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Me and my Ed Thomas 'Look-a-Like

I've done it at last ! Made me an Ed Thomas 'Look-a-like' ! Not an exact replica, I have never held a 'real' one or a replica (tho' I have seen one across a crowded room,) so the instrument has been made from photos and info gleaned from ever helpful members on this site (thanks Ken, Mike, and Dan) Another constraint was the size of the rather small piece of Poplar I had to hand, appro 36"x 4"x 1 and 1/4", could'nt afford any mistakes in the hand sawing to size !!! Most of the dims. are as near as dammit, just a bit bare on the body depth. One other glaring difference is the use of Perfection tuning pegs, I had some to hand and thought that I had better use 'em up !!! (I ain't getting any younger) Will post more should anyone be interested ?

Views: 309

Tags: Ed, Thomas, black, finish, poplar
Favorite of 1 person
Location: Horfield, Bristol,UK


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Comment by Jennifer Wren on May 2, 2014 at 10:59pm

I commented, and then somehow deleted it.  My point was that this thread was making me really want to learn how to build Dulcimers...but I don't know how I might accomplish that without basic woodworking tools...John Henry, your dulcimers are really inspiring.

Comment by John Henry on April 29, 2014 at 3:50pm

Thanks johnp, appreciate your comment !   Appro your mention of Magnolia, that fits with my mention of the Magnoliaceae Species !   As for the sawing, I ain't got a bandsaw in my attic workshop, so by hand it has had to be, not for much longer tho', my eyes refuse to make saw sharpening easy these days !!!

best wishes


Comment by Kevin Messenger on April 28, 2014 at 7:57pm

  Here in the eastern mountains if you are talking about Poplar it is the Tulip or yellow Poplar. It is very abundant and grows straight ,tall and very large in diameter. Also grows fairly quick.  The Eastern Cottonwood was and is not so abundant in the Appalachian Mountains , it grows mainly in the humid lowland river bottoms North ,West and South of the mountains.  I would confidently saw Tulip or Yellow Poplar was the poplar used for making Dulcimers .

Comment by john p on April 28, 2014 at 7:35pm

Lovely piece of work John, particularly like the purflin, completes the build beautifully

I'm in awe of your hand sawing skills, I took one look at the cutting list and would have headed straight for the bandsaw

Just to confuse matters this wood was known as Magnolia back in the days I was working with it, mainly for picture frame moulding and general carcass work.

Comment by John Henry on April 28, 2014 at 6:57pm

Thanks for the reply John,   I understand what you say about the Tulip Poplar (Tulipwood,Yellow Poplar) but I am under the impression that it is not a true poplar, (it is to be found in the Magnoliaceae family) while true poplar is to be found in the Salicaceace family (Willow, Aspen, Cottonwood ?)    There are differences to be found in comparisims of the two 'supposed poplars,( main one being weight and thus density) hence my tongue in cheek question about the 'black finish' ( I was aware of the left over barn paint !!)   Please do not think that I am telling my grandmother how to s*** eggs,  just a genuine itch I'm trying to scratch !!

Did'nt know that you had used Perfection pegs on an instrument,may I ask what gauge strings you used with them ?

best wishes


Comment by John C. Knopf on April 28, 2014 at 6:03pm


Tulip poplar was the wood of choice back then.  The reason for the black paint has been discussed on this and other forums before, but basically, it was because of what Uncle Ed Thomas was said to have done-- used leftover paint from painting his barn.

Strings were likely handmade out of solid music wire, or commercially-available banjo strings, or whatever was to hand.  

Perfection pegs work very nicely on replica dulcimers.   I made such a dulcimer with Perfection pegs for Cheryl Johnson (she has a page on this site) and she was crazy about them.  They look close to correct, and are much easier to use than friction pegs.  Installation is rather easy, too.

Comment by Kevin Messenger on April 28, 2014 at 4:07pm

 As were frets.Many a maker just put inlays or painted lines were fret would be located for reference.

Comment by Strumelia on April 28, 2014 at 4:04pm

I believe metal strings began to be marketed for banjos in the 1880s.  Prior to that almost all banjos had gut strings, and the first metal strings were looked down upon by many as a sacrifice of sound in an effort to save money.

Comment by John Henry on April 28, 2014 at 3:31pm

Chuckle, are your finger tips sore K ?     I asked for an opinion and got one in spades there !!!   Not much I would argue with either, I made lutes for a  while, which traditionaly would have been gut strung (I used nylon) and for a much longer time made HD's, and experimented with various wire types then (I still got me enough music wire to stretch to you and back again) and sometime in the 80's when I started making MD's the only references to strings I could find at all mentioned banjo strings !!!   No, it's just that now I am old(er!) my mind seems to wander off at a tangent sometimes, hence this question of what did Ed use ?   I got me other questions of a similar cantankerous nature, such as what poplar was/is used most for dulcimers, and iffen it was'nt tulip wood, but maybe cottonwood (which is much lighter in weight) instead, is that why the black finish was arrived at ?

I could go on, but this could be tedious reading for others, thanks for your interest Kevin, I await with interest for someone to say "I have this dulcimer, from my g.g grand dad, still with the original strings on it, made by someone called Ed Thomas............"!!!

best wishes


Comment by Kevin Messenger on April 28, 2014 at 2:07pm

   What were dulcimer strings made of in the beginning? Now thats the million dollar question. Wire making dates back to the 12 century, so wire was available to make strings. But was this wire suitable for the purpose .I am sure it was tried with a lot of bad results.  Harps ,Harpsichords and others used metal strings, as did hammered dulcimers and other early hammered instruments. But it seems hand held stringed instruments used gut strings , some like the Citern sometimes used metal wire for strings. Then about the mid to late 19th century guitar and banjo players were treated to metal strings . Wound strings , the first being gut(which came earlier) wound with wire to get better strength ,tone,and intonation were also available. I suspect some early dulcimer makers used ready made guitar and banjo strings , but metal strings for these  were not readily available till the later part of the 19th century,and we know the dulcimer is much older than that. Gut strings would not have been a good choice ,but, was probably tried. In comes metal wire strings used for making piano strings. The piano began to made ambitiously around 1800 ,with more being made, so did the demand and supply of music wire become greater. This wire would have been available for mail order and by supply houses in large cities, and by traveling salesmen to the mountain towns. I am sure many a mountain builder and player used banjo strings and other factory made strings when available , or as the only choice they had. But I am of the opinion ,and granted it is only an opinion, early builder who made most every tool they used and most every thing else they used, would have been making their own strings to suit the instrument being made. And for that reason music wire would have been the best readily available choice.   Oh boy what a can of worms I just opened. LOL    As for what Thomas used, I don't know ,but he was I have been told an educated man, and would have known about music wire. So it is possible that he used it. JH you did asked for opinions , so thats mine.  Right or wrong...

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