Ex-Welder Handcrafting Dulcimers


Swanner’s son, Joey, also gave him storm-damaged trees on property he owned in Prospect, Tenn.

“They gave them to me if I would just go in and get them,” Swanner said. “I had a portable sawmill come to me. The trees were on the ground, and I hated to see them ruin.”

He stacked the lumber in his barn and never thought about building anything with it, certainly not four-string dulcimers, the small instrument picked while lying flat on players’ laps, tabletops or floors.

“I cut the lumber to sell, and I dabbled it out as people dropped in to buy it,” he said.

Now, 71 dulcimers later, including the first one he made from a sassafras tree about six years ago, Swanner considers his lumberjack days a good deal after all.

A 1958 graduate of Tanner High School, Swanner, 72, retired as a welder at Monsanto in 1996 after more than 28 years. He had never played a musical instrument until he and his wife, Janice, fell in love with the sound of a dulcimer a decade ago.

They were camping at Tanniehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla when they passed a group strumming their instruments. They decided to invest in dulcimers and learn to play.

Their interest intensified when they joined a club, The Athens Dulcimers, which meets the first and third Thursday night of each month at the Athens Recreation Center.

“As my wife and I traveled to festivals in Alabama and Mississippi, some of the players told me they built their own dulcimers, and I began to see them for sale at the various events,” Swanner said. “Then I thought, ‘I’ve got the wood for sure, why shouldn’t I take advantage of it? And building dulcimers would be an interesting hobby.’ ”

He launched the craft in his workshop on his farm in Legg-town as cattle grazed in the pasture. More than two years ago, he sold out and made the move to the city, something he said he would never do.

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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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