Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

I would be grateful to hear from anyone who knows anything about this instrument.

A family dulcimer passed into my hands in December, 2009. It belonged to a old-time music lover named Fidello Henderson from Henderson North Carolina. He got it from a friend about 25 years ago, and he passed away four years ago. It's a Musical Traditions hourglass from Sandpoint, Idaho, circa 1980. It has a sweet, dark, old-time sound.

The fret wear indicates that it was played noter-drone style.

Old dulcimer, new to me

Dulcimer Peghead

Here are the specifications:

Type: Four-string (doubled-melody) walnut or poplar hourglass with scroll pegbox, four heart-shaped soundholes and no 6+ fret.
Built late 1970s or early 1980s.
Strings: 0.010 x 2, 0.014, 0.023 (not original)
Tuners: “Sta-Tune” nickel-plated friction tuners, black plastic keystone buttons.

Label (three hand-written signatures)
MUSICAL TRADITIONS John Rourke, Larry Kiefer, Gordy Robinson
Sandpoint, Idaho

Dimensions, inches:
Length: 35.5
Height, soundbox: 2.0
Height, fretboard; 0.75
Height, overall, including strings: 2.88
VSL: 28
Width, upper bout: 4.75
Width, lower bout: 5.75
Pegbox walls: ~0.18
Pegbox holes: ~0.27

Musical Traditions was associated with the Guitar's Friend music store in Sandpoint.   Guitars Friend later relocated to Moscow, ID.  The shop and dulcimer operation were written up in the Marketplace Section of Canadian Folk Music Bulletin, Volume 1.5, 1978.   In this article, Musical Traditions is said to have made dulcimers for Jean Ritchie:

Jean Ritchie is probably the most well-known of mountain-dulcimer players.  The fact that she has "Musical Traditions," the dulcimer company at "Guitar's Friend," making dulcimers for her own sales service indicates the quality of those instruments.

Musical Traditions also sold this dulcimer as a kit, although mine appears to have been shop-built in Sandpoint. Here's an exploded diagram from an advertisement in Dulcimer Players News, Fall 1981, p22. It appears identical to the instrument that I have. (Thanks to Dan Landrum for permission to use this advertisement)

Musical Traditions dulcimer kit advertisement

I found one reference to a more elaborate Musical Traditions instrument on Everything Dulcimer in 2005.  I will post additional information here if I learn more about the instrument.

Tags: id, idaho, kiefer, musical, robinson, rourke, sandpoint, traditions

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You probably already know that Jean Ritchie, in her Dulcimer People, includes a shop of that name in a "Where To Buy" section, located in Los Angeles.

Good luck in your search!
Robin, no I didn't know that!
Musical Traditions
2375 Edgewater Terrace
Los Angeles, Cal. 90039


May have no connection to your luthiers. . .
Sandpoint, ID rings a bell from somewhere. It's such a hole-in-the-wall kinda place for a dulcimer shop... Ask Robert Force - I seem to remember he and Albert knew this outfit, or had some connection to it. Another one to ask might be Lance Frodsham, another of the early Pacific Rim project folks.

All quite interesting - I have a Musical Traditions dulcimer (hourglass, all solid cherry, Grover tuners on a scroll, overall a nice student/beginner dulcimer).  Mine was is thought to have been made by Hank and Lynn Levin and sold by House of Musical Traditions in Tacoma Park, MD.  I can't figure out if there is any linkage between this MT and the one on the West coast.  And, this is not my first MT dulcimer.  I had a very similar one that I bought about 1972 from Jon and Deirdre Lundberg in Berkeley, CA. (and thus likely from the West coast maker discussed above).   This one got me through a lot of graduate school and was eventually lent to someone who must have liked it a lot since they moved away rather than return it.  In any case, they were so similar that I believe that they a common origin.  Still some mystery there, but in any case they are nice dulcimers.

I think Hank Levin now lives in California. He no longer makes mountain dulcimers. I have a web site somewhere for his current endeavors. If I can find it, I will post it here. I, too, have a MT dulcimer which is all cherry with the Grover tuners.


I found it. Here it is:

Hi Ken and Stephen. 

As far as I have been able to determine, The Sandpoint MT dulcimers have no connection to Hank or to his instruments.  It appears to be a independent use of the name.  The two principals at Sandpoint, ID were John Rourke and Larry Kiefer, two of the signatories mentioned above.

Larry Kiefer may be the same person who galvanized the Wichita, KS folk scene in the early 1960s. 

That's everything I've been able to learn about the instrument.

Nice to see you Flint!

Flint, I've been wondering about your whereabouts. Haven't heard anything out of you in quite some time. Then again, I've been out of pocket for a bit myself.

Nice to see you still on-board here.

Hello, I recently got a kit from Musical Traditions.  It was third hand, or more.  It had been in storage for many years.  The company Musical Traditons,from what I have read, was started by luthier Hank Levin, and it was he who made some of Jean Richie's instruments.  He sold the company and it was purchased by the others you mentioned.  When I researched my kit I kept reading his name, and found him, and wrote an email to him. He replied and gave me some encouragement in finishing the kit, and said it would sound nice when done, and when I sent him pics, he recognized it as being not one he made, but that was made at the company after he sold it.  He said the soundboard should be the same as his, made on the same pattern. See my post in this forum for more information, and my pictures for pics of the kit.

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