Charles makes dulcimers. Hand-made, hand-crafted. Made in Mississippi.
He gets $300 a piece for his work. He’s got six of them hanging on his wall.
“I love working with wood. You know, each wood makes a different sound.” Charles told me. “Walnut sounds different than cherry. Cherry doesn’t sound like a piece of oak. They are all different.”
We were talking in his shop. He’s teaching me about what he does.
“It takes me a week to make one. I make three at a time.” he added. “There’s a lot of waiting time, when you glue them up or start putting the finish on them. I don’t put varnish on them. Varnish dulls the sound.”
Charles’ fingers are stained dark brown. Somewhere along the line, he’s let the dark stain get on his shirt. I don’t think he cares at all.
He reaches over and plucks one. “Do you hear that ring? You can’t get that if you varnish the wood. I put tung oil on it, let it dry, then sand it down and put more tung oil on it. Three or four coats of tung oil, that’s what it takes. The wood soaks up the tung oil and gives the wood a good finish.”
“I saw my first one in Arkansas. My wife wanted one. I told her I would make her one. It took me thirty years before I finished the first one.” he laughed and shook his head. His wife was standing in the doorway.
He’s made over 300 since he cut the wood for the first one.
“I can’t play a tune. That’s what my wife does. She can play any kind of music, any kind of instrument. I just know how to build them.”
Then he starts telling me about the wood. “I don’t use no plywood, no laminates. That kind of wood confuses the sound. I got some friends, when they cut a good hardwood tree, they give me a call. the wood has to dry for about a year.
I got Catawba tree a couple of years ago.
“A lady called. Lightning had struck and killed the tree. It was next to her house. Been there for a hundred years. It was four feet across at the base.
The power company came out and cut it down. But they wouldn’t haul it away. It lay in her yard for six months or more. I went out there, cut a couple of logs for me and cut the rest into firewood. She was thankful. A man in Alabama cut the logs into boards.”
His eyes were sparkling.
“I made it into a dulcimer. I took it out there with my wife. My wife played some old gospel music. We had a good time, playing music for her.
The lady cried. She said “I’m ninety-four years old and I grew up playing under that tree. Never in my mind did I think I would hear music coming from that old tree.”
Charles is a blessed man.
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