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Where do I begin?

Q: Hello Steve, my name is Luke Paul, from Lawrence (via Tonganoxie) Kansas. I play bass for a local rowdy band called The F Holes. After looking at your website and knowing your reputation as a luthier, I am coming to you for some advice and to tell you a story. I just sent the same story to Leo Posch, and asked his advice, because he is the first person I thought of to ask advice from, and then I saw that he learned a lot from you as well about guitar building and woodworking, so here it is: My Grandfather (Fredrick William Leimkuhler) used to build Appalachian Mountain dulcimers. I don't know when he started, but he built them as long as I could remember until he just got too old to do it. He and my Grandmother had a small craft business called Quaker View Arts & Crafts, and they would sell his dulcimers and her quilts and afgans.

He passed away on January 6th, 2010. Grandma Martha outlived him, however has been in the nursing center for many years with alzheimer's. My mother and I are designated the executors of his will and have been going through everything they own, which is a heavy load. Like I said, he used to build dulcimers and most likely kept pretty good track of how many and who he sold them to, but we have not found any records yet. But what I did find is that he basically left behind an entire wood working shop with all the tools needed to build them, as well as part of one still in the frame with a top and a neck glued on. He left it in the middle. Just one day said, "I'm tired, I think I'm done building dulcimers." So, in addition to leaving behind a (mess) lot of really great stuff he had stashed away book matched tops and bottoms, necks and side pieces for enough to build about 6 dulcimers. Also, while we were cleaning out the barn this week I discovered that the pile of wood stacked neatly inside (which I thought was just a pile of old barn boards from when a tornado took the hay barn out in the 80's) was lumber he had cut and milled from off his farm. There is A LOT of it and I have an idea of what kinds he has( my guesses are oak, walnut, cedar....), but like I said we haven't found any documentation (YET).

The advice I am asking is this: With all these tools, form boards and lumber, where do I begin? First I want to find out how to tell what kind of lumber he had stored away, and then I have no idea where to go from a rough cut piece of lumber to a finished instrument, which was exactly what HE did. He basically cut a tree from his farm and made it into something awesome. I loaded most of the pre-cut stuff in the car and brought it over to a friend's house in Lawrence and we plan on taking on the task of finishing a few of them out. But my problem remains, where do I begin with all of this rough cut stuff? If you ever have some free time I would like to meet with you and pick your brain for ideas as to where in the world I should go with all of this. I would really like to be able to pick up where he left off, but I have little knowledge of a wood shop, let alone the fine craftsmanship of constructing a fine instrument.

Any advice or direction you can point me in will help tremendously.
Luke Paul

A: A good starting strategy would be to inventory his tools. Identify each tool and understand it's function. Figure out how to sharpen, adjust and maintain each tool. Knowing your tools, you will be able to look at a finished dulcimer and imagine techniques for producing your own. Use the Internet to help you. It is jam packed with videos of tools, parts, wood, techniques etc. and of people making instruments.

Luthiers now freely communicate with each other. They love to share their discoveries and accomplishments, but your question is too vague. Build a dulcimer or two and then ask a specific question about a problem that you have encountered. I love to help. McSpadden dulcimers are the state of the art. Mcspadden will have a booth at Winfield. Check them out.

Steve Mason

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