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Mize Hourglass

Robert “Bob” Roy Mize (1921-2003) was born in Clayton, Georgia but moved to Blountville, Tennessee.  He started building dulcimers when his son Stephen came home from a craft fair with a kit made by Homer Ledford.  Homer encouraged the tyro dulcimer builder and offered constructive comments on sound and construction with Bob’s early efforts.  Mize began his dulcimer business in 1967, assisted by his wife Mamma Maude and, after her death in 2001, by his children.  In the ensuing 36 years, he produced over 3,800 instruments.  Most of the instruments were built to customer orders, with the buyer choosing from maple, cherry or walnut, or exotic woods such as bubinga, paulownia, koa and others.  His dulcimers have a reputation for quality timber (his stock was the envy of other luthiers), fine craftsmanship and full, rich sound – and are much sought after as a result.  Mize built dulcimers for the Tennessee governor‘s office, which gave them as gifts of state to foreign dignitaries.  His instruments are in the collections at the Smithsonian Institution and the Tennessee State Museum.

The design is distinctively Mize’s own.  It has the classical hourglass proportions, with F or S shape soundholes in both bouts.  Top and back have protruding “fiddle” edges.  There are three wooden button feet for the instrument to stand on.  The headstock has the tapering “scroll” of the Ledford, but a longer pegbox and matching longer, elegant rosewood pegs.  The tail stock is also reminiscent of Ledford, set up primarily for ball end strings, with a short span to the floating wooden bridge.  The fingerboard is wide and set up for three course double melody or four string equidistant playing.

3.70   1971   #702  4 string equidistant hourglass.  Lacquered-in label or wood sliver (?) ¾ x ½ written in biro: “1971/ #702/   [monogram]“.  Gold label seen through UB farside soundhole: “DULCIMERS/ Robert R. Mize/ Route 2/ Blountville, Tenn.”  Fingerboard branded “Mize” between nut and 1st fret.

Fiddle-edged walnut sides and bookmatched walnut back, showing some colourful sapwood, with three domed feet.  Sassafras (oak/chestnut??) top with f-holes.  Elegant walnut headstock and delicate spoon-like rosewood pegs.  Walnut fingerboard with slightly off-equally tempered fretting.  No 6+ fret.  Rosewood nut and movable (?) bridge; high tailpiece undercut on far side to take ball and strings.

Overall length 34½”, upper bout 5½”, lower bout 6½”, height 1⅞”, FBW 1½”, VSL 26½” (short/medium scale), weight 1lb 14oz (851g), strings now 0.013, 0.013, 0.013, 0.028w.  No 6+ fret.

Slightly less resonant than some Mizes – perhaps because it’s quite solidly built and heavy.  Still, beautifully built and sweet.

#1682 has a highly figured, bookmatched top and back.  Sides, headstock and tailpiece look like cherry, and there is a remarkable consistency/harmony  of colour across the components parts.  It is likely therefore that the beautifully quilted top and back are cherry also.  The fingerboard is slightly darker but is also attractively figured.  Overall length 34⅞”, upper bout 5½”, lower bout 6¾”, height 2”, FBW 1⅝”, VSL 26¼” (short scale), weight 2lb 5oz (1053g).  No 6½ fret.

This is a comparatively rare and beautiful dulcimer with unusual depth of tone.  The action is straightforward on a shortish scale length and the intonation good.  It is classically proportioned and built with a superb eye for detail.  Recommended for any serious dulcimer enthusiast.