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Warren May – 4 String Hourglass Dulcimers

 

Native Kentuckian Warren A. May has spent his lifetime working with wood. Born and raised in a pre-Civil War two-story log home in Carroll County, Warren was the youngest of ten children. He earned his Bachelor and Masters degrees from Eastern Kentucky University where he was trained in classical woodworking.

Warren has more than forty years of experience in professional furniture and dulcimer making. Both the furniture on display in his shop and the Kentucky mountain dulcimers are made by Warren and his assistants in a workshop located on his farm. Hand work is completed at the Berea, KY shop – including hand carving on furniture, the dovetailing of drawers, cutting of dulcimer soundholes, the installation of frets, and the final “stringing” of the dulcimers.

Native woods from Central Kentucky – walnut, cherry, and tulip poplar – are the most commonly used woods.

3.53  #1635 (1982)  £285 no case

4 string, 3 course hourglass.  Pasted-in card, handwritten:  “Warren A May [sgnd]/ 11/82/ BEREA, KY/ 40403 #1635”.  Traditional all walnut, with bookmatched top and back, fiddle-edged sides, tailpiece and single piece fingerboard.  Top has attractive butterfly soundholes in the UB and cleverly uses small natural knotholes in the LB.  Headstock and carved scroll are slightly lighter wood and differently figured, but probably still walnut.  It has four traditional hand-cut rosewood pegs, deliberately retaining the carving marks, hardwood nut and bridge.  Overall length 35”, upper bout 5¾”, lower bout 6⅜”, depth 1⅝”, FBW 1½”, VSL 26⅝” (medium scale), weight 1lb 12oz (788g).  Traditional fully diatonic fretboard, i.e. with no 6½ fret .  Also has Warren’s early “Kentucky Scale” – a fret placement suited to traditional noter-style playing and 1:5:5 tuning (e.g. DAA or CGG).  Original (?) strings 0.012/0/012, 0.012, 0.22w – now 0.012, 0.014, 0.024w.

Plays sweetly and quite loudly, especially with a noter.  The scale works less well for finger-style playing or for more modern tunings.  See pictures 13 – 15 below.

3.40  #5614 (1990)   £Sold

4 string, 3 course hourglass.  Pasted in card, reads “8/90 / Warren A May/ Berea Ky 40403/ #5614”.

Beautifully luminous mahogany dulcimer with bookmatched top and back, together with the standard rustic wooden pegs – probably walnut rather than rosewood as later.  Hollow single piece fingerboard with 15 frets in total – no zero or 6+ fret – just over 2 octaves.  As with #5667 below, has heart soundholes (facing to tail) with LB pair set obliquely towards fingerboard.  Usual hand-carved scroll head and carved-out pegbox.  Wooden nut and bridge.

Overall length 34½”, upper bout 6”, lower bout 7″, depth 1⅝”, FBW 1½”, VSL 26½” (medium scale), weight 1lb 13oz (821g).  No 6½ fret.  Strings currently 12/12, 14, 24w.

Looks like a piece of high quality furniture with its unmarked shimmering warm brown mahogany – and that is, after all, Warren’s other trade.  BUT, it plays really well, with good sustain, brightness and depth of tone.  1990 must have been a vintage year (see #5667 below).  Excellent instrument for diatonic DAA play.  See pictures 7 – 9 below.

3.43  #9866 (1997)   £Sold

4 string, 3 course hourglass. Pasted in card, handwritten, reads “Matt, 6:33/ [19?]97/ Warren A May/ 110 Centre (?)/ Berea Ky/ 40403/ #9866”.

Overall length 34½”, upper bout 5⅞”, lower bout 7⅛”, depth 1⅝”, FBW 1½”, VSL 26⅝” (medium scale), weight 1lb 12oz (796g). Hand carved rosewood (?) wooden friction tuners. No 6½ fret. Possible original strings 12/12, 12, 22w.

Standard cherry dulcimer with f-holes, but a stunning flecked top, light against a dark background – also cherry or possibly lacewood? Hollow cherry fingerboard with branded markers at frets 3,5,7 and 10. Wooden nut and movable bridge. Space from nut to first fret seems normal, though no 6+ fret. Strap buttons fitted.

Light body gives good volume and tone as always. Very attractive looking dulcimer, particularly with feature wood top which is slightly faceted and very much in keeping with the rustic hand-cut pegs.  See pictures 10 – 12 below.

3.37 #3240 (1986):  £Sold  

4 string, 3 course hourglass.  Pasted in card, reads “7/86/ Warren May/ Berea Ky/ 40403  3240”.

Light dulcimer made entirely from cherry, apart from walnut rustic hand cut pegs.  15 diatonic frets.  Bookmatched, beautifully figured cherry both on top and back. Different size f-holes in UB and LB.  Handsome hand-carved scroll and pegbox.  Rosewood (?) wooden nut and bridge.

Overall length 35”, lower bout 7½”, upper bout 6”, VSL 26½” (medium scale), weight 1lb 11oz (770g).  Hand carved wooden friction tuners.  No 6½ fret.

Fine finish and great workmanship, but this is also a very musical instrument.  Has a resonant “Kentucky scale” – a scale which is not perfect according to a digital tuner, but which achieves a rich and attractive blend of sounds when played in DAA or similar – and especially in noter style.  See pictures 1 – 3 below.

3.38  #5667 (1990):  £Sold

4 string, 3 course hourglass.  Pasted in card, reads “9/90 [0r 95]/ Warren May/ Berea Ky/ 5667   40403”.

VERY light dulcimer made entirely from butternut or possibly white oak, with usual walnut rustic carved pegs.  Hollow single piece fingerboard with 15 frets in total – no zero or 6+ fret – just over 2 octaves.  Looks very similar to Homer Ledford with heart soundholes (facing to tail) and combined tailpiece/string anchor (ball end strings only).  But unusually, LB hearts are set obliquely towards fingerboard.  Usual hand-carved scroll head and carved-out pegbox.  Wooden nut and bridge.

Overall length 34¾”, lower bout 7″, upper bout 5¾”, depth 1¾”, FBW 1½”, VSL 26⅜” (medium scale), weight 1lb 2oz (504g).  Hand carved wooden friction tuners.  No 6½ fret.  Possible original strings 12/12, 12, 22w.

High quality workmanship as usual, with gloss finish.  Very sweet, responsive and tuneful, not least because so light.  Good intonation and easy action make this a very attractive instrument for diatonic DAA play (see above).  See pictures 4 – 6 below.

 

Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge each photo:

 

  • Warren May 1986 #3240 - 1
  • Warren May 1986 #3240 - 3
  • Warren May 1986 #3240 - 4
  • Warren May 1990 #5667 - 1
  • Warren May 1990 #5667 - 3
  • Warren May 1990 #5667 - 4
  • Warren May 1990 #5614 - 1
  • Warren May 1990 #5614 - 5
  • Warren may 1990 #5614 - 4
  • Warren May 1997 #9866 - 1
  • Warren may 1997 #9866 - 4
  • Warren May 1997 #9866 - 6
  • Warren May 1982 #1635 - 1
  • Warren May 1982 #1635 - 2
  • Warren May 1982 #1635 - 5