I like your stories, folks. <3
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
I am a little late to this but here goes. I grew up listening to dulcimers at Vandalia Gathering and the West Virginia Folk Festival, and I have always wanted one, but couldn't afford one. My grandfather knew and learned how to build a mountain dulcimer. He used wood from our farm and made it himself! I am so grateful for this beautiful instrument.
My first and only dulcimer, so far, is a Bob Mize butternut that hubby and I bought in east Tennessee in the 80's. It went unplayed (I know, shame on me) until a few months ago. I restrung it, and I think it has a beautiful sound. I am taking on-line lessons (Dulcimer Crossing). Playing dulcimer seems so much more intuitive than fiddle, mandolin, and even autoharp (I've tried all 3). I sing in our small church choir and I try to learn melody/chords of one song each week to accompany (along with a piano and guitar). Thank God I have a patient choir director! Just bought a pick-up and pre-amp, so maybe next week the congregation will actually hear it! A few weeks ago I ordered a travel dulcimer from Sweet Woods.
My first was a walnut McSpadden with wooden tuning pegs purchased in summer of 86 on a road trip from FL to CA..whilst driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Met the daughter of the owner of that shop at a workshop in northern GA a year or so ago. She said it was going to close soon. They got me started...recommended learning materials (Larkin's book) and basic supplies and sent me on my way. Played at our campground each night for the month-long trip.
Still have it (had the tuners changed out though).
My first dulcimer was and is (I still play it) a Walnut Valley Wildwood Mountain model I ordered in late 1992 and received in Feb 1993. Lovely instrument with walnut back, cherry sides, walnut fretboard and spruce top. I did replace the tuning machines with geared tuners and added strap buttons. Still looks good other than some mild finish loss from playing it.
It came with a hard shell case with shaped mold for the instrument inside. I wish other builders offered the fitted case. I know Blue Lion does.
My first was a FolkRoots hourglass, spruce/walnut, purchased at Elderly Instruments. Beautiful tone and looked really nice. I have since purchased a FolkRoots with a shorter scale length that I have converted to a baritone and a Folkcraft Custom. Still loving their dulcimers.
, that's a great story, and probably one that is repeated often, for one of the aspects of the dulcimer that we celebrate is how accessible it is even to those with no musical experience. Thanks to the McSpadden salesperson who just sat you down and put a dulcimer in your lap!
Our first dulcimers were a ginger for my spouse and a standard for me, both bought from McSpadden. We sort ended up in Mountain View five years ago, basically by accident. We had a good time listening to the music and eventually went to McSpaddens to see the dulcimers we fell in love with 40 years earlier. Thought they were beautiful but knew neither of us had any talent at all so we looked around and left. Went back a couple of days later for a last look before heading home. The door to the shop has a sign that says "if you can to 10, you can play." We both laughed at it, knowing that neither of us could ever play an instrument.
This time, after looking around for awhile, a salesperson talked me into sitting down and holding a dulcimer. I thought that was pretty cool but, I knew I could never play and I said so and besides I was left handed anyway. She took the dulcimer away and laid a left handed dulcimer on my lap and said "here, play it." I said "huh, I don't know how and don't have any talent anyway". She said you don't need talent just a desire and some tab. I said "what's tab?" She showed me some tab, explained the numbers and told me to try and play. I got through the first 2 measures and could tell it more or less sounded like "Ode To Joy". Couldn't believe it.
My spouse then went through the same thing with the same outcome. We promptly said we'll take two. Spent the next couple of hours deciding on size, shape, woods etc., gave them a credit card and told them ship them to us when they were done. Best thing we ever did.
They turned out great, at least to us, sound great and we play almost everyday. Started our own little group that meets every week to practice, learn new stuff and play old favorites. Unbelievably, my spouse and I even played at a nursing home with some members of our group. The people there seemed to enjoy it so we were pretty excited.
We still don't have any talent, we will never be very good players but we have fun practicing and have met some wonderful people and hear music all the time now. Best money we ever spent.
My first dulcimer was an hourglass Folk Roots dulcimer purchased in about 1985 or 1986 from Elderly Instruments. While visiting one of the Toledo Metroparks I stopped to listen to a lady playing a dulcimer at a very small gathering organized by one of the park rangers. I ordered my first dulcimer from Elderly Instruments shortly thereafter. About three or four years later I organized a dulcimer club for students at the local elementary school. By then I owned three or four dulcimers, so I sold my Folk Roots model to one of the students at a fraction of its value to help them obtain their own instrument.
A Hughes hourglass I bought in the late '80's. I still play it occasionally. Solid walnut back and sides, solid spruce or cedar top (it's darkened considerably over the years). I knew both Virgil and Norman Hughes when I lived in Denver. I was still somewhat active in Civil War re-enacting with my infantry unit back in NJ and I was thinking about joining an artillery unit (run by Virgil). I ended up not joining although I did participate in a couple of events with them. I remember their shop where they made a number of different folk instruments...they played them too (quite well!).
My Hughes dulcimer was well made with a laminated headstock, floating bone bridge, and a 3-piece inlay strip in the back of different woods, and heart-shaped soundholes...an attractive and nice sounding instrument.
My first love was a little kit purchased from a man at a Georgia arts and crafts festival back in 1984-87ish. I never played it. It doesn't have too good of a tone but it was good enough it got my interest some years later and I took it to a group and learned to play. Never looked back.
My first love was a little kit purchased from a man at a Georgia arts and crafts festival back in 1984-87ish. I never played it. It doesn't have too good of a tone but it was good enough it got my interest some years later and I took it to a group and learned to play. Never looked back.
My first was/is a Bill Taylor. My grandmother left me some money after she passed away so I figured the dulcimer was best purchase to make. To this day I can remember standing there at Bardstown contemplating which one to buy. Ron Turner came over and stood beside me then pointed to one and said "That is the one you need." Great choice - small holes in the top so I could not drop picks inside - and a sweet sound. Sad to say Ron passed away not long after that, but I'm forever grateful for his assistance.
Right now I am just learning so I stick with DAA. I like the sound of the noter and use a pick. Like the sound of a turkey feather to strum with as Ms Jean Ritchie did.
They may have different sounds, the noter better slides sounds but with the finger you could add additional notes for sometimes a fuller sound. Both nice and nothing wrong with either or both ways at different times. As we learn we grow, as we grow we learn - a wonderful adventure.
suzannbakkey & jan
Do you feel Warren May dulcimers sound better played with fingers or does it also sound sweet with a pick or noter? Warren uses his tick tock strum with fingers and that is the only way I have hear one of his dulcimers. Also do you tune in any tune or do you keep it in DAA?
my first was a kit i bought from a gift shop here in branson about 1970. it was a box of parts with no instructions. i put it togther and while it
didnt look like much it sounded pretty good......at least to me. as it turned out i became more interested in building dulcimers than playing them
and launched a 30 year business. it became a wonderful life style traveling to arts and craft shows and music festivals.
My first, and only so far, dulcimer was purchased by my mother in 1976 when she visited John Maxwell's dulcimer and craft shop in Cookeville, Tn. She never played it and it has been hanging on my wall for the past 30 years. Day before yesterday I took it down, cleaned it up, started reading volumes on line, went to a music shop and had it restrung and learned about the difficulty of tuning with wood pegs. I also made the noter today, using some deer antler I had in my shop. Learned what DADD tuning is, and last night started practicing on a couple of simple songs. I am scheduled to start lessons at church week after next. Wish me luck. :) The last musical instrument I played was a trombone in high school.
My first dulcimer is an E. Dale Eckard, purchased in Sevierville TN about 5 years ago. Made from walnut and maple, it's a beautiful instrument, and it has a great sound. At the time I did not play, nor did I know anything about dulcimers. I had heard a group playing them once at a festival and I fell in love with the sound, and just had to have one. At the shop where I bought this dulcimer were several more from different makers. I strummed them all and picked this one because of its beauty and sound. It is still my main playing dulcimer and I really love it.
Mine was an old Ruggs and Jackel Folkroots that someone didn't want anymore and they gave to me. I played it for about 10 years, and then donated it to an organization who uses dulcimers in their music therapy programs for rehabilitative purposes. It had such a BIG voice!
The first dulcimer I owned was built by Kerry Coates, Gila Mountain Dulcimers. I either emailed her or called, I can't remember and we decided on the shape, wood and design. I had her paint two Carolina parakeets, Ike and Izzy, the last two in existence from a painting I found of them.........she did a magnificent job, using the sound holes as wings........perfect. Kerry stopped building shortly thereafter. She told me that she was having health problems that she thought were related to the materials she used, so she was going to stop and get back to playing, as she put it, "the darn thing." We more or less stayed in touch for a few years since she was a great teacher and helped me learn to play that great dulcimer she built. Sadly, Kerry passed on April 29, 2014 after a heroic struggle.........now that dulcimer sits in a corner of my office out here in the forest........a treasure built my a master craftsman and grand musician...I play it every now and again and always remember her wit and creativity.........that dulcimer has the sweetest ring of any I own and I hope will bring my grandchildren the same pleasantries it brought me. When they are a bit older I will tell them the story of the last two Carolina parakeets and about the artistry of a lady who was an artist in the truest sense of the word.
Hey folks, it wasn't my intention to derail this discussion by offering my fictional version of a dulcimer discovery. I really enjoy hearing about everyone's first instrument and hope people continue to post.
Well, during the infamous "Blizzard of '78" I had had enough of the New England cold. At the age of 13 I sold my record collection to get enough money for a train ticket to the west coast. I traveled with nothing to eat but a jar of peanut butter and a couple of apples. But I had an old Marine Band harmonica to keep me entertained. The train across the country seemed to take weeks, but it was my first time leaving my native land, so I was entranced watching the scenery roll by. The train dropped me in Los Angeles, but Union Station did not look like California to me. Somehow I found some local buses to get me to Santa Monica, which looked just like the movies: bikini girls playing volleyball, muscle men roller skating, you get the point. I still had no place to sleep and no food to eat, but I was adopted by a group of evangelical surfers. Yes, these folks claimed that G-d spoke to them through the ocean waves. I never learned to surf with these folks, but they did feed me and offered me a ride up north. We drove up the California coast, and on the drive I got to practice my harmonica, for when they weren't surfing, these kooks were smoking weed and singing a mixture of gospel tunes and Hawaiian surfing songs. Indeed, I smoked my first joint with these kind folks, but also ate my first tofu and seaweed soup. I have to admit that I learned more about music and food than I did about the Bible.
We eventually got to Santa Cruz, but that's where they left me. One day we were hanging on the beach and I fell asleep while they surfed the waves. But when I woke up, they were gone. I figured I'd check some of the church soup kitchens, which they frequented, but while I lay there on the beach I saw a small dark object in the ocean. I couldn't tell what it was, but in the haze of the sunshine I kept watching it as it slowly moved to shore. It must have taken a couple of hours, but when it was just beyond the break in the waves, I waded out there and found this soggy, weather-beaten wooden canoe paddle. At least that's what I thought it was at first. After it dried out I could make out a label on the inside that said "Capritaurus Dulcimers." I knew nothing about astrology, but I had heard of a dulcimer before. I traded my harmonica for a hamburger and a set of guitar strings, strung that thing up, and began playing. I just sat cross-legged on the Santa Cruz boardwalk and started picking out simple tunes. And what would you know? People started giving me change! Yes I was busking on an instrument I didn't know how to play. But people saw this 13-year-old kid playing a weird instrument and dropped money and sometimes food in my lap. I don't know whether those surfing hippie Christians led me to this instrument or whether it was astrological fate, but I knew at that moment that my life would only have meaning because of the dulcimer.
Oh, you know the rest. I was discovered by Ry Cooder, given a recording contract with Atlantic Records, hired as VP of folk music at Mel Bay Publishing, appointed by the President to be Curator and Artist-in-Residence at the Smithsonian, yadda, yadda, yadda.
OK. None of that is true at all, but it's better than my telling the truth: A middle-aged, balding man living in the suburbs and driving a mid-sized sedan, I saw a dulcimer on YouTube and then bought one for myself.
I'm a little embarrassed to say :) A few years ago I wanted to learn dulcimer, and my husband came home with a First Act. God love him, he has no idea about instruments - he just wanted to make me happy. I was learning on it when life began to act up, and I had to set music aside for a while. These days I have a Cedar Creek teardrop and my Christmas present is one ordered from Ron Gibson. I still have the First Act however, it's great for little ones to play on during our group jams. For sure they can't hurt anything if falls out of small laps, and with new strings it doesn't sound too badly.
My first dulcimer was a kit I bought from a shop that no longer exists in Estes Park Colorado, The Dulcimer Shop, I think it only stayed in business for 2 seasons. I put it together with absolutely no experience whatsoever. It was a little rough around the edges to say the least! :-) But it held a tune, started coming apart at the seams a little over time, and got my love affair with the mountain dulcimer right then. I eventually gifted it forward to anther interested newbie dulcimer player, but have no idea where it ended up.
It was the only kit I ever built, but it did teach me enough aouyt them to be able to do some minor repairs in the future.
My very first dulcimer I purchased is a Cabin Creek made by Walter Messick. I was looking for something that I could make music with, something that was easy to learn to play a song. I did a lot of research and saw recommendations about dulcimers. I remember hearing dulcimer music at Tamarack in WV. I saw some videos on Youtube and was convinced that was the instrument for me. I decided to look for builders in Virginia. I'm not sure how I came across Walter's web site but that's where I landed. I called him up and he played a few over the phone for me. I wanted to order one I saw on his web site. He asked me to wait because he was in the process of making one that had butterflies for sound holes. He said if I didn't like it I could get the other. Well, when it arrived I was amazed at the craftmanship and how beautiful it really was..... a lot better in real life than pictures on a web site. I got the pick and started playing a tune. I was thrilled to be able to play a song right out of of the box so to speak and not having any music training I felt like I accomplished something wonderful. I still own that dulcimer and I wouldn't part with it for anything.
I made my first one in about 1967 out of a sheet of unfinished mahogany paneling I bought for $3.00 and scrap 2x4s from under my dad's work bench. I got some fret wire and guitar tuners from a local music store. It was awful. The peghead canted off to the right about fifteen degrees. It was meant to be a symmetrical teardrop, but ended up rather "free-form." I don't remember if I used my banjo or guitar as a model for the fret placement, or if I fretted it by ear. I used something in a spray can to finish it.
It was a pretty crude affair and the sound wasn't very good, either. I played it a bit and passed it around to others who wanted to try dulcimer. I don't know what ever became of it and I'm no longer in contact with any of the people I ran with then. But I do know a half-dozen people or more learned the rudiments of the instrument on the thing. At least one of them got pretty serious about dulcimer, and early on had a chromatic instrument made. I built a few more over the years, along with some other instruments, but never became much of a luthier.
My first dulcimer I got when I moved back the Urbana/Champaign area, where it was in a resale shop. It was a 3 string AW Jefferey's model, with wooden friction pegs. This was back in 1999. I was mostly playing guitar and some autoharp at the time, but it intrigued me, so I bought it. Even though I didn't play it, it did make a nice looking decoration in the couple of apartments we lived in. I eventually in the mid 00's sold it to a member of the autoharp discussion list I was on to a member who also played dulcimer.
My first dulcimer was made in Berea, KY, too--by me! I was serving as a chaperone at a national gathering of Girl Scouts who had come to explore Kentucky in 1991. We stayed in Berea for several days, living in one of the older dorms and soaking up that great vibe that pervades the historic town of Berea. The Cincinnati Dulcimer club came down and spent a day with us, helping us put together our cardboard dulcimers and teaching us a few songs. It would be another 6 years before I bought a "real dulcimer"--an all cherry hourglass dulcimer with hummingbird soundholes from talented Warren May.
Suzanne, what a wonderful post!
I tried piano in Grade 2, too shy. In Grade 11, an autoharp ---- too many strings! Ditto the 12 string guitar I bought after I retired. Pain in the ...um... wrist. Hated walking past where it hung on the wall, taunting me.
But music was still in me, wanting out. Maybe a dulcimer? Found this site, Stumelia's Noter/drone blog, maybe I could play that way.
On March 19th of this year I came home from work to find a long box with a forklift puncture in it, left on our back deck in just-above -freezing weather courtesy of a Canada Post person who chose to ignore David Lynch's "fragile" all over the box! All was surprisinly well with the Sweetwoods student dulcimer inside, and soon little tunes were startling the canaries in the next room. Like the sentimental high school girl I am on the inside, I still mark the 19th of each month as an anniversary of the beginning of a love affair with the dulcimer that shows no signs of cooling off.
Greetings friends! Born, raised in Hazard, KY and lived as the crow flies just a few hills and hollows over from Ms Jean Ritchie in Viper, Ky. Loved to hear her play and sing. During a Berea, KY visit on a beautiful sunny fall day we stopped by Warren May's shop. There on the wall was his Hummingbird dulcimer he had made. I stood there in a trance looking at all the different kinds, styles he built but kept going back to that Hummingbird. In my mind I heard/saw Ms Jean sitting in her swing on the front porch of her log cabin playing & singing and heard the tapping of our boots on the wooden porch floor. The deep green forest was all around. Mr May smiled, came over, took this dulcimer from the wall and he began playing. I was hooked! That Hummingbird has a new home! Now it is time for me to learn and carry on our mountain heritage. Looking forward to this new and exciting journey! Thank you for accepting me into Friends of The Mountain Dulcimer!!!
The first dulcimer I bought was just a fretboard with strings. The idea was that you put it on a suitable surface/table to increase the resonance. This was in about 1971 or 2. I bought it at a stall in Cecil Sharp House, the London headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. It cost £4. It had a pleasant sound and was not a bad way to get acquainted with the dulcimer. I put a magnetic pickup on it and played it for a while as an electric dulcimer - it had a very satisfying electric sound. The down side was that it was made of rather soft wood and did not last too well.
My first dulcimer was one that I built from a McSpadden kit way back in 1969 or '70. I am far from being handy with tools and the instrument that resulted was pretty terrible. because of my 'craftsmanship' it was virtually unplayable. But I was sweet on a girl (Barb Schlemm... I wonder whatever happened to her) who played dulcimer back then and it seemed like the best idea in the world to be able to play dulcimer with her, so I gave it a shot. Of course, that didn't work out since the strings were so high off the fretboard they could barely be pressed to a fret to make an out-of-tune note.
That little instrument (and I use the term loosely) sat in my closet for 10 years or so and eventually got disposed of in a yard sale.
Fortunately, many years later, I got a good instrument and actually learned to play the thing. And the rest is history.
My first dulcimer was an Applecreek teardrop. In 2008 my wife bought it for my birthday. She was a middle school art teacher and she saw it in a catalog of classroom musical instruments. I had never seen anything like it before, 4 strings?...why are only two close together?... what the heck is the wooden stick for? Thank heavens for the internet! I found the "Everything Dulcimer" website and Ken Hulme's article "I Just Got A Dulcimer-Now What?" and I was on my way. Shortly afterwards I found this site, Strumelia's blogs and Robin Clark's video lessons were invaluable. My Applecreek is now hanging proudly on my wall, frets a bit worn, a few dings and scratches.
After playing Erin Roger's dulcimer after a Scenic Roots concert, I had to find one! My parents moved from Kansas to Missouri, and live in a town between Branson and Springfield. For my birthday, my mom surprised me by taking me out and we stopped by this little music shop called Cedar Creek Dulcimers...
A Jenny Wiley dulcimer we got for the family to learn. I played trumpet and a little piano years ago and my wife played guitar. We haven't taught the kids either but we way this at a festival and figured it would work well in the homeschooling curriculum. My son is playing it now.
I still have my first dulcimer, though I don't play it very often. Still, I can't get bear to part with dear Rosa.
When I decided to buy a dulcimer I checked all the local music stores. None sold dulcimers. But one told me (on perhaps my fourth or fifth inquiry) that they sometimes stock one or two. About a month later there was one on the shelf, but it was unplayable. I could tell it was cheap and crappy and what some would call not an instrument but a "dulcimer shaped object." So I began scouring the internet for luthiers who were nearby. I found one --Johny Nicholson of Unicorn Woodworks--whose phone number indicated he was in Northern California. But when I called it turned out that he had moved to Idaho. I was stumped, for I wanted a decent dulcimer but I was afraid to buy one without seeing and playing it first, and on the west coast, dulcimers are few and far between. But when I explained all this, Johny told me that he still bought his wood from a shop in Berkeley, meaning twice a year he drove his little car along the highway a few miles from my house. So on his next trip, we made a date. I literally met him off the highway, where he got out of his car and opened his trunk, revealing not a bunch of illegal drugs, but three dulcimers. I chose the one with the rosebud soundholes, partly because the mahogany back and sides made it the least expensive of the three. But I played them all, enough to know that the intonation was good, the sustain was great, and this was a real instrument and not a mere collector's item.
On my drive home I propped the instrument up in the back seat so that I could see it in the rear view mirror, even though I had also bought a soft case. But I was so eager to play, I couldn't complete the 20-minute drive home. I pulled off the highway and into a fast food joint's parking lot, jumped in the back seat, and started to play. In the three or four months from the time I first saw a dulcimer on YouTube to the time I bought my sweet Rosa, I had watched Bing Futch's demonstration of "Rosin the Beau" so much that I was able to play it (not very well, of course) from memory that very first day!
That was over 6 years ago. Since then I have purchased more expensive and fancier-sounding dulcimers, but I still have Rosa. Because so few people know of Johny Nicholson and Unicorn Woodworks, were I to sell it, I would not get close to what the quality of the dulcimer is worth, and for that reason as well as pure sentimentality, I still have it. The tone may not be as big and round as my other dulcimers costing three or four times what Rosa cost, but Rosa still has that precise intonation, the great sustain, and a pop or punch that many fancier dulcimers lack. Plus, she was my first.
Red KIte from Robin - he played 3 over the phone for me to choose from. It's now on loan (unlimited) to a musician friend of my sons, don't think it will come back, I don't mind as long as it is being played. I have moved onto noter drone 155, JI set-up with Kevin Messenger repros. Thanks Robin.
This was my first dulcimer - a TK O'Brian. I played it for a couple of years and then used it as a loaner. Eventually, someone I loaned it to fell in love with it and bought it from me. I found out that the dulcimer was actually built for TK O'Brian by the Hagan family in Ozark. That dulcimer had proved such a good starting instrument for me that I asked the Hagen's to make the Red Kite model for my shop. I think we are up around 120 folks having now started out their own dulcimer playing journey over here in the UK with Red Kites.
McSpadden FM-12s, purchased new in 1991: walnut, with the tightest grained spruce soundboard I have ever seen.
I found myself one evening in April 1991 sitting on the edge of a stage in Kenner LA (suburb of New Orleans), literally at the feet of contemporary Christian artist Rich Mullins as he was killing time waiting for the concert to start. He was known mainly as a hammered dulcimer player, but he also played the MD. After watching him pass the time for a few minutes on a McSpadden T34w, I thought, "I could do that." Two friends of mine ran a music store in Birmingham AL, and were McSpadden dealers; so I drove from NO to Bham the next weekend and spent an entire Saturday morning playing every dulcimer in their shop. This one just spoke to me clearer and louder than any other there, so it came home with me.
After 24 years of buying, selling, and trading dulcimers, I still have it. It has been glued back together after accidents twice now, and serves limited road duty today. It is still the Grande Dame of the collection, though, and will be buried with me unless my kids decide to take it up. Either way, it will never belong to anyone outside my family.
My first dulcimer was a very small T.K. O'Brien student model that I purchased (used) from a co-worker for $50. Karen and I had first become aware of dulcimers about a year earlier (Cedar Creek kiosk at Silver Dollar City), but we didn't buy one initially. Nowadays, that first dulcimer still lives here locally with one of my students.
My first (and only for many years) was a Fred Martin of Swannanoa, NC.
I had visited a friend in KY in the early 80's who has a Homer Ledford dulcimer. I brought my guitar and we played some; he let me fool with the Ledford and I thought it interesting. I decided I wouldn't mind adding one of those to my instrument collection as I was kind of getting back into folk music. Living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the time I would go back to Oklahoma through the middle of North Carolina on I-81 and I-40. I had no idea I was passing by some of the great makers in Banner Elk, Boone, Black Mountain, Swannanoa, etc.
But one day while returning from OK to MD I saw a sign. No it wasn't a dulcimer in the sky it was by the interstate and said something to the effect, "largest collection of hand made dulcimers in one place." The sign was between 2 exits so i got off at the next one and couldn't for the life of me find the place. I forgot about it until I was going to OK and saw the sign again. I got off at the other exit the sign was between and still couldn't find the place. Again for a while the place lay buried in my memory, but sometimes it would resurface and I'd think, "I gotta find that place and get me one of those dulcimers."
In Dec. 1987 when returning home to MD I saw the sign again and immediately pulled my Delta 88 over on the shoulder. You could see a little house to the south of the highway so I took a piece of paper and drew a crude map of the roads I could see. I got off at the next exit, and sure enough I found the place. I pulled into the little parking area and got out; I'm sure I looked a sight. I had on an old flannel shirt, bib overalls, boots; my hair was not quite as long as it is now, and my beard scragglier (but not yet white.) I walked in. The room was kind of dim, but I could see an older man sitting there. He looked me up and down and kind of nodded. I was overwhelmed by the number of dulcimers hanging on the walls. All were teardrops, all were 4 independent strings (I think.) I started looking at them noticing each one had a tag which told the wood and the price.
"There's one tuned up over there if you want to try it," the man said. "Thank you, sir," I replied. It was on a table; tuned DAdd though I didn't really know that at the time. I picked up the pick laying beside it and began to strum quietly, fingering the frets on the melody string to see where the notes were. Suddenly it hit me; it was "Little Rosewood Casket" I was picking out. I started to strum more rhythmically and let the notes ring out. The old man came and stood by me, watching, as I went through it the 3rd time. After I lay down the pick he asked, "What kind of dulcimer do you have?" I told him I had none. He then asked, "Well, how'd you learn to play like that?" I told him about fooling with my friend's Ledford for that weekend a few years before. I then played the O'Kane tune (which is sung sometimes to "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand.") When I finished he said, "Son, that's the best one in the shop. It's all mahogany. If you want if it's yours for $95." "I have one question," I replied. "What's that," he said. "Will you take a check?" Mr Martin laughed, "Yes, I believe I will." So I brought back to MD Fred Martin, all mahogany, #600 dulcimer; made January 1987. It's still a beautiful instrument both in sound and looks. I think I'm going to tune her up and pick out a tune.
Evanston, IL, used to hold a huge annual "garage sale" in the multi-level municipal parking garage. It was said that you could find anything in there. When I needed a typewriter stand (remember those?) I found one for 2 bucks. When I needed a bicycle, I found a snazzy retro white Schwinn for 20 bucks. And when I was a couple years out of college and convinced I had the time and money to spare, I grabbed a friend and we ventured out early opening day on a quest to find a mountain dulcimer. I had wanted to play dulcimer since high school, and managed to touch one once in college. Dulcimers were not exactly common in Chicago in the 1980s.
Outside while the crowd waited for the sale to open, there was a guy playing a hammered dulcimer. He said he was a pianist and only started dulcimer a month before. He played beautifully. I took this as a good sign.
I found my dulcimer halfway up the ramp to the first level, where a music store of questionable quality was unloading a wide array of... um... stuff. It was a new, damaged box, generic c. 1980 Pakistani import. Probably spruce on top with dark hardwood laminate (walnut?) sides and back. 1-1/2 fret. Four worthless old strings. 25 bucks.
Triumphant, I carried it several blocks to the nearest guitar store, where I got a set of strings and some picks. The clerk offered to sell me a case (black, chipboard, generic) for 12 bucks. They sold the exact same dulcimer model. I think every store sold that model, if they had dulcimers at all. Then I headed home on the L with all the dulcimer I would need (or could afford... or would even see) for the next several years.
The intonation was reasonable and the action was ok. Mind you, I did not at the time know about "intonation" or "action." Heaven knows what key it was in. Lacking an electronic tuner, pitchpipe or keyboard, I tuned the bass string to whatever sounded ok, fretted that string on the 4th fret, and tuned the other strings to that note. Obviously, I was playing alone. When I tried chords, I thought the dulcimer had intonation problems... but eventually I learned that when I tune by ear, I tune to perfect fifths. Not equal temperament. To this day, I can't tune anything by ear and I am ever so grateful for electronic tuners.
I got a fancier dulcimer eventually, which is when I christened the original "Junior" and he continued to sit on my coffee table. Good to keep a spare dulcimer around for guests, or alternate tunings, or just variety. Junior had a guitarish sound, which I blame on the spruce top (I never have liked a spruce soundboard on anything, not even guitars, although I try to stay open minded).
Junior is in the closet 8 feet to my left as I type this. Hasn't been playable for years: the glue dried out and the headstock is pulling away from the body so it won't take string tension. I think this would be an easy fix for someone with good clamps and knowledge about adhesives -- which is not me. I know some people who might be able to fix Junior so I can pass him along to someone who can use (get this...) an entrance-ramp dulcimer.
Sadly, the Evanston Garage Sale ceased to exist decades ago. Something about bollixing up traffic all over town by attracting thousands of visitors -- on the one weekend each year when they have nowhere to park because the garage is closed!
I got my first dulcimer ten years ago this month (I think). It was made by Tom Yocky. Though I no longer own it, it got me on my dulcimer journey. And I can't helpbut wonder whether it still has a home in the UK (with the fellow who bought it from me). . .
My first dulcimer was made from plans obtained from Joseph Wallo in Washington, D.C. It is an hourglass and has a cantilevered fretboard. I made it out rosewood for the back and sides, spruce for the top, and the peg head and fret board are walnut. The fret board is three piece. I laminated a piece of hickory down the middle of the fret board figuring that with string pressure pulling against the cantilever, a three piece board would be less likely to warp. Forty-one years later the fret board is still flat. I do not play it as much as I did, but still use it for noter/drone playing. It has four strings and no 6.5 fret. It is one of my louder dulcimers.
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
My first was a simple plank made by Tut Taylor and called a "Plickett." It seemed like a toy but played like a dulcimer. It had three strings and a plastic fretboard. The resonator was a hole drilled in the back partway through the body. I bought it at the Gatlinburg Craftsman's Fair in 1982 while getting a story for the local newspaper. While driving back to the newspaper office, I played all the songs provided on a simple tab playlist about ten altogether.
I was hooked. Shortly afterwards, I bought a Black Mountain dulcimer (a real dulcimer) that is currently on loan to a young woman friend from church. Since then I worked with a dulcimer maker and made hundreds while there. Currently own two made from Folkcraft and McSpadden kits.
The dulcimer hooked me with its beautiful voice and has never let me go. All thanks to that little Plickett. It's been a wondrous love affair.
When i was first trying to play 'folk' music in a jam setting, I would take my little mandolin (I was not very good on it) to a night 'adult education' folk jam at a nearby community college...this was round about 18 years ago. (seems like 100 years ago now) The jam was hosted by a biology professor there, who would bring his guitar. There were Bunson burners and bottles of creatures in formaldehyde, and we all sat on lab stools. There were mostly guitar players.
One week, he brought an instrument I knew nothing about... but when he played it (Hang me O hang me) I thought it sounded like pure Heaven. After the jam I asked him about it and he showed me how easy it was to begin playing, and I had to get me one. I knew nothing about the history or traditions of the dulcimer, the sound just really blew me away...there was something primal and pure about it.
At home I got on my then-first computer (windows 95, dial-up, blue screen of death...) and learned everything I could about mountain dulcimers before I made any decisions to buy. After researching reliable makers, i ordered an all walnut hourglass McSpadden with a scroll head.
When it arrived, I got learning materials (which all seemed to be for DAd chord playing) and I happily began to learn to play. It seemed to me that McSpadden had a voice like an angel.
Later on, My younger teenage daughter began to play it too, in fingerpicking style. She sounded so marvelous that I gave her my McSpadden and that's when I ordered my Keith Young teardrop. My daughter took the McSpadden with her and now she's 34 and still has that walnut dulcimer, though she doesn't play anymore. Maybe she will again one day.
My first dulcimer was an all-walnut teardrop Folkcraft. I traded a student classical guitar I was no longer using for it at Mary and Rich Carty's Folk Music and Basketry Shop here in NJ. That was back in 1995 or 1996. I ended up selling or trading it away as I began buying other dulcimers to try to figure out exactly what I wanted in an instrument, but I really wish I had it back. The scale length is not what I now know I prefer, but it had such a nice mellow warm tone...
My first is a McSpadden kit dulcimer which I still have although I don't play it much anymore, I have others I've built since.
I had retired and become involved in fly tying. I was at a show and my wife and I were invited to go to the area semi-final fiddle contest at Mt View. We had to drive by the Dulcimer Shoppe to get to the center where the contest was held. I remembered I had seen an article in one of the Foxfire books when I was in my 20's and thought it would be interesting to try building one. We went to the shop and I bought the kit and wad hooked. Getting that 1st one ignited a desire to learn more about music, in which I had no interest until then, and gave me my second major hobby.
My first dulcimer: Built by Walnut Valley Dulcimer Company, Burns, Kansas, by a lady named Darlene. Ser# 91 020. I am thinking that meant it was built 1991, and the 20 dulcimer of that year. It's all walnut, and much thicker wood than my McSpadden all walnut. It has a 23" VSL. Three strings, with the old steel tuning pegs. You have to tune it with a wrench (or wench).
Story: While sitting at Wendy's, in fellowship with a few couples after a night church service, late March 2012, someone asked: "Terry, you still trying to play guitar?" I said yes, but I don't believe I have what it takes to learn, too difficult. I wish I had bought a dulcimer instead. I heard one while camping in the mountains a few years back and enjoyed it.
Out of the blue, this other lady says, "I have one of those dulcimers. Bought it at Blue Ridge, Ga., and brought it back all the way home on Jessie's (husband) Harley Davidson motorcycle. Held it all the way home in the bag it came in."
Anyways, I ended up buying it for $70.00 the following Sunday, she brought it church. She brought the instruction book that night. It truly was barely playable, but the good thing was "I didn't know it". Within minutes I was able to, real slowly, pick out Twinkle Twinkle, and I have not stopped playing since.
I still own it, and wouldn't part with it for twice as much as I paid. It truly has special meaning. It hardly ever gets played anymore, but it cast a long shadow over our music room. I might add, the built quality of this dulcimer is as superb as any dulcimer I have ever held in my hands.
Good thread Strumelia. Now, what about your first dulcimer?
Many FOTMD members currently have just one dulcimer- their first one. Perhaps they having only been playing for a week. Others of us have more than one dulcimer, have been playing for many years, and we may or may not still own our first one.
Well I'd like to hear from everyone about their very first mountain dulcimer- whether you got it last week or 50 years ago. What kind was it?, how/why did you get it?, and do you miss it or still own or play it? What were your feelings about that first dulcimer?
-Please don't tell us about or list your other dulcimers (I'll edit or remove posts about people's dulcimer collections or later dulcimer acquisitions). Please, I'd like this thread to have only member stories about our very FIRST dulcimer.
Don't be afraid to sound sappy, sentimental, or bitter! All I ask is that we be respectful of people's names and reputations.
Tell us about your first!