Marc Bolan Dulcimer?
Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions
Here is the full story, as written for the UK Nonsuch News. As you say, I could certainly imagine Marc playing dulcimer.
Nick Odell Dulcimers
In July I bought yet another dulcimer on eBay. You would think I would know better by now, but no. It was hand made by one Nick Odell. When it arrived it was apparent that it had a very short scale length, just less than 23”. Had I known this I would not have bid for it. I contacted the vendor who said he was a guitarist and had received it as a birthday present a few years ago, and having never seen another dulcimer had no idea they normally had a longer scale length. I fully accepted this. It was tuned approximately to DAD but the strings were quite loose in that tuning so I retuned it to DDG which worked well. But it still felt too small for me. It was very well made, though the finish wasn’t great. I know some people like smaller dulcimers so I thought I would enquire if Geoff Black either knew anything about the maker or might be interested in finding it a home. Geoff replied that he knew nothing of the maker other than that he had been Marc Bolan’s guitar repair man in the early 1970s, a repair label signed by him in July 1972 being recently used as provenance for a Gibson Les Paul which was supposedly owned by Marc, and had come up for auction. It is well known that Marc’s house was ransacked immediately after his death and all his guitars were stolen, many of which have since re-appeared at auction. A germ of an idea began; could my dulcimer perhaps have been owned, built for, or even just been played by Bolan?
Enquiries to Bolan fan sites revealed nothing but a thread on Mudcat led to my being able to contact Nick himself. He explained the dulcimer had nothing whatsoever to do with Marc. “I was a senior repairman in Gibson's UK operation, Bolan was a Gibson endorsee, his Gibson guitars came back to the workshops for servicing as per the endorsement agreement and I was the chap who did them.” Oh well!
The dulcimers date from the mid-1980s. “I designed the instrument primarily as a kit which I manufactured and sold from my shop/workshop in Outwell, near Wisbech. Whilst I designed the dulcimer with the same attention I gave to my other instruments my primary motive was to produce a kit to put in my shop window. The village where I lived had narrowboat moorings and boaters as well as musicians used to call in. Some of the things in my shop were aimed at the boaters and the dulcimer kit was intended to be not too expensive for an impulse buy, not too much of a challenge for an amateur to build and to give finished results they could be proud of and enjoy playing. It came with a plan and instructions. I built a few of them myself and sold them as complete instruments. If yours is one of those it will have my label and the completion date was the serial number read backwards.”
My model does have a label but it is so far inside the sound-hole I haven’t been able to read the date. My model also has a brass nut and a brass bridge, plus downward-facing tuners which are obviously a mandolin four-on-a-plate set cut in half! Readers with an interest in electric guitars may remember the 80s fad for brass nuts and bridge fittings on electric and sometimes even acoustic guitars which was intended to increase sustain. I asked Nick why he chose the shorter scale length.
“Scale length was partly based on the standard-sized boxes I bought to ship them in (yes, really) and partly on preference for the tone banjo strings produced on an all-mahogany body strung at a lower tension. The original machine heads were individual one-on-a-plate with two screw holes which came from the wholesaler described as banjo tuners. If I built it you should find evidence of the original screw holes under the plate. And the original bridge and nut were - I think - plastic but could have been bone but definitely not brass.”
He kindly sent me a copy of the blueprint that came with the kit. It shows that the sides were pre-bent and also that the purchaser had to cut their own sound-holes. The suggested tuning was CC-G-C.
Nick latterly worked for the schools music service in Huddersfield, West Yorks. and built a few more of his own instruments during that period. He retired in 2017. He appears in an online video made by Fenland District Council intended to promote local industries. It is called “Small Firms in Fenland” and is found on Daily Motion. Nick is featured about nine minutes in and is shown in his workshop.