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Richard and Denise Wilson 4 String Hourglass Dulcimers

Richard was a skilled carpenter but had to find a new career after the early 70s US housing slump.  His parents got him interested in the dulcimer and after building a kit, he and his wife decided to make their own.  Early on, they had to choose between buying a sofa for their apartment and a bandsaw.  They chose the latter, converting the living room into a workshop and living in the bedroom!  Richard specialised in the acoustics and the construction, while his wife did the ornamentation (inlays and soundholes).  Decorations included mother-of-pearl unicorns, sailboats and birds; soundholes ranged from hearts, seagulls to cherries.  He estimated that each dulcimer took from 13 to 150 hours to make.   Between 1974 and 1985 they claimed to have made over 2000 instruments, travelling from art fair to art fair across the USA.

2.133  Oct 1995 #3932  £Sold

Printed label with hand-drawn design, “Diamond Designs/Manitou Beach, Mich./ #3932 [h/w]/Handcrafted by: Richard &/Denise Wilson [h/w signatures]/Oct 1995”.

Solid walnut scrolled head/pegbox, sides and bookmatched back with lighter flecked butternut (?) top.  Hollow walnut fingerboard with delightful mother of pearl markers in the form of paired leaves at frets 3, 7, 10 and 14 and a beautiful flower (poppy?) at 5.  Weeping heart soundholes in the UB and humming birds in the LB.  Enclosed gear guitar tuning pegs, cross-grained string strainer, machine screw anchors, wooden nut and (floating) bridge.

Overall length 35¼”, upper bout 5¾”, lower bout 6⅝”, height 1¾”, FBW 1½”, VSL 28″ (med/long scale), weight 1lb 13oz (832g).  Original 6+ and 13+ frets.  Strings now 11, 14, 23w.

Handsome instrument with a bright clear sound.  The original purchaser was so pleased with this dulcimer that she shortly commissioned another – #3973 below.  The Wilsons retired from the dulcimer business not long after.

2.134 April 1996 #3973   £325 + choice of bags/cases at extra cost    NB On loan until end January 2018

No printed branded label, just a pasted-in slip, all handwritten, “#3973/ HAND MADE BY/ Richard & Denise Wilson/ Manitou Beach Mi/ April 1996/ [both signatures]”.

All cherry, bookmatched on top, sides and back.  Hollow cherry fingerboard and fluted Wilson “scroll” with pegbox.  Enclosed guitar tuning pegs with single holes at the far end of the capstan (rather awkward to align the strings properly).  Wood nut and floating bridge.  Beautiful mother of pearl leaf markers/designs at frets 3, 7, 10 and 14 and a more extended, exquisite multi-coloured flower design at fret 5.  Neat cherry soundholes in UB and strawberry? in LB.

Otherwise as 2.133 above.

This dulcimer was commissioned by the original purchaser of #3932 above, because she was so pleased with it.  The Wilsons retired from the dulcimer business not long after having made this.

2.88  Richard and Denise Wilson – 1987  4 String Hourglass – £Sold

# no number:  Handwritten pasted-in slip, “HANDMADE BY/ RICHARD & DENISE WILSON/ Manitou Beach, Mich./ March 1987”.  Solid walnut sides and bookmatched back, with a lighter – probably butternut – solid wood top.  Skilfully executed butterfly soundholes in the LB and typical Wilson skewed hearts in the UB.  Walnut fingerboard with no overlay, originally no 6+ fret (now fitted).  Wooden nut and floating (movable) bridge.  Three ply scroll in the later style, with straight rather than flared pegbox, open below.  It has Grover Sta-Tite friction tuners with rosewood buttons.  Three chrome screws form the string anchors and the strings are strained over a neat, cross-grained piece of contrasting hardwood.

Overall length 35”, upper bout 5¾”, lower bout 6⅝”, height 1⅞”, FBW 1⅜”, VSL 28″ (med/long scale), weight 1lb 13oz (826g).  Originally no 6½ fret.  Strings now 11, 15, 22w.

Plays easily and sounds sweet but not restrained, with good volume. See pictures 8-10 below.  NB Pictures taken during final setup, now fully strung.

2.78  Richard & Denise Wilson – 1983  4 String Hourglass – £Sold

#1545:  All handwritten on pasted-in slip – “#1545/ Hand Made by/ Richard & Denise Wilson/ Manitou Beach, Mich/ July 1983”.   

Mainly walnut, with bookmatched back, sides and tailpiece.  Top is lighter but still walnut-like – probably butternut.  Walnut (fluted) scroll and narrow, flared pegbox in old style.  Original small bladed, light wooden pegs, now replaced with gold, open-geared tuners with black buttons.  Wooden nut and floating bridge, with strings running over a cross-grain block of walnut, acting as a strainer.  Mahogany (?) fingerboard with darker, walnut overlay.  Has a delightful beach design motif (as below) with 4 seagull soundholes; 2 mother of pearl seagulls inlaid by frets 4 and 6+, flying above wooden sea walls, which are portrayed in neat wood inlays of contrasting colours.  6+ fret but not 13+.  Overall length 35¼”, upper bout 5¾”, lower bout 6½”, height 1¾”, FBW 1⅜”, VSL 28″ (med/long scale), weight 1lb 11oz (769g).  Original 6½ fret.  Strings (?original) 12/12, 13, 23w:  now 11, 15, 22w.

Melody string in particular is low, providing an easy action for light playing.  Has a responsive body as most Wilsons seem to have, giving a light, open sound, but with plenty of subtlety.  Action will need raising if intended for hard playing.  See pictures 4-7 below.

2.72  Diamond Designs (Richard & Denise Wilson) – 1995  4 String Hourglass – £Sold

#3893:    Printed label inside reading: “Diamond Designs/Manitou Beach, Mich./ #3893 [h/w]/Handcrafted by: Richard &/Denise Wilson [h/w signatures]/Jan 1995”.  All solid walnut body, bookmatched on the back.  Three piece headstock with distinctive oval scroll as earlier Wilson instruments.  However, the pegbox is wider and straighter and now has 4 Grover sta-tite friction tuners with rosewood buttons.  The soundholes are shaped like seagulls and frame an overall beach scene design.  Neat wood marquetry image of sea lapping round groynes in middle of fingerboard, with large and small seagulls in MOP flying above it.  Wooden nut and floating bridge.  6+ and 13+ frets.  Small screws as string anchors.

Overall length 35”, upper bout 4⅝”, lower bout 6½”, height 1⅞”, FBW 1½”, VSL 28″ (med/long scale), weight ?lb ?oz (?g).  Original 6+ fret.  Strings (?original) 11/11, 16, 25w:  now 11/11, 15, 22w.

Feels compact, light and responsive.  Well built and neatly designed with an unusual theme.  Sounds open, not loud, but quite bright and crisp.  See picture 1-3 below.


Click on images below to enlarge.

  • Wilson_Diamond 1995 #3893 - 4
  • Wilson_Diamond 1995 #3893 - 2
  • Wilson_Diamond 1995 #3893 - 6
  • Wilson 1983 #1545 - 1
  • Wilson 1983 #1545 - 4
  • Wilson 1983 #1545 - 7
  • Wilson 1983 #1545 - 5
  • Wilson 1987 #na - 2
  • Wilson 1987 #na - 4
  • Wilson 1987 #na - 1