Video Interview with Warren May

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:08 - Equipment / Process

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Keywords: band saw; cherry; curly ash; Daniel Boone; dulcimer; John Boy Walton; joiner; poplar; sanding machine

11:07 - First Dulcimer

13:51 - Hand carving

29:36 - Popularity of Dulcimer

32:50 - Other dulcimer makers

33:48 - Making furniture

41:40 - 40 years of the craft

46:38 - Awards / Teaching


WM: I think it actually is hollowed out perhaps. He was using table saws by then.

BG: How do you hollow it out?

WM: On a table saw. I do have basic woodworking machinery. We have bandsaws,

jointers, and again, a sanding machine, so most of the pieces have been sanded

to size. Why that is important is, once you get into the extremely high quality

fancier wood like fancy Cherry or Curly Ash, that's the only way you can process

the wood is by sanding. So most of the parts and pieces have been sanded. So

here we would take a fret board, and this is a raw fret board. The frets haven't

been added. I have not hollowed the back. Once the fret board is processed, I

would glue it on to the 1:00two matched top pieces. In the meanwhile, I would be

gluing the two matched back pieces together, of course you can tell that's

plenty big enough to make the back because we've chosen a very strong grain

pattern here for the larger so you can tell how it fits the overall shape of the

instrument. Meanwhile, we have been processing the scroll. This is all made out

of solid wood. It's about an inch and a half thick to match the fret board size.

There's about twenty processing operations in just making my traditional scroll,

by that I mean hollowing out, drilling for the keys, the joinery for the sides

and the fitting. Plus it's the handwork. I've got another ten to twenty minutes

of hand carving here. So now you are beginning to see the dulcimer as it 2:00shapes together.

There is a tailpiece down there, which you can see very easily. Pretty much the

same detailing as the scroll, but now we are actually looking to assemble the

dulcimer with the scroll tailpiece, adding the sides and then probably adding

the back last. Still do some gluing with hand clamps, spring clamps, clothes pin

clamps, but most of our gluing is done with a spring loaded clamp to where we

actually squeeze the instrument together in two or three different clamping operations.

BG: How do you put the side on?

WM: The sides, you can see they actually go down into the curve here. Now this

is a traditional Kentucky construction, so after several tries of clamping

assembly, many years I just put the side in by hand, I just used spring clamps

to 3:00clamp it down, but that got old after several years. So we finally figured

out a way to assemble the scroll tailpiece, then we can glue the sides down

sliding the top down on the sides and then at the very last actually gluing the

back on to the entire process. Then that would make the final assembly here.

This dulcimer only weights a few ounces. I stress that because it doesn't weight

nearly a pound. It is probably no more than ten or twelve ounces. It's in

Poplar, unfinished, and some of the instruments will be heavier. But what we've

done is make the strongest, lightest, most acoustic wooden box. Zither is like a

generic name for any box instrument like this, this would be considered a

fretted zither, but it just means a box with strings. The dulcimer of course, 4:00 is

probably from the Biblical instrument that's in the Book of Daniel; the dulcimer

is mentioned three times in the Book of Daniel. Now whether that's the hammered

dulcimer, which is a totally different theory, it's the forerunner of the piano,

or whether they named these Mountain music boxes or hog fiddles or dulcimores,

John Boy Walton called them "Ever lovings" when they featured the dulcimer on

the Walton's show. Daniel Boone played the dulcimer on some of the Daniel Boone

series, but what we've done, and the reason I still do the Poplar is it's the

most authentic, most efficient way to build my real Kentucky dulcimers.

BG: I'm still kind of hung up on the side. Is that cut out piece, and then do

you have to end it or anything?

WM: Yeah. 5:00The side, unfortunately I don't have a sidepiece here, just some

little cut off pieces.

BG: You don't have to steam it or anything do you?

WM: No, I just wet it, anywhere from five to ten minutes. But amazingly, the

sides are extremely thin, like these are the thickest of the sidepieces. You

wouldn't think that maybe, less than an eighth of an inch, 3/32nds maybe would

be, but actually it's very strong, but when we wet this length of wood it will

curve quite handily if you get it thin enough. Then again you gain a lot of

strength by having this as a continuous curve.

BG: How do you glue it when it is wet?

WM: Oh we let it dry. The wetting is just to put it in a pre-form mold--

BG: Oh you have a mold. Ok.

WM: Just to get it to it's basic shape. It doesn't get it to the exact 6:00shape. It

does get the continuous bend. Then, because we let the wood dry out in the mold,

and then you have the basic shape, and then we have some squeeze molds where we

clamp the instrument into the exact silhouette, so by clamping that in and

holding it rigidly while we glue the top and put the back on, and then all this

is trimmed off later. Sometimes you do have overhands and this has been trimmed

off with some tools here. This is the part that has to be hand carved and inlet

and everything. So I still do a lot of hand carving.

WM: Oh yeah, that's the old number one. I actually used Brazilian Rosewood on

the sides. I spent about two weeks on that one, working on it most every day and night.

BG: And that was the kit?

WM: No. I never used any kits or anything. It was one I made visually--

BG: Based on a kit.

WM: -- from memory.

BG: 7:00I hear people saying they got kits, but I was wondering what that meant.

WM: That's a big deal, but we don't want to do the kits because there's really

just no end to it if you want to make a fine instrument.

My second dulcimer looked quite a bit like Homer Ledford's instrument, even with

the diamonds. Now I don't have mine here, this is a very early Homer Ledford,

signed but not numbered, which means it was one of his first couple hundred

instruments. Beautiful instrument. Still plays very well. Probably at least

fifty years old. It's Pine and Walnut, but definitely the pure classical. You

can see that this one was sort of modeled after the Jethro Amburgey ones and

then you can see I have an old Ed Thomas dulcimer, 1917, and you can easily

where Jethro Amburgey sort of modeled off the Ed Thomas dulcimers. Eventually we

are going to put those all in sequence, but there are certain characteristics

like the 8:00scroll silhouette that you can see are just so similar.

BG: What's interesting in both designs are the frets only go part of the way

across. They don't go to the drone string, right?

WM: Yes. Typically, you only played one string. Part of that, there just wasn't

any reason to [some interrupts off camera]-- They were made very primitively,

but you only needed just the one string for the one melody line. In many cases,

in the traditional playing of dulcimers, you didn't play a full instrumental

version of the song, you only did a few voice notes and then to sing all your

ballads it would just wear you out singing a ballad that was forty or fifty

verses long if you tried to play every note. So in many cases, you would just do

two or three notes, what's called a three-note trick, two or three notes just to

go with your chords or your voice notes.

BG: Ok, the ones with the 9:00holes all over it, what's that all about?

WM: That one is Poplar, the old green and yellow Poplar. The holes have been

added just to lighten the box. You can see where they have made saw marks,

probably with a hand saw insides, but the sides are actually pretty thick, they

are probably three eights of an inch thick so they've drilled holes to lighten

the instrument, but the reason it was thicker, it was put together with wooden

pegs here. Here is a little bit of the decorative element, this little chevron

probably burned with a hot poker set, is purely decorative. No real reason for that.

BG: Where did you get that one?

WM: Traded for it in about 1980. From the best we know from a little bit of the

provenance we think it probably is about one hundred and eighty years old.

BG: Is this from eastern Kentucky?

WM: Or Virginia.

BG: The frets are crooked aren't they?

WM: Well, 10:00it's pretty rare, the frets do go all the way across, but they are adjustable.

BG: Adjustable?

WM: And what's amazing too, it just has a few frets just for the very simplest

one octave scale there, but it does sound like a banjo [demonstrates]. That's

from the tailpiece and the overall construction probably. It's actually made

very well. Totally hand planed.

Here's one that we know pretty much the documentation from about 1860 here. The

wood is extremely thin. It is Cherry, but extremely well made and it too has the

wire frets, but extremely well made. It's been played a lot; there is a lot of

wear here so the instrument has been played many--

BG: And that's a teardrop?

WM: That's the teardrop shape. Again this one is from Virginia, so this is not

the 11:00typical hourglass of the Kentucky style.

BG: Any other ones you want to tell us about there?

WM: Well again, this is my first one, 1972. Still plays quite well. Very calm

sounding because it is so thick, but it plays very well. Very primitive, but

it's totally original, I've not tried to upgrade or anything. It's totally

original the way I made it.

BG: And you were pretty proud, that's the one you took around to all the high schools?

WM: Oh yes, we really did, and it still plays very well even though it has the

wire frets. I did about ten with the pure wire frets. That was just the only

material. You could actually use wooden frets, but what's called broom wire, or

just mild wire steel, that was probably the hardest item to get was any kind of

metal early on.

Here's one of my earliest Berea dulcimers, and one of my earliest one's with a

natural like a knothole. It's made out of an old woodworker's 12:00workbench. Very

old Walnut, notice the red color, but this one was in the late '70s. I did do

many teardrops. Here's a really pretty piece of Cherry that my wife Frankye's

dad made in 1973. I started in '72. Her dad made this dulcimer a little bit

longer. This was sort of modeled from an Arkansas kit. Of course, not the

handwork and the real pretty Cherry color. It's a 1973. Little more of the

modern style, even though with the wooden pegs its a little more contemporary styles.

BG: He's got some big birds in there doesn't he?

WM: Big birds. He was quite a good woodworker.

BG: Is that how you met your wife?

WM: Well, it was about that time, yeah. Yeah, her dad was a lifetime woodworker

too. Ok, here we go. 13:00Let me see-- So I will sit down here and do a little bit of

serious carving.

BG: Why do you have that collection up there?

WM: Well, people like to see it. I do have the only Ed Thomas. [WM speaks to

someone off camera: Do you want to get it down? It should be easy to get it

down-- All right, fine.]

BG: It's kind of your little history area in the shop?

WM: We are going to totally remodel and redo. Next week we are going to shut

everything down for a week, but when we put them back up we are going to put

them in chronological sequence. In other words, you'll be starting with this

one, which actually we've been keeping in the closet. It's a very valuable

instrument that somebody gave me. [Speaks to someone off camera: Can you get

him? Ok.]

So this instrument is totally assembled and again, I've worked the little

flowers and leaves around the knothole 14:00here. Beautiful piece of dark Walnut.

I've sawn out the humming bird and done some sculpturing, some interior bracing,

but at this point I am carving the low edge chamfer for my humming bird wings.

So this will be one of the other details.

So this is the prized instrument. It's a 1917 Ed Thomas and historically we know

he was the first one, there was one other maker named Sagelton, but as far as we

know Ed Thomas was the first one to put the continuous curve here which became

the Kentucky tradition. Just from the details of the scroll shape, sometimes the

scrolls are very small, some of the other features, a little bit of folk art

around the holes, the tailpiece, the way the strings are attached, 15:00very easy to

see that Jethro Amburgey was influenced by this instrument and that Homer was

influenced by Jethro Amburgey perhaps, and gradually added a little more of his

detailing, and then I was definitely influenced by the Homer Ledford

instruments. Part of that was because I really wanted to maintain the Kentucky

tradition. I've made my instruments are wee bit shorter scale to make them

easier to play, but again, this was just a little more of the traditional scale

here. I made a longer scroll pattern. I think because these were so hard to hand

carve in the old days, they just made them as small as possible, but one of the

first changes or hopefully improvements, was to make 16:00the peg area larger so you

could physically do the wooden pegs and the metal pegs more efficiently. This is

all one piece, backs and everything. Two pieces--

BG: And little feet on the back--?

WM: Yeah, typically this probably is one, it's maybe two pieces, but it may be

one piece.

BG: And then on the back they have those--

WM: Little feet.

BG: --little feet.

WM: Yeah, basically they wanted to keep it from rattling. If you laid it up on

the table the three points would not rattle.

BG: Oh ok.

WM: So again, the scribe line here. A little more of a decorative element.

Little more of a complicated tailpiece structuring. I simplified that and made

it a little more in tune with the construction technique up here, and this

little curve is actually my design. I wanted to actually make some kind of

design element, 17:00so I've added a little curve there. A humming bird would be

pretty typical. So here I'm just carving the little chamfer on the humming bird

and as the instrument is finished this will show up very brightly and again will

have a handwork detail.

BG: Aren't you afraid of ruining it?

WM: Oh at this point we have to be very careful. See very simple tools. Just the

simplest carving.

BG: You're digging out a pretty good piece of wood there aren't you?

WM: Uh huh. Walnut is wonderful to carve. So really just this quickly, actually

I've sort of enhanced--

BG: Will you hold it up so we can see what you've--?

WM: We will, and maybe just--

BG: So a beveled line, is that what you are saying?

WM: Yes. I call it a chamfer. We might take a little bit of the sharpness 18:00 just

so it will feel better. That will turn out very pretty once it's finished. It

will add a lot of sparkle. In many cases I will use a really swirly piece of

wood for the birds.

BG: Did you do that on this one too?

WM: Uh huh, yeah, so this one is all done. It's totally finished, so I'll

chamfer this one too. There is a little more detail work. I've got to trim these

little corners flush and again I'm adding the final shaping and looking at every

aspect of the construction to this point. We are about two weeks into the

construction at this point and then about another week to sand and get four

coats of spray finish on it.

BG: How do you finish them?

WM: 19:00Typically we sand it down to a one fiftieth, which is pretty fine sanding.

Two coats of sanding sealer and then we sand the sealer and then two coats of

semi-gloss lacquer and then I seal it in wax, so even the finishing detail is a

lot of handwork. A little bit of functional detail here on the scroll even

though we've already processed it there is a certain amount of handwork in this

area and so many times I'll tape up my hands so I carve more efficiently, but

this scroll with actually be shaped all the way down. Again, that just sort of

evolved into my design. This is to let the strings come from the tuners properly

to get the most efficient 20:00tuning. So I'm actually carving with both hands here.

All together it will take about an hour to sand the instrument from this point.

We will do the quality control. Check every construction detail.

BG: What are these two tabs up here?

WM: Oh, they are just little extras. I've actually trimmed this off, made the

bead with a little routering bead maker that I have. So I can do it all except

that one little corner and again, I'll have to hand carve that and hand shape it

and hand sand it. So it's amazing that I spend a lot of my free time hand

carving these little details. So I've blended that all together, flushed the

joints, and on this one we've got a little appendage here, a little extra 21:00 again,

carving, that's one of my favorite things is how to get the real pretty grains

and curls coming up. I still enjoy that. Sometimes you'll get that pretty little

flower there and then it all goes away.

BG: You like that, huh?

WM: So, yeah, you notice every time you get the really pretty curl like that.

BG: Does that mean you're carving it well?

WM: Yeah you notice it every time. It just sort of happens. So you try to get

the little satisfaction from each little detail there. We've become very

efficient just by making the same style and the same processing of instruments

over and over.

BG: Is each one a little different though?

WM: Each one is different, but you still have to pay attention to the minutest

detail. If you don't go ahead and make it 22:00right, it should have been better. You

always think of how it could be better.

BG: I think of luthiers as being artists, being creative and expressing

themselves through what they make. What part of this do you feel is most

expressive, or most artistic, or is it the whole thing?

WM: Well, yes, here's a dulcimer that's almost finished. So what we have here is

a really pretty wooden box. Of course, you can see a lot of the details, the

carved scroll, the finish, the wood burning, the little extra wood burning

enhancement on the vine patterns, the really pretty graceful vine pattern that

fits the shape there, the little bit of scribe detail here, my signature, real

pretty like fifty year old Cherry wood, a beautiful kind of drastic stripe down 23:00there, so what you have down there is a really pretty box because it's not an

instrument yet. So now it amazes me, I think it amazes people when they see me

just light into it with some of my tools here now, so here I'll actually check

the playability to this point, so actually I can tell a whole lot about how well

we've controlled the construction and we are talking about the acoustic

friendliness and actual playability as an instrument as determined here right

now. In this case I know that I need to file, this is a regular metal mill file,

but I've actually crafted this instrument with a little bit of a curve in it, so

I know that it has to be filed in this area. [Starts filing on fret board]

That's so I can get a more clear and lower string action down here in these

upper 24:00notes. I'll look at it again. I've built a very slight rise here, or a bow

down, in other words it's bowed down just a little bit, and that's built into

it, but I know I need to file this area up here a little better. [Begins filing again].

So I filed that area and now I need to blend this area together so I can make it

all sort of flow together [resumes filing]. I'm going to file the entire fret

board so that all the notes are blended together on the entire instrument.

BG: And you are doing that just by sight and feel?

WM: Yes, and of course, we've not put any strings or listened to it. Maybe some

light softening and smoothing. These are fret files. A lot of dulcimer makers

don't go ahead and finish their 25:00instruments. They'll make these wooden boxes and

they'll call it a dulcimer, but they leave out a lot of the refinements that

we've learned over the years. Now it took me years to figure all this out. You

can ruin a dulcimer when you glue the fret board on if you don't glue the fret

board on right, it's ruined from the word go.

BG: What do you mean ruined?

WM: It just won't be playable, or it won't be--

BG: Is the pressure to high?

WM: Yeah, if this is bowed too much, or if it is bowed up it won't ever be a

playable instrument. It has to be bowed down just a little bit here, just

slightly concave to allow for this adjustment. Here you take the fret files and

you round up the frets, get them all level, and trim off the edges so it feels

good here.

BG: Is there a grove in it?

WM: Yes.

BG: Ok.

WM: Yeah there really is. These are real guitar-style fret files, which I've

actually modified. I've carved them off here; I've filed them off around the

edges so they don't hurt the instrument. 26:00So after all that I'm ready to actually

put the strings on. To do a little more fine tuning, little tiny bridges. The

bridge is actually adjustable on all my instruments whereas on the old

instruments the bridge probably was not adjustable so it was a little more

limited to how you could find--

BG: So you've got all the frets where you wanted did you say?

WM: Yeah, I would do all the frets like that and put strings on and, let's see,

here's one very similar, and again, what we are looking at, and sometimes I do

have to go back and make minor adjustments, but now we are actually tuned up to

basically, A, A, A, D, which is the same as guitar notes, so we are actually

playing the whole idea, now it's actually an instrument whereas a few minutes

ago it was just a wooden box, now it's an instrument. So that's what keeps me

going. 27:00Now whether it would be Rosewood like this, Cocobolo Rosewood, or whether

it be Walnut, Cherry, or Poplar, I've done the same processing for each

instrument. I'll go from one of my very finest instruments here, to one of my

most authentic traditional instruments. The playing function is totally the

same. In other words, it's the very purist easiest playing. So you can play

Country music, which is all the same [demonstrates]. You can play Bluegrass,

which has a little chop to it 28:00[demonstrates], or you can play real Mountain

music, which there's no rush to Mountain music at all [demonstrates]. You don't

have anywhere to go.

[Continues to demonstrate on dulcimer] Now the guitar player, he didn't have

anywhere else to go either, so he would just take off around the house. That's

an old Carter family song-- [Resumes 29:00demonstration]. That's fun.

BG: Cool.

WM: Good.

BG: Do you, you know, usually when I'm talking to folk artists about their

traditional stuff I ask them about other people in the field. Do you belong to

any organizations that you share, dulcimer associations or anything like that?

WM: Not really. By doing the really traditional instruments like I do, I just

really stay home and make them the very best that I 30:00can. Occasionally, we will

go out to a little dulcimer festival. There are dulcimer festivals everywhere.

Almost every town has dulcimer players now. What makes a dulcimer; it is getting

more and more popular because it is our state instrument. People can play the

dulcimer at any level. You can sit and strum, just sit and strum along, and

you're playing perfect music. You can play along with a group that simply. You

can play just one string or you can play very artistically. I think that appeal

is far less intimidating than say a guitar, which a lot of people never make it

past the first week on a guitar. Banjo is interesting and exciting, but it is

like a wild animal. You have to tame a banjo so that's going to take a while.

Violin doesn't have notes on it so you must figure out how to make it have notes

on it, how to make the notes on the 31:00violin. Mandolin is like a violin except

it's twice as precise and twice as fast and it hurts your fingers. So the

dulcimer seems to make sense for a lot of people.

BG: Do you feel like you're an artist?

WM: Well sure. Working with my wood medium and then being able to translate that

into something that is a finished article, should last indefinitely, is not just

for the quality of the wood or the beauty of the wood, it is an instrument and

whether people play it now or whether people play it later, or their grandkids

play it, it is made as an instrument and fortunately, once I got pretty much all

my little details, what I consider my Kentucky instruments, the bead, the tail,

the little 32:00curve on the tail here, my scroll pattern, fortunately, going all the

way back almost to '72, probably since '75 I had gotten most of my details all

figured out here. So if you see one of my instruments you can tell it's one of

my instruments. I sign and date each one. We just passed 16,400 I think. That is

quite a bit of whittling, but you could tell one of my instruments from anyone

else's pretty easily. You can also tell a Kentucky dulcimer as opposed to what

would be another state specialty instrument or contemporary dulcimer, which

basically they left off a lot of the little characteristic details. Nobody likes

to do that much carving.

BG: Is there anybody else that you admire that does this kind of work?

WM: There are very good makers out there. A lot of people do very primitive 33:00instruments. We could do that, but I determined early on to make the very best

instruments. In other words, I wanted to increase the status as a musical

instrument. I've never done cardboard dulcimers, which are available. I've never

done plywood dulcimers, which are available. Not so rare, some of the really

famous makers as they got older they actually used thin laminated sheets of

plywood. I think probably for convenience and safety, not using the more

complicated woodworking tools and things. So I've seen that in several of the

recognized makers, that they didn't use solid wood sometimes.

BG: How does making furniture fit with this?

WM: Making furniture is much more of an overall 34:00plan. I generally make my

original furniture; even with my classical pieces I start with just three basic

dimensions. I may have an idea of a piece. If I want to make a Kentucky style

piece or a classical piece I really well just start with the basic proportions

and dimensions that fit the wood I have or fits the purpose of the piece, like a

certain size cabinet or a certain sized table. You have to visualize the entire

piece of furniture. On a dulcimer you can tell that this is a dulcimer. You can

tell that this is going to be a dulcimer. There's a little scratch-- If you pull

out a drawer on a piece of furniture there's no visualizing what that piece of

furniture is going to be. So it takes a lot of discipline to design and

visualize an entire piece of furniture. It can be a simple piece, 35:00or it can be a

very complicated piece with doors and drawers and sections and interior,

tremendously complicated, but there is a tremendous amount of discipline in a

piece of furniture. You are looking at a long construction period on a piece of

furniture to make it totally complete without any weak spots, either

structurally or design wise, if you think about that, if you make a nice piece

of furniture and maybe just didn't do that one little proportion or that one

little element properly it won't be the best that it could be. So what you do is

make each piece the best you can and get you another piece and go on.

BG: Where you have three specific models that you have developed over the years

for your dulcimers, do you have the same with your furniture or do you just make

whatever people ask for?

WM: I have a couple of really popular 36:00pieces. One of those is my Kentucky

sideboard. Now that's a cabinet typically four feet long, two horizontal

drawers. The Kentucky tapered leg, several Kentucky details on the apron.

Kentucky furniture is very soft, it's very confident in the way it stands and it

really is a recognizable style. So over twenty years ago I started doing

Kentucky furniture, little variations on my purely classical Governor Winthrop,

Queen Anne, Chippendale styles which I've done for hundreds of pieces, but I

realized that nobody was actually executing and making new Kentucky style pieces

and part of that would involve decorative inlays like a trailing vine or a

little Kentucky Bell flower that drips down again as a decorative element. That

was my last hurdle was to learn how to do the inlay. That was like the ultimate 37:00detail on Kentucky cabinets and Kentucky furniture. So the sideboard is a very

popular piece in Walnut or Cherry. I do a little classical piece called a

Serpentine and both ends and the front piece are totally sculptured into a

Serpentine format to bring out the really pretty grain patterns. These are

little console pieces about forty-five inches long with different legs. That's

my next most popular piece. Other than that I just try to do real pretty cabinet

or table pieces. Many times I'll use natural edges, which is definitely not

Kentucky style, but it's much more artistic to do an entire piece with all the

free edge of the natural board.

BG: Is there are different side of your personality that does furniture versus instruments?

WM: Yes. Many times I'll start cutting out furniture wood. Again, you really

have to feel like you have the 38:00best wood available on the furniture, of course

you do on the dulcimers too, but many times I'll start working on the furniture

and I'll gradually switch over to sawing out pieces for dulcimers later on.

Furniture is much more disciplined too, because you are working on one unit

piece. You are looking at the entire finished piece, but really after the piece

is assembled, once it's assembled, you've even got the proportions designed and

the different featured elements, then everything is critical because you are

actually working on the body of that piece of furniture. The inlay is extremely

critical because there is no room for error. You might be able to wiggle it just

a little bit, but you are actually working on the finished, 39:00nearly finished

piece of furniture and that detail, even the hardware, the fitting of the

drawers, the finishing, it's all extremely risky. There were times when I did

really large cabinets, I almost gave up on the furniture it was just too

stressful, but you learn how to be a little more patient. I'm doing more simple

pieces. In other words, not a life or death situation if you had a little

blemish or something on it.

BG: I saw most of your stuff is smaller in here. Do people come in and

commission you to do a certain piece a certain way or do they buy what you have?

WM: I do very little commission work. I did the first few years when we were in

business. I found it too confining. It was a great opportunity to do wonderfully

beautiful pieces of furniture. We are talking about the Bombay chest from the

Williamsburg Governor's Palace, the 40:00very finest solid Cherry Chippendale

acanthus leaf ball and claw high boys and low boys, and Governor Winthrop's

Secretaries and French Vitrines with bubble glass that cost hundreds of dollars

just for the glass and the hardware. But it was a wonderful opportunity the

first ten years or so, but I found it very confining to spend several months of

each year on one really critical piece. I needed to expand and do more pieces.

BG: And with your dulcimers, you don't have people come in and order certain

types do you? You don't pre-make them, they kind of order them--

WM: I do a lot of different choices, probably more than I should. I really limit

the customizing. I do very little overt decoration like pearl inlays or ivory

inlays or specifically personalized--

BG: People ask for that sometimes?

WM: Yes, but I really shy away from 41:00that. I'm building the instrument with all

the details and the quality wood. I'm doing everything I want to do to it and

other than just some very minor work like I could probably inscribe somebody's

name or date on the outside of the instrument, but I don't like to personalize

like carving somebody's initials or something like that.

BG: Because you see it as a finished piece as it is?

WM: Yes.

BG: That makes you feel better that way I guess?

WM: Very much so. If I wanted to add all the do-dads to it I would do that, but

I'm much more interested in the playing part of it, the function part of it.

BG: I guess another question I had, a lot of instrument makers have people they

work with. I mean, there are a lot of dulcimer groups in the state, do they come

and work with you?

WM: Oh yes, I have dulcimers, believe it or not, in almost every town in

Kentucky probably. Just about every town in the whole 42:00country too, probably. Oh

yes. As there are trims, there are trims to make instruments larger; I've

experimented with that a little bit. I didn't find it very rewarding to make

like a deeper instrument.

BG: So you are staying with your own design. Your designs, I'm seeing on the

wall, say twenty-five years, twenty-eight, thirty, how long have you been doing this?

WM: Forty-years this fall, which will be 2012 has been forty years.

BG: And it sounds like to me, correct me if I'm wrong, that over these

forty-years you've experimented, learned, and this is kind of the culmination?

WM: Yes.

BG: Is that right?

WM: Yes. Dropping the specific teardrop instrument that was too narrow upon the

upper part to be as good a tone as I wanted. Switching to the hourdrop, that 43:00superseded [Interruption -- off camera] and I made some small dulcimers. I

actually called them "Groundhog" dulcimers, which were short and fat, thinking

of them as children's dulcimers. Did those a couple of years. Far too precise

and complicated for children to play, and far too specialized to be-- you could

do Bluegrass music with them very well, but not with the effort of making it

larger or smaller.

BG: So you feel like you've done your experimentation and you are pretty much

where you want to be with it, right?

WM: Yes. Sometimes I'll get a light, a brainstorm of what might be another

improvement. Sometimes I actually will try that. Might have a few ideas, but in

most cases it doesn't outweigh the traditional details that I've done.

BG: Is it 44:00about sales or not, or is it about whether you like it or not, or a

combination of the two?

WM: It's both. I do make my instruments for people. They buy the instruments,

but I make a really good price range actually from three to five hundred on my

most regular models. We go a little higher than that on some of the super rare

wood models, by rare I mean sometimes the tone woods or a piece of the local

rare wood like the feather chair, people do want the finer models and that has

helped us a little bit as a maturing craftsman and I guess being able to charge

a little bit more for some of the models. But people by my instruments and I

make them for people. That's all there is to it. It would soon wear out if you

weren't really getting people to play.

BG: And you like to have people play them?

WM: Oh yeah, everybody that comes in I let them play a little bit, or if they

want too.

BG: But you said earlier 45:00when people call you back and say that they've actually

learned to play it--

WM: Yeah that's pretty neat. We actually get a lot of follow-up letters and

phone calls.

BG: Would you rather they play them than hang them up on the wall?

WM: Oh yes. Sometimes it takes them years to get started. Just didn't get around

to it and they'll find someone to help them a little bit or something.

BG: Well you sold me one for my daughter. My daughter went away to college and

it's now hanging on my wall and my wife wants to learn.

WM: Well that's good. We've got the books. There is quite a bit of software

available. All kinds of DVDs that are available--

BG: She might need something like that.

WM: They give a little instruction on the wooden pegs, just a little refinement

that way, but otherwise she should be ready to go.

BG: She's got the metal pegs.

WM: She's got the metal?

BG: Yeah, you changed that out for her.

WM: Well, we have little instruction sheets that sort of give little tips of how

to make them work. We'll get you going.

BG: Ok. She needs a little-- She feels like she needs to learn by 46:00reading music

when she learns things, and I feel like sometimes it's easier to learn by ear.

WM: That's a good balance. The books, you can play notes, you can play numbers,

and you can play chords. The main thing is to get like a favorite song and just

get to where you can sort of like belting out that favorite song. In other

words, you can play out the words or the melody of a song to where you can enjoy

it and other people can enjoy it too. I want people to play real songs where

people can enjoy it.

BG: I've got one last question I guess. You were honored for a couple of

different awards right?

WM: Yes.

BG: You're considered a master. You were in the master's program. Have you ever

thought about teaching someone to be as good as you someday?

WM: Not specifically. I have employees. I don't let the employees do 47:00all the

detailing like fine-tuning the final set-up. I do let my employees work to their

maximum skill level and maximum confidence level, like the wood burning and some

of the other decorative touching. A lot of the sawing processing, assembling,

yeah, my employees work up to that, but the actual setting up as a playing

instrument I pretty much reserve that. It would take quite a bit of skill

training to go ahead and adjust each instrument.

BG: We have a grant for the Arts Council [Kentucky Arts Council] for that.

You've never applied for it. Some other people have. I was just wondering.

WM: I know it. Mostly we stay so busy with keeping the family going.

[Comment made from unknown speaker off camera: You can teach craftsmanship, but

you can't teach 48:00artistry. You really can't. You can study under a great artist

or painter, or you might learn his techniques or his methods, but I don't think

you would ever be that artist.]

BG: Well no, but I guess you can, if somebody is at a high degree you can kind

of help them get closer to you in a way I think.

WM: Yeah.

BG: Well I think we're finished.

WM: Good. Lot of detail. Good.

BG: Anything you want to say before we turn it off.

WM: Nah, we're fine-- You said you wanted to spend some time and get some

details and we have.

BG: Yeah.