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Musical Traditions Hourglass Dulcimers

Interesting history.  The basic MT dulcimer design was conceived in the late 60s for Hank Levin, owner of the House of Musical Traditions in New York City, by a well-respected luthier, Dennis Dorogi.  Dorogi made a number of instruments to this pattern for Levin to sell in his shop.  Dorogi called it his model C (for “Cheap”, he said!).  It was intended as a simple and affordable instrument with a plain but elegant soundhole design comprising three holes.  Levin probably needed to ramp up production to meet demand and anyway preferred the traditional heart soundholes to Dorogi’s simple elegance.  So he “borrowed” the overall design and established his own workshop to mass-produce dulcimers under the Musical Traditions label.  It is possible that many thousand unnumbered instruments were produced between 1969 and 1972, all stamped “Musical Traditions NYC”.

The shop was bought by David Eisner in 1972 and moved to Takoma Park, Maryland (and subsequently in 1974 to Berkeley Springs, W Virginia).  The dulcimer brand name and design, however, seem to have been picked up by another concern, which re-located to Sandpoint, Idaho where there was a cluster of luthiers loosely based around a shop called the “Guitar’s Friend”.  The names John Rourke, Larry Kiefer and Gordy Robinson appear on Musical Traditions dulcimer labels of the time.  It may be that production continued using the original stamp for a period after Levin sold the business.

1.45  Early 70s?  4 String 3 Course £190 no case

No label, just stamped Musical Traditions on endblock – but later addition of strap button may be obscuring “NYC”.  Looks very early, because it copies directly the spade shape of the original Dorogi hand-cut wooden pegs and has no 6+ fret.  Solid walnut body (not bookmatched on the back) with fine-grained cedar (?) top and heart soundholes (pointing to tail).  Single piece walnut fingerboard with wooden nut and bridge (in good original condition), and a single string anchor – the usual brass mushroom-headed pin.  Originally no 6+ fret (now fitted) and rosewood-like wooden friction tuners, now replaced by open-geared guitar type tuners with white buttons (NB deliberately fitted back-to-front to work with existing peg holes).  Overall length 35¼”, upper bout 4⅞”, lower bout 5⅞”, depth 1¾”, FBW 1¼”, VSL 28″ (medium/long scale), weight 1lb 6oz (631g).  No 6½ fret (now provided).  Strings now 0.010, 0.014, 0.022w.

As with other MTs, has a clear and resonant treble with a decent mid and bass range.  Plays easily with very good intonation on the unwound strings, even in DAD.  This one has been heavily used, and came with some pick damage to the RH end of the fingerboard and solid (but visible) repair to a long crack in the back.  Pictures coming soon.

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1.41   Late 70s?  4 String 3 Course  £Sold

No label, but stamped Musical Traditions on end block – presumably therefore from the Idaho workshop.  Solid walnut sides and back (not bookmatched), fine-grained solid spruce (or possibly cedar) top with four small heart-shaped soundholes (pointing to the tail).  Quite narrow walnut (?) fingerboard with no overlay, no markers and (originally) no 6+ fret – now supplied.  Newish strap button and useful narrow strap to go round your waist and stabilise the dulcimer.  Overall length 35”, upper bout 4¾”, lower bout 5¾”, depth 1⅝”, FBW 1¼”, VSL 28″ (medium/long scale), weight 1lb 8oz (668g).  No 6½ fret (now provided).  Strings now 0.010, 0.014, 0.023w.

Frets show some signs of use, but the dulcimer has been well looked after.  Intonation and sound are good, as always, but not brash.

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1.26  1980?  4 string, 3 course  £Sold

Orange label, ““Musical Traditions Fine Handmade Instruments Serial No. JW 80 # 625”.  Top, back and sides are solid cherry – as may also be the single piece fingerboard, tail piece and headstock.  Simple but neat scroll with fully open pegbox.  Original simple friction tuners.  Wooden nut and bridge.  Single pin string anchor.  Overall length 35”, lower bout 6″, upper bout 4⅞”, depth 2”, FBW 1¼”, VSL 28″ (medium/long scale), weight 1lb 8oz (684g).  Original 6½ fret.  Comes complete with original shell case.  In excellent condition with a good, bright but full tone.  Plays accurately and easily.

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