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Painted dulcimers: why? Was it because the wood was nothing special, maybe? (I’m obsessed at the moment with this black Ed Thomas replica ...)


A dulcimer maker many years ago told me that wood grain wasn't attractive to some people in certain areas. He said:

"Many old dulcimers were crudely cut and finished. Paint was a favorite finish. To understand the reason for this, we must place ourselves in the mental frame of the Appalachian mountaineer. He regarded the grain of wood as ugly, since it was so commonplace. Almost everything that he owned was made of wood. The dulcimer was so much work to build that he didn't want this ordinary, ugly wood grain to show, so he would paint it with any available paint."

I think the Thomas dulcimers were more refined than the example mentioned above, so I don't know if Uncle Ed's motivation for using paint was because his customers wanted paint or if it was just his choice by design.



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The Thomas dulcimer I own is not painted. It is all walnut. I have seen a few Thomas dulcimers that were painted. My guess is that some were painted to make them more appealing to the customer. C.N. Prichard dulcimers were almost always painted; some very elaborately and some to resemble wood grain.


"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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Oil based paint should provide good protection for wood.  If some type of clear finish wasn't available or too expensive, paint's a good option.  Ed Thomas could have done it for aesthetic reasons, or maybe just due to cost/availability of material.

Through some twist of fate, the few Thomas dulcimers I've encountered in person were all unpainted ones. 

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