Bob Dean isnt from a musical family nor does he profess to have any musical talent himself. But he loves the dulcimer. And hes been playing with a dulcimer group at RSVP for the past 2 years.
Twelve years ago, he was smitten by the music of a dulcimer on a trip to Gatlinburg. Since then, he has learned to play the instrument and has made 167 dulcimers and 3 courting dulcimers. He repairs the instrument for dulcimer owners.
Im kept pretty busy just by word of mouth, Mr. Dean said. I make 2 dulcimers each month, on the average. Ive been doing that since 2002.
Mr. Dean is a retired machinist instructor who lives near Scottsboro. He and his wife Louise come to Guntersville on Thursday to play at RSVP. He brought his courting dulcimer to demonstrate it to the group.
The courting dulcimer is a hybrid that I saw once on the internet and decided to try making one, he said. Its actually two dulcimers in one. A man and a woman who were courting played it facing each other. The old Appalachian story said that if the playing stopped, someone needed to check on the courting couple.
The instrument probably originated in Germany. Some were brought to the Appalachian Mountains in the 1700s, he said.
Mr. Dean used wood from a box elder tree on his property to make his favorite courting dulcimer. A fungus had created a yellow-red cast to the wood grain. He matched and glued pieces to make the dulcimer look like it came from one wide piece of wood.
There is a spacer on the bottom of the dulcimer which helps project the sound. Mr. Dean used a pattern of a regular sized dulcimer and expanded it. The instrument has hand rests for the two players. He used a double scroll head and cut out hummingbirds for decoration.
He gets most of his wood in this area, using sycamore, walnut, cherry and poplar.
An old home was being torn down and I was able to get some of the poplar in the walls, he said. That wood gives a wonderful, brighter sound.
Mr. Dean does instrument adjustment and repair for his dulcimer group at RSVP. His handmade instruments start at $200. Hes finished one bowed salter and will probably be making more of them.
I love the beautiful sound of the dulcimer, he said. The sound just grabs you. Besides playing, I keep myself busy measuring and cutting, creating a beautiful instrument that others can enjoy. Its been great in my retirement. Id recommend it to anyone.