I am not a luthier, Doug Berch, Ben Seymour, Doug Naselroad, they are luthiers. I am a dulcimore maker and a dulcimore is a zither. A lute is a composite chordophone; the zither on the other hand is a simple chordophone. I make zithers and therefore I am a dulcimore maker.
I don’t build instruments I make dulcimore. A builder puts pieces together to complete the instrument. A maker must make the pieces to make the instrument therefore I am a dulcimore maker.
I am not an artist. I am a craftsman who makes the same item over and over again. Yes I use different woods and I make different models but they are still dulcimore. And yes therefore I am a dulcimore maker.
I suppose one could argue that the term luthier was around before Hornbostel-Sachs wrote the classifications for these instruments. But then if I was to call myself a luthier I would lie awake at night fearin’ someone would call me in the morning wanting me to tune their piano! After all the piano is a string instrument! Hmm, the piano is a simple chordophone just the same as the dulcimore! I would just have to tell them I don’t tune pianos, after all I am a dulcimore maker.
Thanks for the kick in the pants Doug B.
Hide glue is great stuff. Originally I figure if Homer use aliphatic glue, it must be right, but after taking the plunge and spending about $35 to set it up a hide glue pot, I love it! You must work quickly. I found somewhere on the web a guy who uses a primer trick to get the most out of a less than optimal joint. The sides are very thin on the dulcimore and the glue didn’t seem to take. First I tried a glue bottle but it wasn’t the way to go. (mess) Then I read the primer method and used a smaller brush and WooHoo!
I got my staple marking tool made. After finishing the latest dulcimore I tried it out. Being able to adjust the note with one hand is the way to go. I have no idea how other guys do it, but I’m really happy with this technique. After marking each staple placement I then went back and double checked them a few times and somehow two were a little sharp. It all worked out great though; it is my best Ionian scale yet!
Before the length was factored in to the equation; now only the width is of any concern. It makes the instrument much easier to make. No more scale formulas, measuring with a magnifying glass, $30 stainless steel rule, and worry if it will even be correct. Make the dulcimore, set the scale, play.
I had been playing with planes, chisels, and knives for some time. I still use power tools for specific task but truly enjoy sharp steel to complete many other jobs. I set up a band saw for resaw, but still go back to the table saw. (Homer style) I cheat on the fiddle edge too. I enjoy knife work but less than a minute with the router? Hey, it’s finished with the knife! Hand-planing the panels and fret board is calming. The plane will get warm in your hand after a few minutes. Finish with a little scraping and you have a wonderfully finished piece of wood. It is not flat like a machined piece. The irregularity makes it special and I love it.
I use the band saw to rough the peg head too. Round over with the router again, and peg hollow and ball is finished with a chisel and knife. Chisel and knife are also used to “fit it” to the body. All the pieces are made and readied, and the glue up begins.
My Homer Ledford Dulcimore
Listed on Everything Dulcimer as “Homer Ledford 3 string dulcimer in good playable condition walnut sides and fret board not sure what the top and back is one side has a crease in it repaired crack on back. Appears to be an early one.” I really didn’t think I could get it; I’ve never been one to “luck” into these kinds of deals. I inquired and sure enough it was still for sale. These items usually go for around $600 or so, it was listed at $400. I asked about the label and he said “No label, written in pencil. Hard to see in the diamond sound hole.” Label says”Made by Homer Ledford, Ivyton Tennessee “I told him I’d take it! Could this be? I had a line on an original “early” Homer? Jiminy Cricket!!!!
I talked to my brother in law who lives an hour or so away from where this guy lives. We arrange for him to pick it up the next Saturday morning. He tells me he is selling it for a friend who is getting out of the dulcimer business due to health. Seems he had taken it in trade years ago. Now I wait …forever.
Saturday comes and my brother in law picks it up and confirms “Ivyton”! Now I have to wait till we meet again, and it looks like my wife will see them Mothers Day. Now I wait …forever!
The day finally comes, my wife is home from Georgia and lying on the washer is a rolled up bath towel. I unroll the dulcimore and with my own eyes see hand printed on a white label “Made by Homer Ledford, Ivyton Tennessee “! Jiminy Cricket!!!! I’ve already wound a number 4 to test the intonation with. The suspense of the first fret is almost more than I can stand. I raise the string up to A and start the tuning app on my phone and the first fret is only 4 cents off. The farthest of the staples is off only 8 cents! Jiminy Cricket!!!!
Next morning I inspect it again. The action is a little low from wear so I fill the grooves with super glue. I make a tuning peg to replace the one that’s missing. I find a nice piece of maple with a little figure, readjust the peg tapering tool for Homer’s pegs, and rub it with amber shellac for a little touch up color. I dust the label and take more pictures. (Ivyton was only 1946 and 1947!) The sides start to pop loose when I’m waxing it so I work them apart and glue them back together to stabilize the dulcimore. There are two cracks in the lower back and one top right I also mend. A light coat of amber shellac for finish dress and she is ready to set over night. It looks really good for being 68 years old, Jiminy Cricket!!!!
In the morning I make up a set of strings using a cut up 3/8 inch rubber hose to increase the diameter of the string hook. This homer has a large string anchor and I’ve never been one to wrap the string back through the hoop when I can make the hoop as large as I want. I stretch the strings and fix vinyl bumper on the bottom for feet and record Blackest Crow. It sounds wonderful! Maybe I’m being a little bias but I don’t think so. Jiminy Cricket!!!!
At a small dulcimore festival just outside of Washington, who walks by but none other than the President Abraham Lincoln? Keeping my composure I quickly broke into the tune Dixie which I know to be his favorite. Do you know he actually pats his hands to keep time and at the end winks and nods approval to me! I could barely keep my composure when he approached and actually spoke to me. He said he was on his way to have a picture taken of himself and asks if I mind having my dulcimore in the sitting? Well………
“The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy” -Abraham Lincoln, 1864
Image inspired by work of the one and only Don Pedi.
December 23, 2014. About ten o’clock I’ve finally mustered up enough gumption to grab some rough sawn panels and take them out to the shed to plane. The paste wax has been applied to the soles and the irons stropped. There is a light rain falling. I have somewhat mixed emotions about the rain. It is truly a blessing from God. Nourishment to the flowers; yet it is also wonderful for tracking sawdust back into the house.
The first two panels have severe checking and don’t survive the thinning with the irons. The fire barrel is a little heavier! The next two are better suited I suppose and cut down nicely. Also, on the third panel the cross cutting diagonal pattern is photogenic. If not for the poor lighting there would be images of the texture posted with this. (More light for the shop in 2015)
The shop door remains open. All the while the sounds of rain drops are interrupted by cars passing by with their tires hissing from the wet road. It is warm for December, nearly 60 degrees. My hands are still a little cold from the dampness, as sweat drips from my brow. After each plane has done its duty and as I lay it down I realize how warm it is from work: the same as myself.
Back inside I reflect on the past few hours. Once I thought of bringing out my little sound system and listening to Christmas carols, but hate the thought of dust getting in it. I notice my ears ringing a little from the silence. In the past it would have been from power tools screaming. I like the silence!
….as in that which does not change.
Every year or so, we take a lent free cloth and wipe it off, put on a few coats of paste wax and buff it out real good. Then what, get on with it!
Every fifty years or so we grease the fitting to keep em’ swinging freely. And then what, get on with it!
Every hundred years or so, whether it needs them or not, we change the strings. And then what, we get on with it!
Shelbi wrote me a letter describing when she was a girl visiting her grandfathers store at the forks of Troublesome Creek next to the bridge, and how it roared when flooded. And I recalled visiting my brother in Henry County as a boy, and how the creeks swelled after the rain. I’d played on these creek beds, surveying the large rocks from rain to rain; amazed at the distance the water would push them down stream. The small wooden bridge stood several feet off the creek that ran down the holler to the larger creek bed below. Now the raging water lapped at the timbers, I didn’t dare get too close fearing being swept downstream bridge and all! The water is flowing into the creek below now swollen; filling the creek bed three or feet deep and twenty feet wide. Flowing to the next creek and it into the Ohio, it into the Mississippi, and then lost to the Gulf.
I’m standing knee deep in the salt water lapping the sands beneath my feet. Small waves crash only disturbing the sands beneath, making my feet sink deeper as though in quick sand. This is the Gulf and I wonder from where it all comes. Once again I’m a small boy standing a safe distance from the little wooden bridge, scared of being swept away. Years and miles separate us.
Traditional, as in that which does not change.