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  • Bob Stephens

It's a dulcimer!

It turns out that the gestation period for a new dulcimer is also close to nine months. With apologies to all the true mothers of the world, there are other similarities as well. From the conception back at Kentucky Music Week last year, through many sleepless nights, very long days, a few scares along the way and the pride of delivery it was a rewarding experience. I was only a surrogate, however, and Aaron O’Rourke is now the proud caregiver to my creation. I can’t think of another artist that could do more to showcase it’s full potential.

Okay, enough of the metaphors. At 4:00pm today Aaron and I met on the road half way between Signal Mountain, TN and Indian Land, SC to deliver the first production nylon string dulcimer. I think Aaron would agree that it was worth the wait. Not only does it have a unique and expressive voice, it is visually stunning as well. It achieved all of the ergonomic requirements originally specified including the bevel to facilitate his style of “on edge” play. The new Port Orford Cedar soundboard is an incremental but significant improvement over the sitka spruce used on the prototype. Esthetically, the instrument is both attractive and functional looking. Late in the build process Aaron had confessed that he really liked walnut for the body and I was able to procure a rather special claro walnut board on eBay shortly thereafter. It was just big enough to get the back sides and end blocks out of. The Port Orford Cedar top was also a special figured set that I had in my stock. The neck is Patagonian Rosewood (not a true rosewood) which is very dense. With it’s heavy carbon fiber reinforcement, very little string energy is going to be lost to vibrating the neck. On the functional side, it has bindings to prevent damage from the inevitable small knocks a performance instrument is subject to. The bridge, which is new since the prototype, is adjustable vertically for action and pivots to adjust for compensation. It also now incorporates an under saddle pickup in addition to the two standard soundboard mounted pickups. Both pick signals exit the instrument through a single stereo jack that doubles as a strap button. The fretboard, headstock overlay and bevel are all Richlite, a synthetic ebony replacement that is durable, attractive and ecologically responsible. It feels like polished ebony to the fingers and makes for a “fast” fretboard.

So all-in-all I have to say that I am very pleased with how the project turned out. None of it would have been possible without Aaron’s insight and inspiration. I have no doubt that we will soon be hearing some amazing performances on this new creation.





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