Ex-Welder Handcrafting Dulcimers


But he made certain the new home on Lucas Ferry Road came with a workshop, which he remodeled to fit his needs.

To make the dulcimer, Swanner rips a 1-inch board at least 34 inches long and 4 inches high into 3/16-inch thickness. After opening the board, he glues the pieces together side by side in a process called book matching to have the same wood design on either side.

“I do both the top and bottom that way, but it doesn’t matter about the sides,” he said. “To get the shape of the dulcimers, I construct them in a building jig.”

The hardware, including strings and tuners, are the only parts of the dulcimer he purchases. He applies clear lacquer “to show the beauty of the wood.”

And nearly all of the wood comes from Swanners’ logging efforts. Exceptions include an old board taken from Nebo Community Church that he and his wife attend, and mesquite from Texas, brought in by a customer.

The list of trees he utilizes for dulcimers is so extensive – from cedar to cherry to catawba and all in between – it’s easier for Swanner to name the trees he never uses because of their hardness: oak, pecan and black gum.

“I make dulcimers in spurts, when I take a notion,” he said. “I’m not going to let my hobby be a business. If people want to buy them, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s still fine.”

Swanner said if he wanted, he could build a dulcimer in two days “if I really get lost in it. And that’s the point. Out here in the shop, I forget all about time and everything else.”

He always has embraced country music and his group plays country, gospel and bluegrass.

“We sure don’t play classical,” he said. “We’re just a bunch of rednecks having fun.”

As he continued to amuse himself in his shop Wednesday by pushing his sander back and forth on his latest creation, members of his club, Malcolm and Shirley Townsend, of Athens, walked in. He carried a dulcimer belonging to Shirley Townsend’s sister, Betty Hill.

Hill broke a string, and although she didn’t buy her dulcimer from Swanner, he agreed to replace it.

“I’ve been playing about five years simply because I like the music,” Shirley Townsend said. Her husband said he has played for about a year and the dulcimer sound hooked him.

“Grady made our dulcimers,” she said. “Mine is made of cherry and is No. 19 on his production list.

Malcolm’s, No. 9, is made of cherry with a western cedar top.”

While she’s probably biased, Janice Swanner, whose mahogany dulcimer is No. 55, said her husband does “a fantastic job” making the instruments.

“But most importantly, he really enjoys meeting people because of the dulcimers,” she said. “I played piano as a child but haven’t played in 45 years.”

Janice Swanner hasn’t learned to play it yet, but she bought a hammered dulcimer, where music is made by striking the strings with small mallets.

“To me, the music in heaven has got to be a hammered dulcimer,” she said.

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Posted by on Sep 3rd, 2013 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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