bending sides for dulcimers on a high-volume scale.
Some anectdotal information about Hank Levin is found on this ED thread
Edsel & Fred Martin
http://www.bearmeadow.com/dulcimer-hist ... earth.htmlJohn Maxwell
John Maxwell built somewhere around 2,300 three-, four- and five-string dulcimers at the Upper Cumberland Craft Center
in Cookeville, Tennessee in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. Described as a warm, congenial fellow, Maxwell spent a lot of time training young craftworkers
at Upper Cumberland. His tireless commitment to collecting and preserving southern Appalachian folk art forms and woodworking techniques won him considerable acclaim.
Maxwell began collecting and studying
traditional dulcimers in the mid-1960s. He experimented with a variety of shapes, many specimens of which are housed at the Museum of Appalachia
in Norris, TN. He eventually adopted a modified (slightly fattened) version of the all-hardwood North Carolina teardrop — with giant, hand-carved, paddle-like tuning pegs — as his own.
Maxwell’s dulcimers caught on in Nashville. Examples have been displayed at Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry. At some point, a Maxwell dulcimer was presented to President Richard Nixon. Maxwell’s instrument, with its strikingly large pegs
atop an elegantly tapered body, became an icon for the dulcimer in the 1970s. Its likeness continues to be reproduced in a variety of commercial art forms.
The craftsmanship found in his dulcimers is invariably outstanding, with meticulous joinery and finishing work that stands the test of time. Many Maxwell dulcimers sing in a lovely, backwoods voice, with good volume and a lingering, almost haunting resonance.
Maxwell, though, was not a trained musician, and his instruments do not intone well. They do not seem to be in either equal temperament or just intonation, and chording them often makes for a painfully dissonant experience. This all-cherry Maxwell
was re-fretted by Ben Seymour in 2008. Note in this side view close-up
how different the original fret pattern was. Perhaps he fretted his instruments by ear, or used inaccurate patterns.
Properly re-fretting a Maxwell dulcimer yields an instrument with astonishingly beautiful sound that also holds its pitch. Unmodified Maxwell dulcimers can nonetheless perform wonderfully for noter play and story telling. The musical limitations of his instruments have kept them affordable, and encouraged most owners to store them safe amd unplayed in their cases over the years.Lynn McSpadden W. Keith Medlin(this entry needs more qualitative information about Medlin's dulcimers, and photos)
Keith Medlin (1921-) is a craftsman, engineer and entrepreneur in Morristown, TN. He built approximately 1,300 dulcimers between 1965 and 2003, most of which were sold at craft fairs in Morristown and Gatlinburg, TN.
His were among the first Smoky Mountain region dulcimers produced with geared tuners. Here's why: "My first dulcimers all had wooden pegs," he said in 2009. "One night I was performing at a church with my daughter Paula. It was snowing heavy outside and I leaned my dulcimer against a radiator. When I picked it up again, I couldn't tune the darn thing, and I swore that I'd never make another dulcimer with wooden pegs."
His lutherie began in 1965 when his daughter Sue, who was studying for a degree in music therapy in Ohio, asked for his help in building a mountain dulcimer. He bought a kit, then decided he could improve upon the design. He soon started bringing his hardwood three-string hourglasses to the local craft fairs, where they sold well.
Medlin believes a proper mountain dulcimer has three strings, but felt compelled to start building four-string models in the 1970s to compete. Medlin also produced guitars, mandolins, banjos and fiddles. At the age of 88, he still takes orders for mandolins on his Web site
.Jacob Ray Melton
General Custer Nicholas
George & Morris Pickow
Donald & Judy Polifka
Builders of deep-body, fiddle-backed dulcimers in Rapidan, VA, the Polifkas made 215 numbered instruments over ten years from 1977. Many had intricately carved tuning pegs. This ED thread
contains a report of a conversation with Donald Polifka in 2007.Edd & Nettie Presnell
Frank Proffitt, Sr.
Frank Proffitt, Jr.
Earl "Burge" Searing
Bill Spencer was a dulcimer builder, player, songwriter and singer from Lewisburg, Ohio. This ED thread
has some flavorful information about the builder, and there are some good photos of a Spencer dulcimer here
.Isaac ("ID") Stamper
Bill Van Dusen