Arkansas artisans craft McSpadden dulcimers
Music as sweet as birdsong drifts through The Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View, Ark. (pop. 2,876), where McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers have been made and played for nearly 40 years.
“This is truly an American instrument,” says owner Jim Woods, 67, about the icon of Appalachian and Ozark folk music handcrafted by the shop’s artisans.
“The instrument is still evolving,” Woods adds, “but a lot of dulcimers today are patterned after McSpadden designs.”
In 1962, Lynn McSpadden built his first dulcimer as a student at Duke University in Durham, N.C., during the era’s folk music revival. His roommate, Elliott Hancock, played guitar, and McSpadden wanted to strum along on dulcimer. Since he didn’t have $80 to buy an instrument, he used a photograph as a pattern to build his own three-string walnut dulcimer.
“It had two frets in the wrong place,” recalls McSpadden, 73, a native of nearby Bethesda, Ark.
Today, the fretwork is precise on the more than 55,000 McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers that have been made by the nation’s largest dulcimer maker. More than 150 dealers in the United States sell McSpadden dulcimers, which come with lifetime warranties.
McSpadden first sold dulcimers via mail order by placing advertisements in Sing Out!, a folk music magazine. Believing the Ozark Folk Center State Park would spur interest in traditional mountain music, he built The Dulcimer Shoppe a mile from the soon-to-open park in 1972. McSpadden’s brother, Larry, and roommate Hancock were partners in the business venture.
Not much has changed at The Dulcimer Shoppe since Woods and his wife, Betty, 62, bought the business in 2000. Like Lynn McSpadden, Woods had built dulcimers as a hobby and welcomed the opportunity to leave his high-stress electronics job in Dallas, Texas, and head for the Ozark hills.
“I really enjoy making the instruments, but what I like most is helping someone find the music in the instrument,” Woods says.
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