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2024 Recap And The Path Forward

First, let me say thank you to all of my customers who have enthusiastically supported the Hybrid dulcimer project and in turn, the charities that I have selected to benefit from their sale.  In the first nine months of sales the Hybrids (including the HyVibe) will raise over $8,000 for charity- far exceeding my expectations and justifying the resources dedicated to their development.  There is no doubt that the Hybrid has afforded the Stephens Luthier sound at a lower cost to the buyer and has proven that a professional grade instrument does not have to cost thousands of dollars.  If my plans for the future work out, It may someday be possible to provide even more value to my Hybrid customers.

At the moment, I am busy finishing a group of seven instruments that have been in the works for a bit longer that I had hoped.  Two are custom wood dulcimers that I am very pleased with.  Each is unique and attractive in its own way.  They are down to fret installation and  final setup, so they won’t be with me much longer.  When complete, I will try to remember to post photographs of them.  I would love to have either of them in my personal collection, but like the shoemaker's children I usually contend myself with leftover prototypes that are not all that attractive.

Once the wood dulcimers are complete, I will be focusing on four Hybrids and one HyVibe that are in the schedule.  The first four hybrids are awaiting fretwork (can you tell fretwork is not my favorite thing) and assembly, all parts having been completed.  The HyVibe is a recent order that has yet to be started.

Additionally, there are seven other wood dulcimers in various stages of completion making their way through the shop.  These dulcimers will be the last wood dulcimers available for a while.

I have decided that I need to once again step back from production so that I can accomplish several other goals.  I have started building a new 3D printer that will have the capability to print a dulcimer horizontally.  This will compliment my existing custom printer that prints vertically.  The large horizontal machine (Big Y) will compliment Big Z and allow the printing of necks with integral fretboards.  Tests have shown that it is possible print the fret slots into the fretboard thus saving a significant amount of time.  It will also allow tests on one piece printed inner backs and soundboards that I cannot currently do.  Future testing will center on eliminating the beam that currently supports the soundboard by replacing it with printed internal structural members.  And on and on….  So many ideas, so little time.

Another major goal is to develop several courses to introduce some of the concepts I have developed to small lutherie shops.  One will be on the use of CNC routers and another will cover the full spectrum of design and printing of 3D printed instruments. This will necessarily include suggestions on designing and building custom 3D printers.  Through these courses I hope to be able to save other luthiers many hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars.  In turn they will be able to offer instruments of greater value to their customers.

The final goal, that is achievable only if I reduce my focus on production, is to give myself the time to pursue a number of other interests while I still have the strength and vitality to do them.  At 77 I am very fortunate to still be able participate in whitewater kayaking, solo multi-day canoe trips and cycling.  That said, I feel the clock ticking and realize that these pursuits won't be  available to me forever.  I don’t want to look back when I can no long engage in these activities and regret not taking the time to do them while I still could.

So what does all this mean in terms of availability of Stephens Lutherie dulcimers?  For starters, I won’t be building custom instruments in the foreseeable future .  From time to time I will make wood dulcimers available on my website.  They will be listed under the “For Sale” tab.  The first of these will be the seven wood dulcimers that are now under construction.  Time permitting, there may be more in the future, I do not see more than ten per year and perhaps far fewer.

In terms of hybrid dulcimers, the social benefit of supporting charity will encourage me to fulfill as many orders as I can without subverting my aforementioned goals.  If I had to guess, that will be about ten dulcimers per year.  As progress on the first goal is made, these dulcimers will undoubtably morph into a design that even I cannot predict.  As always, they will have to pass the test of being a professional quality dulcimer and will be evaluated by top professional musicians.  With luck, they may offer the same or even enhanced capability at a reduced price.  Time will tell.

Many thanks to my loyal customers who understand that Stephens Lutherie does not operate under the typical for profit model.  The goal has always been and will continue to be the advancement of the mountain dulcimer.  Your support has made that a reality.

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