В В В В REVELS В MUSIC В В MOUNTAIN В DULCIMER В CATALOGUE: В (ISSUE В 4, В SUMMER В 2013) В Section 1 ВІ Dulcimers for Beginner/Intermediate players ...................................3
Section 2 ВІ Dulcimers for Intermediate/Advanced players ..................................8
Section 3 ВІ Historic or Unusual mountain dulcimers ........................................ 14
Section 4 ВІ Coming Soon/In the Workshop .................................................. 20
Section 5 ВІ Accessories, Books etc .......................................................... 24 В 2
Introduction В ,В¶YHDOZD\Vrather liked dulcimers. 7KH\В¶UHpretty things, not exactly run-of-the-mill, easy to play
DQGWKH\В¶UHUHlatively low cost. I bought a cheap, locally-made one, then fell for a Yank В± inlaid,
over-sexy and over here! A few years ago, I began to get itchy instrument-buying fingers and
imported a couple of dulcimers from the USA. It felt scary and complicated at first. As I became
seemed too good to ignore. When they threatened to take over the house, it was pointed out
forcibly that perhaps I ought to pass some on. So I started to buy and sell in a more coherent way.
,В¶PDQHQWKXVLDVWILUVWDQGIRUHPRVW6RPy basic philosophy is to buy and sell quality instruments
at an affordable price В± allowing beginners to try a new instrument and more experienced players
to trade up at low risk. Where possible, I set up every instrument myself and play them for an
extended period to ensure WKH\В¶UHZRUNLQJSURSHUO\ If you want more details on any dulcimer В±
such as larger versions of the catalogue pictures or additional photos - just email me.
Note on jargon: VSL = Vibrating String Length, i.e. the scale length of the dulcimer. Longer
scale lengths often give better tone, but playing is a little more difficult because the string tension is
higher and fingers have to stretch further. FBW = Fingerboard width. Standard modern
instruments, particularly those intended for noter/drone playing (i.e. on the melody string only), can
be much narrower. The 6ВЅ fret is standard on modern dulcimers, which are usually tuned DAD
and need the added fret to complete the D major scale. Older instruments were more commonly
tuned to DAA, whose D major scale does not require the extra fret.
Payment and shipping
I accept payment through PayPal or by cheque, but will need to wait for the latter to clear until
I will happily post items, although with instruments LW¶VDOZD\VpreferDEOHWRWU\EHIRUH\RXEX\,¶OO
throw in a free half hour lesson for those who want to visit and choose/collect - ,В¶PEDVHGQHDUWKH
bottom of the M50 on the Welsh border. As an alternative, give me a ring on the number below
Shipping costs: small items (strings, picks etc) are ВЈ1.50 per order; books at cost; instruments ВЈ15
insured next day delivery (mainland UK only).
Contact details
Geoff Black,
Revels Music
Tel: 07817 310083
Email: reeve-black_revells[at]
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Section 1 ВІ Dulcimers for Beginner/Intermediate players
Early 1980s
4 String 3 Course
This is a European dulcimer, made by SocietГ© Camac, a small firm based near Nantes in Brittany.
I believe they were better known for harps, but the current Camac Harps appear to be a different
firm. It was created to catch the vogue for dulcimer playing in the mid/late 70s and is plain,
economical, but well enough made. Original invoice dated March 1981.
It has a solid spruce top and laminated walnut sides and back. Design features are a mishmash of
well-known US makes, with McSpadden-shaped heart soundholes, elephant trunk Folkcraft scroll,
imitation Grover friction tuners etc. It has a wide, beech or maple fingerboard with zero fret and,
originally, no 6ВЅ fret. Hard plastic nut and bridge, latter slightly compensated for better intonation.
weight 1lb 9oz (714g).
This has a short scale, wide fingerboard and straightforward action В± ideal for beginners. The
sound is open and reasonably balanced, if not very characterful. Intonation is pretty good and
could be improved further with a fully compensated bridge (at minimal extra cost).
Early 80s?
Anonymous, unlabelled hourglass В± well made by a good craftsman, but possibly not an
instrument builder. Sold from, and possibly made in, Ohio.
Solid walnut two-piece (but not bookmatched) back, walnut sides. Sassafras or poplar (?) top with
four, slightly angled, elegant hearts, tails pointing to tailpiece. Top and back overlap sides in
traditional manner. Nicely made, elegant walnut scroll and pegbox. Walnut single piece
fingerboard. Mechanical friction, rather than violin-style, tuning pegs suggest late 70s. New 6ВЅ
Broad, quite heavy instrument, nicely constructed (except for a slight bending flaw on one side)
and good-looking. Light tone, but (after some work) accurate and reasonably responsive. A nice
instrument with a decent dulcimer sound.
Medlin 3 String Teardrop
Three string dulcimer made by Keith Medlin, Morristown, Tennessee, marked PTD (or PTO) 147.
Medlin (apparently still going strong in his early 90s!) describes himself as a craftsman, engineer
and entrepreneur who built some 1300 dulcimers between 1965 and 2003, selling them mainly at
craft fairs in Morristown and Gatlinburg, Tn. Everything Dulcimer notes that 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. Medlin apparently believes a proper mountain dulcimer has three strings, but felt
compelled to start building four-string models in the 1970s to compete. Medlin also made guitars,
mandolins, banjos and fiddles, for which he still accepts orders on his website.
A very compact and light dulcimer made largely of walnut (solid top, sides and back). Unusual,
bulkhead-style internal bracing. Walnut top has 4 melting heart-style soundholes. Back is not
bookmatched but has an attractive, well-chosen grain pattern. Neat, question-mark shaped
headstock. Single piece, hollow walnut fingerboard with 6ВЅ fret. Ball end string anchor, ebony
nut and bridge. Replacement open geared gold tuners with real koa buttons.
This is a well-made, quality instrument with a short scale, easy action and a surprisingly clear, loud
voice - even slightly strident. Ideal for finger-style playing or for dulcimer beginners.
1.11 March 1980
Magic Mountain Model 5110
4 String
and made at his San Rafael, California, shop - just before he sold the business to Saga Music.
This is a large, good quality dulcimer with highly-figured mahogany laminate sides and back; red fir
(like cedar) fine-grained top with heart soundholes; and a pierced scroll headstock and
fingerboard, both probably made of alder. The fingerboard overlay is, unusually, made of a
formica-like laminate, printed with a rosewood grain. It has four Kluson Deluxe tuners with plastic
buttons. 6ВЅ fret installed as original.
between bouts. More recently, a loose strut has caused a short, almost imperceptible crack in the
top leading from one of the soundholes. Strut and crack have now been stabilised and affect
neither looks, sound nor integrity.
This is a really nice instrument from one of the early west coast pioneers and, despite having been
neglected in the past, is looking good again and playing well. This is not for the faint-hearted,
however. Although responsive and light to the touch, it has a long scale with high tension strings
on a large body. It has a well-rounded, ringing sound, strong on mid and bass registers.
Nicholson 4 String Teardrop
Unusual but attractive teardrop design from Johnie Nicholson, Unicorn Woodworks, Pollock Pines,
It is well constructed but has a few unusual features. It uses non-traditional woods: back is
bookmatched mahogany, top a close grained dark brown softwood, possibly cedar, more likely
reminiscent of modern Folkcraft designs. It also has a big, elongated scroll which has been hand
hollowed from a three piece sandwich, with four open geared machine heads. Single piece
fingerboard with circular contrasting wooden markers on 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets. Hardwood nut
and hardwood floating bridge. 2YHUDOOOHQJWKВґXSSHUERXW1$ORZHUERXWВґGHSWKЗ©Вґ)%:
Purchased from California and, although the maker was unknown at the time, the unconventional
design and materials suggested a west coast instrument. Following a few hunches, I tracked
down Johnie, who started making dulcimers in California over 30 years ago, to Idaho where his
Unicorn Woodworks is still operating, some 3200 dulcimers later!
This is a nicely proportioned, well-made dulcimer with a large voice, consistent with its size. Good
intonation and pleasant sound. Comes with its original quilted bag.
Frazier 4 String Hourglass
Frazier is/was a small scale maker who started in the early 70s and was producing no more than
20 instruments per year at the height of the dulcimer boom. This is a traditional style instrument in
many respects, but nicely made from good quality materials. It has an attractive quilted maple top
and birdseye maple sides and fingerboard. Neat, classic-style elongated, tapered maple
headstock with effective square rosewood (?) tuning pegs. Wooden marker at 7th fret (now partly
under new 6ВЅ fret). Bookmatched walnut back with slight unevenness on LB. Wooden rosewood
(medium/long scale), weight 2lb 8oz (1134g). Originally no 6ВЅ fret, now provided.
Mixed maple/walnut construction makes for a pretty, light sounding instrument, emphasizing the
higher overtones but with clean mid and bass. Easy action, suitable for all abilities, which could
take slightly heavier treble strings to improve the tonal balance further. Could also take geared
Early 70s
Capritaurus 4 String Hourglass
This large and classically proportioned dulcimer was made by Capritaurus, Felton, California, an
earlier incarnation of the famous Folk Roots (Rugg and Jackel) dulcimer works, between 1969 and
1973. Became the famous Folk Roots D50 model.
A large-bodied instrument in the Californian style, made of a golden mahogany-like three ply
laminate with no kerfing inside the body. Hollow fingerboard В± possibly oak - and big scroll
headstock. Boxwood (?) nut and bridge. Originally ebony (or ebonised) standard violin pegs, now
replaced by guitar-type tuners. Four simple brass pins for string anchors. Heart shaped
ГІВґERG\GHSWKГІВґ)%:ЗЄВґ96/ГіORQJVFDOHweight 2lb 12oz (1247g). Originally no
6ВЅ fret, now provided.
This makes a statement with its big sound and large body. For those players who like plenty of
responsiveness and volume, but fewer tonal shades. A classic dulcimer model with a distinctive
and popular sound В± all my previous D50-style dulcimers have sold very quickly.
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Section 2 ВІ Dulcimers for Intermediate/Advanced players
Aug 2011 -RKQ.QRSIВґ3UDLVHВµ 4 String Hourglass
Custom design from John C Knopf, Westland, Michigan, USA, dated August 2011 and numbered
42. Knopf is well known as an accurate and imaginative re-creator of different styles of historic
dulcimers. This iQVWUXPHQWLVQDPHGВі3UDLVHВґ and has an accompanying text from Psalm 150,
Verse 6.
The design is a classic hourglass with rounded tail, based on the Scott Antes pattern. Body made
from solid black walnut with a Sitka spruce top. Back is bookmatched and the neat scroll
headstock is also walnut. Fingerboard is hollow and made from two pieces of walnut, with smart
wenge, black, streaked overlay. Pretty, circular rosettes/soundholes, made from burr walnut,
reminiscent of early Folkroots models. Good quality mini-Schaller type Gotoh sealed tuners. Nut
and partially compensated bridge are made from ebony.
Overall length 36", ORZHUERXWXSSHUERXWГіВґGHSWKГґВґFBW ЗЄВґ VSL 28Вѕ" (medium/long
scale), weight 2lb 3oz (982g). Has 6ВЅ and 13ВЅ frets.
Good quality modern dulcimer. Sound is still developing, but is already full and loud. Should grow
more responsive with added harmonics and greater vibrato. Complete with soft slip cover.
1977 & 1981
Wilson 4 String Hourglass
ВЈ200 each
Beautiful all walnut dulcimers #265 and #1155, handmade by Richard and Denise Wilson, initially
based in the delightfully named Ypsilanti, Michigan, later Manitou Beach.
Richard was a skilled carpenter but had to find a new career after the early 70s housing slump.
His parents got him interested in the dulcimer and after building a kit, he and his wife decided to
make their own. Early on, they had to choose between buying a sofa for their apartment and a
bandsaw. They chose the latter, converting the living room into a workshop and living in the
bedroom! Richard specialised in the acoustics and the construction, while his wife did the
ornamentation (inlays and soundholes). Decorations included mother-of-pearl unicorns, sailboats
and birds; soundholes ranged from hearts, seagulls to cherries. He estimated that each dulcimer
took from 13 to 150 hours to make. Between 1974 and 1985 they claimed to have made over
2000 instruments, travelling from art fair to art fair across the country and selling them for between
$110 and $1100.
The craftsmanship on these dulcimers is excellent В± from the distinctive handcarved tapering
scroll/pegbox to the elegant swirling heart soundholes. They have a well-proportioned, shallow
walnut body, bookmatched on both back and top (the 1981 has a striking grain), a walnut one
piece fingerboard (1977)/two layer walnut fingerboard (1981) and walnut endstock/pegbox. Even
the handcarved pegs look like walnut. There is a floating bridge (rosewood or ebony). Can be set
up for three or four course (equidistant) strings В± BUT not possible to fit modern geared tuners.
scale), weight 1lb 7oz (659g). No 6ВЅ fret originally on either В± one fitted now to #265.
These are very light and responsive dulcimers, with an easy action and good projection. They
have a good balanced sound across the strings. Both are relatively plain and un-ornamented
(although the 1981 has a lovely pair of weeping heart MOP inlays on the fingerboard), but both are
handsomely proportioned and elegant В± a pair of classic dulcimers.
Walnut Valley 4 String, 3 Course
Model SR [Smoky River], #90-093, made by the WVD Company, Burns, Kansas. The owner and
co-builder was Jack Brunner, who had a booth at the Disney theme park, Orlando in the early 90s.
this model cost $289 В± not cheap for the time.
This is a modern, well built, all walnut dulcimer with bookmatched back and top, and a scroll
headstock with inset wooden ball. It has leaf designs on upper and lower bouts, with a
hummingbird soundhole. The tuners are good quality Grover chrome friction pegs which hold well,
but perfectionists might wish to replace them with geared banjo pegs (at additional cost). The
fingerboard has several unusual features, being undercut for most of its length and therefore
having a chamfered length in place of the traditional strum hollow. It has a zero fret, hard plastic
ВіQXWВґDQGEULGJH (latter now replaced with bone, compensated bridge), and MOP markers at frets
3, 7 and 10. The endblock has a suede strip to protect it (and dampen any unwanted ringing of the
strings?). Three substantial string anchors will require strings with large loops.
scale), weight 2lb 7oz (1105g).
A neat dulcimer in the modern style, suitable for beginners or the more advanced. It is loud and
punchy with plenty of response and tonal possibilities. Intonation is good with the replacement
Green River Hourglass 4 String
ВЈTBA + ВЈ20 case
An interesting rarity. Made by Ві7REHВґ from the Green River Dulcimer Company, serial #2685,
The concern was founded by Bill Walker, who started making dulcimers В± both mountain and
hammered - in the early 70s in Elkhorn, Kentucky. He moved across the Appalachians in the late
70s to Asheville, N Carolina where he also opened the Early Music Shop in Biltmore Village. Both
types of dulcimers were also available in kit form. In 1992 at the age of 49, he was sadly killed in
his house by an intruder and his children decided not to continue the business.
This fine example В± very little used, if at all В± has a bookmatched solid walnut back; deep, solid
walnut sides; a walnut three piece laminated headstock topped by a fretsaw-cut scroll with a
tapered end; Grover (?) sta-tite mechanical friction tuners. The top is a spectacular highly-figured
streaky red-brown hardwood В± Koa perhaps? В± with heart soundholes. The solid fingerboard (i.e.
not hollowed out underneath) is again walnut and has narrow frets (including the 6ВЅ AND 13ВЅ)
running for two octaves. MOP inlay dots at 3rd, 7th and 12th frets. Very hard plastic nut and bridge,
with slots for a variety of string configurations. Four mushroom-headed pins as string anchors;
rosewood cap for tail end of strings to run over (to protect endblock). 2YHUDOOOHQJWKГІВґXSSHU
Original 6ВЅ fret.
These handmade instruments are distinguished by clean, elegant design, large and deep body,
and striking exotic wood tops В± and sound quality to match or exceed the industry standard
McSpaddens. This appears to be an excellent example in as-new condition with untouched
original case. Intonation is good with replacement, compensated buffalo horn bridge. A hard
sounding dulcimer with an unusual and attractive tone, stronger on middle and bass. Scale length
may be an issue for the hands of some players.
Warren May Hourdrop 4 String, 3 Course
Handmade by Warren A. May, Berea, Kentucky, #6957.
Warren is a cabinet maker and well known instrument builder, carrying on the tradition of Homer
Ledford and other Kentucky makers. The construction and finish on this dulcimer are beautiful.
shape and the bass side a teardrop В± aiming to maximise the treble response of the former and
the bass of the latter. It is a traditional all walnut model with carved headstock, hand cut wooden
tuning pegs, wood nut and (floating) bridge and no 6ВЅ fret (now provided). The top has two
beautifully cut hummingbird soundholes and another formed from a natural knot. Bookmatched
walnut back with beautiful figure. Endblock takes ball end strings only. Soft case.
A lovely piece of craftsmanship and a real looker, but also practical and musical. Bright but woody
tone, with responsiveness and some power, aided by light, hardwood construction. Probably not
best for a beginner, with its wooden pegs and intonation aimed mainly at traditional 1:5:5 (usually
DAA) playing - but for the experienced player and collector, a classic mountain dulcimer.
McSpadden M12W Hourglass 4 String
Middle period (December 1996, # 34827) Model 12 all walnut instrument from the Dulcimer
Shoppe, Mountain View, Arkansas, signed in the traditional way by the individual craftsman who
built it (George Looney). McSpadden began crafting dulcimers full-time in late 1967 or early 1968
and are now possibly the best known makers of mountain dulcimers in the world.
This instrument has solid walnut sides and top, with a high quality laminated walnut back. Elegant
carved walnut scroll, walnut two-piece fingerboard, with zero fret for accurate intonation and 6ВЅ
buttons. Typical McSpadden style heart soundholes and company name inscribed on fingerboard
just to the right of the strum hollow. Stainless steel string anchors. Two strap buttons, one on far
side of head and one on tail. A little pick wear (difficult to see) on fingerboard near strum hollow.
VSL 28ВЅ" (medium/long scale), with zero fret. Has a 6ВЅ fret.
McSpadden are perhaps the most consistent craft maker of mountain dulcimers in the world,
continuing to produce well-made, reliable and great-sounding instruments. This is no exception В±
a touchstone for quality. Has an easy action, despite its longish scale. Bright, forward sound with
plenty of power across the tonal range. Upgrade possible to geared tuners (at extra cost).
Mastertone Hourglass 5 String
ВЈ250 incl case
Jim and Brenda Good in Gandeeville, West Virginia. Jim has been playing and making dulcimers
for over 40 years in this rural, musical area north of Charleston, West Virginia. This is not one of
the carved top dulcimers for which Mastertone is particularly known, but it is a handsome beast!
It has a stunning birdseye maple body with faux tortoiseshell binding, bookmatched top and
bottom; maple fingerboard with walnut overlay; rosewood headstock veneer; figured walnut (?)
scratchplate in the distinctive Mastertone shape; walnut endblock with single walnut (?) string
anchor; two Mastertone signature sliced walnut rosettes (two missing) forming the soundholes.
Black mini Schaller-style guitar machine heads. Has the typical Mastertone 5 string layout,
arranged in 3 courses but with doubled melody string and doubled bass course (octave
wound/unwound). Original hardshell case included. 2YHUDOOOHQJWKВґГІВґXSSHUERXWЗЄВґВґ
This is a classy dulcimer with a striking appearance, made from high quality materials. Solidly built
and in good condition; easy to play (short scale) with a balanced sound across the range. This is a
heavier than average dulcimer and, though it projects well, it is not quite as loud as its size and
string configuration would suggest. Not ideal for finger-picking, given its string configuration and
slightly variable intonation higher up, but would perform well with mic or pick up.
2.31 Mid/late 1980s
ВЈ20 case
McSpadden FM12 Hourglass 4 String
ВЈ250 +
Model FM12 В± early flat head (guitar-type) McSpadden handcrafted in Mountain View, Arkansas
and signed by the one of their three craftsmen and founder of the business, Lynn McSpadden.
This is the classic middle period instrument from probably the best known and most reliable larger
scale dulcimer maker - solid spruce top, solid walnut sides and high quality laminated two piece
walnut back. Neat, flat walnut head and good quality Grover guitar tuners; four McSpadden-style
heart soundholes; walnut two piece, hollow fingerboard; composite nut and bridge; zero fret.
(medium/long scale), weight 2lb 1oz (933g). 6ВЅ fret.
This looks superb, with a classic dulcimer shape. Good action and very lively, responsive sound,
especially clear on the melody strings. In excellent condition generally, with two barely noticeable
nicks on one edge. Complete with original protective hard shell case.
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Section 3 ВІ Historic or Unusual mountain dulcimers
3.3 1980s (?)
Galax-style Hourglass, 3 String
Unknown maker. Looks like a replica of early Virginian dulcimers made around the Galax area.
Has three hand-carved wooden tuning pegs for three unwound, unison strings (e.g. DDD).
Sides, back and top appear to be walnut, stained a reddish colour. The body is large and shaped
with the equal sized bouts and reversed curve at the headstock end which are typical of some
earlier Virginian dulcimers. The fingerboard is one piece of walnut without overlay. Simple scroll
head with effective wooden, hand-carved pegs. Unusual brass tailpiece and distinctive D-shaped
end block made from laminated strips of wood. Both nut and bridge are chunky plastic.
High action and unison strings give a distinctive whining, trebly sound typical of the Galax and
ideal for fast, noter playing in a string band/dance music context. An interesting but useable rarity.
3.4 Early 70s A W Jeffreys
Hourglass 3 String
ВЈ180 (inc soft case)
Classic model from A W Jeffreys, Jr, Staunton, Virginia with Serial No. 2883. The Jeffreys formed
the Appalachian Dulcimer Corporation as a genuine family business from the early 60s onwards.
A W and his son Jay made most of the bodies; daughter Jan pasted the labels and sanded the
signed JCJ, presumably therefore put together by Jay.
The dulcimer is plain, almost austere in design, with a high quality laminated walnut back and
sides and solid spruce top; rounded heart soundholes pointing towards the tail end. The peghead
is also walnut, with a stylised scroll and standard rosewood violin pegs. The fingerboard is walnut
without an overlay. Walnut nut and bridge with zero fret (indicating a later model). Broad frets with
no 6ВЅ fret. Simple wooden dowel as string anchor. Overall length 32ВјВґXSSHU bout Вґ, lower bout
6ВЅВґGHSWKГІВґ, VSL 27Вј" (medium scale).
Relatively low action and medium scale length make for a dulcimer that is easy to play В± and
started many people off with the instrument. A soft, trebly voice that is archetypical old-style
dulcimer and which only comes truly alive when played in the Ionian (usually DAA) mode. Also
works well with Aeolian (usually DAC) as well. The fret positioning gives both a soft, mellow sound
В± which in turn works less well for Mixolydian (usually DAD) tuning and modern chord-melody
playing across the strings. Better suited therefore perhaps for noter or traditional-style playing.
This one is in perfect condition, having been little played В± a very collectable classic.
Вґ)airportВµ)rank Bond Hourglass 4 String
Created by the once fashionable English maker Frank Bond В± a favourite of Roger Nicholson В±
Chosen (and presumably used by) Richard Thompson (her then boyfrLHQGDQGRUВі7\JHUВґ
Elegant headstock like the prow of a boat, with a heart cutout on the underside. Slim, elegant
outline with softwood (spruce) top AND back, (brazilian?) rosewood sides. Heart-shaped
soundholes (pointing to tail). Mahogany neck with rosewood (?) overlay and nickel frets.
Light construction and softwood back give this a light, transparent and sweet sound. An attractive
and historic instrument.
Amburgey 3 String Hourglass
This is a classic example of an early Kentucky dulcimer. Ralph Lee Smith in his seminal work
Ві$SSDODFKLDQ'XOFLPHU7UDGLWLRQVВґUHFRXQWVWKDW-HWKUR (1895 В± 1971) began his education in an
old log schoolhouse near his home. At the age of 11, his parents agreed to him attending the
larger Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky, ten miles from the family home, providing he
At Hindman, he met dulcimHUPDNHUВі8QFOHВґ(G7KRPDV, one of the classic early dulcimer
interest was piqued by the instruments he built and sold in the Hindman store. He recalled seeing
Thomas walking past the school workshop one day with a half-dozen or so dulcimers and going
into a meeting of the settlement women. A while later, Thomas returned without a single
instrument; he had sold them all! Amburgey figured that if people wanted dulcimers so much, he
too should learn how to make them. When he asked for patterns, however, Thomas said that he
would only provide them if Amburgey paid him more than he would receive for a finished
instrument. Amburgey duly obliged and the dulcimers that he started building, as a result, were
closely modelled on the Thomas original В± a narrow, shallow hourglass with fiddle sides and staple
frets under the melody string only. The earliest Amburgeys date from the 1920s. By the early 60s,
he had made nearly 500 dulcimers (charging $35 at the time). With demand accelerating, by his
death in 1971 he had completed over 1300. Jean Ritchie used an Amburgey when she first went
to New York in 1948 and caught the imagination of the nascent folk scene in the 50s and early
sound in the revival era.
This dulcimer is all walnut, with a solid, quite thick, top and a single piece back. The back is
secured at the headstock end by 4 tacks and at the tail by 5. The top has four heart soundholes
pointing to the tail. The single piece fingerboard has a scULEHGPDUNЗ©ВґIURPHDFKHGJHRQWRSDQG
side. There are 17 simple staple frets, set under the melody string only В± some noticeably
crooked. No 6ВЅ fret. It has three hand cut walnut pegs in a simple, stubby scroll headstock;
separate walnut bridge and endblock; single string anchor.
This particular instrument has large cracks in the solid wood top, running from three of the
soundholes, and two cracks in the back. All appear to be caused by shrinkage rather than impact
damage. Ralph Lee Smith mentions this as a problem in his book and said that Amburgey began
to use thinner, more stable laminates from the 1940s onwards. A picture of an Amburgey from
1958 also appears to show repaired cracks in a solid wood back, so perhaps the transition was
later than Smith suggests.
scale), weight 1lb 7oz (661g). No 6ВЅ fret.
Mid-60s (?)
John D Tignor 3 String Hourglass
The dulcimer historian Ralph Lee Smith, writing an obituary of Tignor in the 1982 Dulcimer Players
News, described him as the last remaining direct link to the dulcimer-making tradition of the
Cumberland Mountains. Tignor was born in 1922 and attended the nearby Hindman Settlement
School. While there, his workshop teacher was none other than Jethro Amburgey (see above).
This narrow hourglass shape with heart soundholes, popularised by Jean Ritchie who brought an
Amburgey to New York in 1948, helped establish the design norms for post-revival dulcimers.
Tignor attended Berea College after the War (as did Homer Ledford, another well-known dulcimer
builder) and graduated in 1948. Learning woodworking at both Hindman and Berea, Tignor
became an expert handyman, building the house his widow still lives in.
His wife taught kindergarten at Hindman Settlement School and was a good dulcimer player В± she
may have learnt how to play from Jethro Amburgey. It was said that Tignor often had to repair his
wife's Amburgey dulcimers (which would have been assembled with hide glue, and whose joints
would loosen in the humid Kentucky summers). Sometime in the 1950s, he decided to make his
own dulcimers, using the materials and patterns with which he was most familiar В± i.e. those of
Amburgey and Thomas before him. His own, distinctive contribution was the trefoil-shape
sold or traded.
This dulcimer is all walnut, with a solid, quite thick, top and a single piece back. The top has four
gimlet mark on the bass side denotes the position of each fret. There are 17 simple staple frets,
set under the melody string only - no 6ВЅ fret. It has three hand cut square walnut pegs (2 on the
near side, 1 on the far side) in a simple, stubby scroll headstock; walnut bridge and nut (both with
wide, deep grooves for the strings); single dowel string anchor. There are small bending flaws on
the nearside lower bout and the far side UB and LB.
Dimensions as follows (1957 Amburgey for comparison in square brackets):
November 1982
Sam Carrell 5 String
Wormy chestnut top/walnut back, fiddle-sided dulcimer by Sam Carrell, Townsend, Tennessee,
PDUNHGВі+DQGPDGHIRU%HWW\H0F.HQ]LHВґBill Davis popularised this body style (see my
previous Catalogue 1, instrument #1.3), now kept alive by the well-known luthier Mike Clemmer.
Sam is now semi-retired and living in Florida. He talks about his dulcimer apprenticeship as
Ві,PHWDGXOFLPHUPDNHU%LOO'DYLV---long since dead, in Gatlinberg, Tenn., after I moved there
from my home in Florida , A VERY LONG STORY, & he asked me to work for him in his shop in
East G[atlin]berg. I started with him in March of 1974 & quit in Sept of the same year. Let's just say
we had irreversible differences! I opened my own business, across the mountains, 25 miles away
[Townsend, gateway to the Great Smokey Mts], in 1975. I closed the business & my wife & I
moved back to Florida in 1984 to be with our very ill parents.
Here's how I learned to make his dulcimers---He took me into his shop, pointed out a dulcimer &
said you'll be making that. The ONLY thing I ever saw him do was turn the tuning pegs on an old
Shopsmith wood lathe, fit them to the "peg head" of a dulcimer, fit a nut & bridge & then put on the
strings & tune it up. I had to figure everything out myself by studying & measuring a dulcimer. His
dulcimers had the extra fret & I eventually figured out what it was for. It made perfect sense to me
at the time ---"open tuning for the Mixolydian Mode", easy for learners to use & understand.
I made approximately 1300 to 1500 mountain dulcimers & at least 200 other instruments including
Hammered dulcimers, Swedish Humles, Psaltrys, acoustic Guitars & many other instruments. I
actually make a few instruments every year, some guitars, Mountain Dulcimers & the odd
This is a large, older-style dulcimer with five wooden tuning pegs, strung in four equidistant
courses and designed for Mixolydian tuning with a 6ВЅ fret. Fitted with what were probably the
original strings, sized 26w/22w/13/13 13, and DSSURSULDWHIRU6DP¶VIDYRXULWHEDULWRQH$¶($$$
tuning. It has a wormy chestnut top, walnut sides and one piece walnut back, with fiddle edges.
Carrell said of the wormy chestnut top: ВіThe Wormy Chestnut that I used was over 100 yrs old. It
came out of the Joyce Kilmer National Forest near Franklin, North Carolina. It was/is the best
sounding of all the woods I used for VRXQGLQJERDUGVВґ The wide, hollow fingerboard (with central
internal strut) and headstock are also walnut with five large (and very effective) turned walnut (?)
pegs. The top has two f-hole designs on the lower bout and round, flower-like designs formed
from drill holes on the upper bout. The headstock has a wheat ear pattern on the top, repeated on
the inside of the strum hollow. The strings are anchored on chrome screws. Wooden nut and
floating bridge. It is signed and dated in black script (under the finish) on the upper bout, rather
strings, two wooden noters and quill pick.
(medium/long scale), weight 2lbs 4oz (1010g). Original 6ВЅ fret.
This is a lovely instrument, beautifully constructed from good quality materials (though with small
bending flaws in three of the six side panels). Strung like the original and tuned as a baritone, has
a big, mellow sound with an easy action, although the string action is noticeably low. I also have
an identical 1977 Carrell with wormy chestnut top, which plays superbly in extended modern
Mixolydian (D/A/d/dd) tuning.
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Section 4 ВІ Coming Soon/In the Workshop
Mid/late 80s?
Anonymous Maple Leaf 4 STRING, 3 COURSE
Unusual dulcimer possibly created by a guitar luthier. Sourced from, and possibly built in, Virginia.
This well-proportioned instrument has a cedar (?) top and cherry (?) sides/(bookmatched) back В±
both with guitar-style kerfing. The hollow fingerboard is made from a five-piece mahogany/maple
(?) laminate, rather like guitar necks of the period. Ball-end strings are secured, unusually, at the
back of the instrument and run vertically through the tailblock and over the bridge. Sides have an
extra facet towards the tail end and wrap right round the tailblock. Elegant, shallow peghead with
hand cut scroll, mounted with quality Grover sta-tite friction tuners. Fiddle edged top and back, the
former damaged on both edges at the lower bout and badly cracked from the ebony (?) maple-leaf
inserts which form the four soundholes. Wide, brass frets with original 6ВЅ fret. MOP markers on
frets 2,4,6,8,10,12,14 (!).
scale), weight 2lb 1oz (932g).
An unusual and rather pretty dulcimer with a number of original features. Neglected in the past, it
is being restored to something nearer its original state.
Pre-1972 (?)
Musical Traditions Hourglass 4 String
made while the firm/music store was owned by Hank Levin and located in NYC. The business was
bought by David Eisner in 1972 and he moved the Musical Traditions shop to Takoma Park,
Maryland (and subsequently in 1974 to Berkeley Springs W Virginia). It may be that production
continued using the original stamp for a period after Levin sold the business.
An unusual, Virginian-style dulcimer (reverse sloping shoulder) hourglass shape. Top, back and
sides are solid cherry В± as may be also the single piece fingerboard, tail piece and headstock.
Simple but neat scroll with fully open pegbox. Original wooden pegs had been superseded by illfitting Grover guitar tuners В± now in turn being replaced by banjo geared tuners. Wooden nut and
bridge (both chipped). Single pin string anchor. Crack in LB back.
scale), weight 1lb 8oz (684g). No 6ВЅ fret yet.
Late 70s (?)
Fox Fire Hourglass 4 String, 3 COURSE
The instrument presumably post-dates the famous Foxfire 3 book of traditional crafts which
featured the dulcimer maker Rober Mize. This has a similar shape and an almost self-conscious
bookmatched back with an attractive sapwood streak in the middle. The top is thin oak or more
back, with a soundpost from the middle of the LB to the top. The scroll/headstock is probably also
walnut and rather crudely finished, with large, paddle-shaped hand-carved pegs made of oak or
chestnut. There is a single piece walnut (?) fingerboard with brass frets. The end block/tailpiece
also acts as the string anchor in traditional style. Wooden bridge and ebony (?) nut (both now
scale), weight 2lb 0oz (906g). No 6ВЅ fret yet.
An odd instrument which has some character in its appearance and sound, but which is difficult to
date. Action, intonation and string angle at bridge being worked on.
1998 Cedar Creek Hourglass 4 String
cВЈ180 inc case
This is a decent quality instrument from the Ozark Mountains, Missouri, produced by the same
family concern that builds the Red Kite dulcimer, marketed over here by my colleague Robin Clark
of Bird Rock dulcimers. All hardwood construction, elaborate vine soundhole design, broad
fingerboard, bright and balanced tone В± all great for the starter or intermediate player.
Unfortunately this one has been stood on! May not look 100% when finished but will be solid
again - and a bargain buy.
4.2 Mid 70s
Magic Mountain Model 5400 Вґ.LWВµ6WULQJ
An exciting project В± which has not progressed too far at the moment because of the pressure of
set-up work etc in the workshop.
7KLVВіNLWВґZDVDGYHUWLVHGLQ(YHU\WKLQJ'XOFLPHUin 2011 by Jim Shellnutt who designed and built
high-end Magic Mountain dulcimers in the 1970s. This was the last set of parts from the original
workshop, still unassembled after nearly 40 years and left over when the business was sold and
he turned to antique restoration.
Made of beautiful curly maple and sitka spruce, this is a work-in-progress instrument, unfinished, in
three parts - a completely assembled body, a completely assembled neck, and a completely
assembled "elephant trunk" scroll headstock. It comes straight out of the Magic Mountain dulcimer
production of the mid-1970's. 32" long x 7 Вѕ" wide x 2" deep, 4 "C" shaped sound holes, top
edges routed for 1/16" violin purfling and 1/16" edge binding, back edges routed for 1/16" edge
binding, highly figured curly Broadleaf maple back and sides (book matched), extremely tightgrained book matched Sitka spruce top. The figure in the maple runs the entire length of the sides
and back (not just a few curls on one end); it is exceptional. This instrument body was designed
and built for high-tension strings. It has full interior bracing for the Magic Mountain "box beam"
Neck - American Cherry with black fiber fretboard, fretted, sanded and ready to use. Mother-ofpearl position dots (6 total), 32"L x 1 ВЅ"W x З«"D, 30" scale length, diatonic with "extra" fret.
The first picture is of a contemporary 5400 from Jim¶VSHUVRQDOFROOHFWLRQWKHsecond the fully
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Section 5 ВІ Accessories, Books etc
Dulcimer capos : I recommend these beautiful and effective capos made by Ron Ewing in Ohio,
USA. Body is wood with brass mechanical parts. Choice of woods (depending on what is
currently in stock) and plain wood overlay with brass dot (ВЈ14) or wood with mother-of-pearl inlay
(ВЈ17). Allows access to a wider range of keys on what is fundamentally a diatonic, single key
Dulcimer upgrades : Most dulcimers are good, but all can be improved. Action and intonation are
relatively easy, often involving replacement bridge or nut, usually in bone (up to ВЈ20). Fret
levelling and additional frets (e.g. 6ВЅ or 1ВЅ) are a little more complicated (up to ВЈ30).
Replacement tuners В± particularly geared tuners to replace wooden or mechanical friction ones В±
can make a great deal of difference to the stability and accuracy of tuning. I stock neat chrome or
gold banjo tuners with a choice of buttons (including ebony) and quality Grover open geared
guitar-style tuners. Call for pricing В± WKH\В¶UHFKHDSHUWKDQ\RXPLJKWH[SHFW
Sound re-inforcement : You can get good results with any of the following.
Вѕ A small condenser mic designed to clip to violin, brass, reeds, snares etc, terminating in a
XLRM-type connector (e.g. Audio Technica ATM350; K&K Silver Bullet; Apex 165). Good
tight cardioid pattern to minimise feedback and 40-20,000Hz frequency response. Can be
moved between instruments. Expensive (ВЈ120+).
Вѕ External Piezo unit attached to bridge or soundboard (e.g. Schatten D-3 as below). Full
range and not particularly prone to feedback, but requires experimentation to find the best
location. Not easily moved between instruments. Needs to be played through an
instrument amp or via a pre-amp to the PA. I currently have a mint s/h Schatten with
rosewood jack socket available, fitted, for ВЈ65.
Вѕ Under saddle pickup, as with guitar etc. Neat and forgettable, with jack plug/endpin
combined. Usually good sound, but need to watch impact on action or tone. Cannot be
moved between instruments. Not always possible with some dulcimer designs. One
recently fitted for ВЈ60.
Strings : I buy good quality British Newtone strings in bulk for the workshop. I can sell you spare
sets for an instrument you are purchasing or supply separates. Best quality plain steel and
phosphor bronze wound, with either loop ends (like most dulcimers) or ball ends (like a guitar).
These are sensible length strings with large loops for easy fitting. ВЈ3.99 a set of four В±
10/10/14/20w light; 11/11/15/22w medium; 12/12/16/24w heavy (or any combination thereof).
Picks : I recommend two types of triangular picks, either in medium or soft, manufactured by
Gibson or Fender. Both are slightly larger than most guitar picks, the Gibson being the smaller of
the two (ВЈ0.50 each).
Books :
Dulcimer Chord Book - Neal Hellman (new)
Mel Bay's Fun with the Dulcimer - Virgil Hughes (1972?)
Brethren We Have Met - French & McSpadden (1970)
Four and Twenty Songs for the Mountain Dulcimer - McSpadden (1970/77) 2 copies ВЈ7.50 each
The Appalachian Dulcimer Book - Michael Murphy (1978)
Best Dulcimer Method Yet - Albert Gamse (1974)
Dulcimer Solos w CD - Stephen Seifert (as new)
ВЈ15.00 В В Finger Picking Good w CD - Stephen Seifert (as new)
Mel Bay's Complete Dulcimer Handbook w CD - Mark Biggs (new)
GB/gb 30/05/13