Building Your Own Instrument?

01 Sep

I’ve this said this over and over again:

“If I hadn’t built my first dulcimers, I probably wouldn’t be playing them.”

I’m not kidding.  I played piano, trumpet, harmonica, guitar and mandolin before I ever heard a dulcimer (of either kind.)  I first heard both kinds of dulcimers in college, played by traveling musicians who performed for us.  The sounds were deeply implanted in me, because now playing these instruments is a large part of how I make my living.

But I never felt I deserved (or could afford) to play another instrument.

IFI first bought a FolkRoots mountain dulcimer kit from a Guitar shop on North High Street in Columbus, Ohio, co-owned by David Brose, now the folklorist at John C. Campbell.  I built it and then  carried it with me from Ohio to Michigan to Illinois to Colorado before it finally let me play the music I knew on its strings.


I bought both of my hammered dulcimer kits from the Hughes Dulcimer Company in Denver, CO.  Virgil Hughes ran that place for many years.

Unfortunately, I had to re-build them several times and finally decided I would leave the building to others so I could focus on playing!

I have had several people approach me asking about the cost of buying one, and others whose first question is, “Did you build your own instruments?”

When I first was attracted to the sound, I was certain that I couldn’t afford to play these instruments, because they would cost too much.

I discovered a few things.

1. These instruments were much more affordable than I had feared.

2.  Building my own instruments saved me money…the first time. But each time I had to re-build (6 times in the case of one instrument!), the cost of that instrument went up and up….multiplied by my own frustration!

3.  The first thought of my personal unworthiness had nothing to do with the cost and value of instruments, but a lot to do with my own feeling of unworthiness.  Working on those issues went beyond the realm of music, but because I did, the music is now even MORE precious than before!

4.  There are resources and people available to help people who want to build their own instruments from kits or from scratch; and there are resources and people available to help people who want OTHERS to build the instruments for them.

So here is my questions for you:

Are you building, or did you build your own instruments?

What resources helped you?

Are you glad you let someone else do the building?

What do you recommend to others who love the dulcimer sounds, but are not certain they can afford to play them?





7 responses to “Building Your Own Instrument?

  1. Gary Gallier

    September 1, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    A revealing question could also be asked of luthiers who do build for other people…”Did you start building for yourself to play ?” Bet you would find an overwhelming majority that did.
    Gary Gallier

  2. Ben Seymour

    September 2, 2013 at 3:28 am

    I started building for myself and just went from there 🙂 I suggest for those that believe that they can’t afford them to give up cable or cell phones and embrace the music instead.
    Ben Seymour

  3. Steve Eulberg

    September 2, 2013 at 4:07 am

    I will bet you are right, Gary!

  4. Steve Eulberg

    September 2, 2013 at 4:10 am

    Ben, that would be true today. Back in those days, I didn’t have anything to give up. That’s why the slick salesman couldn’t talk me into buying the stacking pots and pans when I was in college: I would have had to take up smoking in order to give it up and save the money he told me would pay for them…

  5. Dale Penrose

    September 2, 2013 at 11:04 am

    I am the opposite, if I could play, I would not build.Musical talent is not in me, but making sawdust is. Now, 152 dulcimers later……

  6. Steve Eulberg

    September 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Dale, my dad was an adherent to “sawdust therapy”, which is how I learned! Congrats on 152 dulcimers!

  7. Ken Longfield

    September 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    I built my first dulcimer because I could not afford a completed instrument. Luckily the man who showed me how to do this was a member of the church I was serving in Washington, D.C. It was not a kit instrument. I started from scratch with plans from Joseph Wallo. After making it, I figured I needed to learn how to play it. I have sold a few instruments I built, but mostly build instruments to give to relatives and friends.


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