I don’t know where this urge comes from. But ever since I saw my first fine guitar I wanted to make instruments. In early 1979 I went to Charles Fox’s School of Guitar Research and Design in South Strafford, VT. It was one of the high points of my life. I came away from there with a good guitar, a mandolin, and an even bigger urge to build instruments. And I did for a while, but starvation and the demands of a growing family made me get paying work, and I went into the cabinet business.
I did mainly install work, but by my 40th birthday, I was having too much back pain, and the urge to make instruments was still strong. So I got up that day and told everyone I was going to quit the cabinet business and start building instruments full time.
My mom said, “Oh!”
My dad said, “Oh No!”
My boss said, “You’ll be back in a month.”
My wife at the time said, “But what’ll we do for money?”
It was the worst day of my life. But I quit my job anyway.
So I started Jan 1, 1992 making mandolins. I had a good little design that was easy to produce, and fun to play. But marketing them started looking like an uphill battle. Then that February I was in Tucson, AZ trying to sell some of my mandolins, and I met a guy that had a hammered dulcimer kit company that he wanted to sell. I had always wanted a hammered dulcimer, and he didn’t want much for the company. It looked like it would subsidize the mandolin operation, and he had a great mailing list to go with it, so I bought it. I took all the equipment home, set it up, made one dulcimer to make sure I could, and sent out letters to his whole list. Three days later the phone calls with orders started to come in. It was amazing! The hammered dulcimer took over my life.
I haven’t made a mandolin since!
I don’t know why all this happened, but I did know the day I met the guy with the kit company that this was what the Lord wanted me to be doing. It just looked right, and all my training dovetailed perfectly with it. The hammered dulcimer has taken me amazing places, and into contact with some of the most wonderful people. I have learned A LOT. I took the kit guy’s designs, and with a bit of help from divine intervention, I gradually changed them into what I thought they should be. I get these ideas out of the blue and they won’t leave me alone until I try them. I know where they come from and it isn’t me. The hammered dulcimer looks simple, but it is deceptive. The design variables are limitless. The design aspect has been engrossing, sometimes aggravating, but always rewarding; even when my experiments are a failure. Over the years the dulcimer has taught me and is still teaching me SO MUCH.
That decision on my 40th birthday has not been a good one financially, but it was definitely the right one. We are so much the richer for the things we have been allowed to do, and the people we have been able to meet.
My wife Melanie and I do all the work in building, stringing, packing, and shipping our hammered dulcimers. We have hired a talented apprentice named Christopher Bierstedt, a classical violinist and violin craftsman. He has quickly become essential to our operation, and at this point don’t know what we would do without him.
Our business has continued to grow, even through the pandemic. We have managed to find the silver lining in the situation by now ensuring all our products are 100% American made. This has been done as Melanie heads the operation and construction of our new handmade dulcimer cases. Along with her friend Diane, we can now offer quality-crafted cases for your dulcimer. We are truly blessed.
We know every detail of every instrument that we send out. Our joy has turned out to be helping folks with their music, and this extends to the dulcimers we build. When we are working on them, we are constantly mindful that they are going to belong to somebody. And we hope our hammered dulcimer will be the joy of that person’s life.