List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Share tidbits of dulcimer history, or history of the songs we play on them

List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby pristine2 » Fri Jun 25, 2010 7:44 pm

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.



Peter 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

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 Berry

Frank 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 Amburgey

Sam Carrell

Ron Chacey

Ray and Colleen Chittum

Proper 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

Bill Davis

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

Lucky Diamond

Judge Arthur Dixon

Dennis Dorogi

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 to everythingdulcimer.

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

Frank Glenn

Leonard Glenn

Jim Goodsite

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

Bob Harman

Iris Harmon

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

Roby Hicks

Stanley Hicks

Chet Hines

Frank Hodges

Virgil Hughes

Steve Jackel

A. W. Jeffreys

Andy & Sue Kardos

Tam Kearney

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.

Kearney dulcimers are noted for their silvery, shimmering voice, strong volume and precise intonation. Both headstock and tail are distinctive. Many or most have feet for table play. Kearney's instruments are sought-after and rarely come up for sale.

Joellen Lapidus

Homer Ledford ... 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.

Dick Manley

Edsel & Fred Martin

Walter Martin ... earth.html

John 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

Raymond Melton

Frank Miller

Jim Miller

Howie Mitchell

Robert Mize

General Custer Nicholas

George Orthey

Jess Patterson

John Pearse

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

James Presnell

Frank Proffitt, Sr.

Frank Proffitt, Jr.

Paul Pyle

Jean Ritchie

Beuford Robison

Howard Rugg

Roscoe Russell

Jim Sams

Earl "Burge" Searing

J.C. Shellnutt

Kurt Simerman

Bill Spencer

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

Henry Steele

Dave Sturgill

John Tignor

Bill Van Dusen

Charlie Watson

Dorsey Williams
Last edited by pristine2 on Sun Nov 06, 2011 5:11 pm, edited 64 times in total.
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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby razyn » Sun Jul 24, 2011 12:43 pm

Is this still a thread? I don't see but one post. Used to be a whole bunch of them.

Anyway, yesterday at a flea market I saw a Lucky Diamond dulcimer (five string, wooden friction tuners, wormy chestnut soundboard, nice work). The seller was also displaying a xeroxed article about Lucky and Louise Diamond, dulcimer makers of Silver Spring, MD. It was from the Washington Post, MD section, Thursday, June 1, 1978. The accompanying photo showed Lucky with a six-string model, substantially different from the one being sold. Thought that might be grist for your mill, especially since you are more or less a Marylander.
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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby Banjimer » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:53 pm

I'd add Frank Hodges (Boone, NC), James Presnell (Spruce Pine?, NC), and Iris Harmon. Hodges' dulcimers seem to be influenced by those of Edd Presnell, and not derived from an old family pattern.

James Presnell, on the other hand, has a direct family connection to the Beech Mountain dulcimer makers. James Presnell was the son of Roosevelt Presnell, a Beech Mountain farmer mentioned by Ralph Lee Smith as a dulcimer-building neighbor of the Hicks family. James Presnell learned his dulcimer building skills from his father, and the pattern is very similar to the one used by Leonard Glenn and Clifford Glenn. The Glenns call this pattern their Nathan Hicks pattern.

Iris Harmon is pictured with one of his dulcimers in the "Yates Family History" compiled by Terry Lynn Harmon of Banner Elk, NC. Iris Harmon was a first cousin to Leonard Glenn. Their mothers were sisters, and most importantly, their mothers were daughters of Eli Taylor Presnell, the first known dulcmer maker on Beech Mountain. Interestingly enough, the Millard Oliver mentioned by Ralph Lee Smith as a possible source of the first dulcimer pattern taken down by Eli Taylor Presnell is also intertwined with the Hicks, Harmon, and Presnell families through his marriage to Emma Josephine Yates, whose brother Daniel Yates was married to another of Eli Taylor Presnell's daughters, Betty Presnell. At least one source, "The Yates Family History", also states that Millard Oliver was the brother of Smith Oliver, who was the first husband of Betty Presnell. Smith Oliver was killed prior to 1900, and Betty subsequently married Daniel Yates.

Iris Harmon's dulcimer looks identical to those built by Leonard and Clifford Glenn following the Hicks pattern. This is not surprising considering that all three had a family or neighborly connection with either the Hicks family or Eli Taylor Presnell. Three dulcimer builders (Leonard Glenn, James Presnell, and Iris Harmon) making nearly identical dulcimers with a strong family or neighborly connection with the same sources would suggest a pattern derived from the same original dulcimer or a sharing of patterns among family members.

In any case, James Presnell, Frank Hodges, and Iris Harmon need to have their names added to the list.

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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby Banjimer » Mon Jul 25, 2011 7:07 pm

Thought I'd add this bit of information. Hank Levin who used to build dulcimers in the 1960's and 1970's is still building musical instruments, but not dulcimers. You can find his website at:

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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby Robin T » Mon Jul 25, 2011 7:38 pm

You've done a lot, Richard-- thank you!

I thought it was neat when, awhile back, Dennis Dorogi and Ron Chacey joined the discussion of the Anne Grimes book.
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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby brashley46 » Thu Sep 29, 2011 11:37 pm

I'd like to add Tam Kearney of Toronto to this list, as I now have had an opportunity to hear one of his instruments in the hands of a decent player ... he built dulcimers for over 30 years, but has not done any in over ten. I've been looking for a picture online but have not found one. Distinctive tuning head easily recognisable but hard to describe ... it sort of starts to be a scroll but levels off into a flat plate parallel to the fretboard. Beautiful woodwork and a silvery high-lonesome intonation. I want one but the only ones I know are definitely not for sale, including half a dozen he has bought back from the original owners. Tam was proprietor/manager of the Fiddler's Green folk club in Toronto about two blocks from where I sit typing this, and a member of the Friends of Fiddlers' Green folk group who played folk festivals around the continent for a long while.

I may be able to photograph one for the list ... if so I will post again.
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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby pristine2 » Fri Sep 30, 2011 2:54 am

Robin & Greg:

I feel terrible I've not been able to put any effort into this project lately. I think it is critically important to consolidate and publish the ambient knowledge out there. I'd hoped to pick it up upon my return to the US, but the trip did not materialise and here I remain, uselessly, in Hong Kong.

Your posts have motivated me to pull out the files, though. I'll do a little list-building over the weekend.

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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby Robin T » Mon Oct 03, 2011 11:48 am

Any time you're able to work on the project adds to the whole, Richard. 8)
all good wishes,
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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby Banjimer » Tue Oct 04, 2011 5:38 am


No apologies are necessary. You have added a great deal to the list since joining. Contribute when you can. I for one have benefited from the information you have shared with the group, and I look forward to many future contributions as you find time to share them.

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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby GWentland » Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:07 pm

How about James David Sams Sr. I know he made quite a few 3 string dulcimers and the ones I have seen are well made musical instruments. I notice that you have Jim Sams on the list. I assume I have his proper name.
Last edited by GWentland on Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby pristine2 » Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:19 pm

GWentland wrote:How about James David Sams Sr. I know he made quite a few 3 string dulcimers and the ones I have seen are well made musical instruments.

Jim Sams is on my list above, and I have a lead on someone in NC who apparently knew him pretty well --- the daughter of a close friend of his. I'll need to telephone her. He's also mentioned briefly in some of the museum & academic literature.

I'll try to write up a proper listing for him.

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Re: List of vintage mountain dulcimer makers

Postby GWentland » Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:31 pm

Sams son has posted on ED in the past.
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