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Green River Hourglass Dulcimers

The GRD concern was founded by Bill Walker, who started making dulcimers – both mountain and hammered – in the early 70s in Elkhorn, Kentucky. He moved across the Appalachians in the late 70s to Asheville, N Carolina where he also opened the Early Music Shop in Biltmore Village.  Both types of dulcimers were also available in kit form.  In 1992 at the age of 49, he was sadly killed in his house by an intruder and his children decided not to continue the business.  These handmade instruments are distinguished by clean, elegant design, large and deep bodies, and often striking exotic wood tops.  The sound is big and clear, usually favouring the middle and bass frequencies and giving them a warmer sound than the typical dulcimers.  The overall quality rivals that of the industry standard McSpaddens.  NB  These dulcimers achieve their attractive sound through a large body and a long scale length.  Although the action is usually good, the long scale length and consequent higher tension strings may not be suitable for some players with smaller hands.

1.42   #567  4 String Hourglass  April 1976  £190

Semi-circular green label:  Green River Dulciemr/ Elkhorn, Ky. 42733/ Model No M-24 [h/w] No. 567 [h/w]/ Made by Bill Walker 4/76 [h/w]”.  All walnut laminate, with a “bookmatched” appearance back and central purfling strip.  Solid walnut fingerboard may or may not be hollow, but has no slot through into the body cavity; 6+ and 13+ frets with MoP markers at frets 3, 7 and 12.  Hard plastic nut and bridge, originally for 4 equidistant courses only – now converted for conventional 3 or 4 strings in 3 courses.  Pegbox is closed at the bottom, and fitted with Grover Sta-Tite friction pegs and black buttons.  Scroll is unusual, the usual fret saw cut having been extended into an open scroll effect.  Brass mushroom-headed pins as string anchors.  Overall length 37¾”, upper bout 5⅞”, lower bout 7½”, depth 2⅛”, FBW 1½”, VSL 30″ (long scale), weight 2lb 5oz (1053g).  Original 6+ and 13+ frets.  Strings now 0.010, 0.014, 0.020w.

This plays well and sounds good, in the typical Green River style.  It is in good overall condition, but has been repaired along a few of the seams.  See pictures 10-12 below.

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2.89  #1165  4 String Hourglass  November 1978  £Sold

Rectangular brown printed label with well-known engraving of mountain shack and dulcimer player:  “Green River Dulcimers/ Handcrafted Musical Instruments/ Elkhorn, Ky. 42733/ Model Custom M-24 [h/w] No. 1165 [h/w]/ Made by Bill K [?] Walker [h/w] Date 11-78 [h/w]”.  Walnut laminate sides and back, latter with central purfling strip and “bookmatched” appearance (as #567 above), but solid wood top made from some exotic and highly-figured timber (? Koa or Tigerwood).  Dove-shaped soundholes in LB and plain, circular soundholes in UB.  Single piece walnut fingerboard with 6+ and 13+ frets and MoP markers at frets 3, 7 (double) and 12.  Standard later pegbox with Grover Sta-Tites (black buttons) and neater slab scroll.  Hard plastic nut and bridge cut for 3 or 4 courses.  Overall length 37½”, upper bout 5¾”, lower bout 7½”, depth 2¼”, FBW 1½”, VSL 30″ (long scale), weight 2lb 7oz (1105g).  Original 6+ and 13+ frets.  Strings now 0.010, 0.014, 0.020w.

As with all the earlier Green Rivers, needs more bracing on the back, but still sounds big and mellow.  Has been repaired a little visibly in the past (pegbox crack, one side seam on back) and required further small cosmetic repairs to top and side seam (rather more discreetly this time, I hope!).  This history is reflected in the price – but what a lot of dulcimer for the money!  See pictures 7-9 below.  NB These were taken during final preparations, without strings or bridge/nut – just taking advantage of some early Autumn sun while it was there!  Now fully prepared, strung and checked.

2.64   #1909  4 String Hourglass   April 1983    £230

Small green semi-circular printed label with “Green/ River Dulcimers/ Asheville 26801/ Made by: Paul Griffith [handwritten]/ Serial # 1909  Date:  4/83”.  Three string, all solid walnut body with a particularly fine, figured walnut, bookmatched back.  F-hole and simple circular soundholes.  Single piece walnut fingerboard (not hollow I think), with 6+ and 13+ frets and markers at 3rd, 7th and 12th frets.  Long strum hollow; simple mushroom-headed pins as string anchors; Grover Sta-Tite tuners; neat scroll on walnut sandwich headstock; plastic nut and replacement buffalo horn compensated bridge.  Overall length 37½”, upper bout 5⅞”, lower bout 7½”, depth 2¼”, FBW 1½”, VSL 30″ (long scale), weight 2lb 8oz (1149g).  Original 6+ and 13+ frets.

Has a very lively back – changes tone noticeably when you play on your knee – but less lively top.  Some very light pick marking close to nearside soundhole and on far edge, otherwise in excellent order.   May be less suited to small hands because of its long scale length.  See pictures 4-6 below.

2.30   #2685:  December 1987  4 String Hourglass  £Sold

This is a grand dulcimer, both in scale and appearance, and is in excellent condition, very little used, if at all.  It has a bookmatched solid walnut back; deep, solid walnut sides; and a pretty walnut three piece headstock topped by a fretsaw-cut scroll with a tapered end.  It has efficient but straightforward Grover sta-tite mechanical friction, rather than geared, tuners.  The top is made from solid exotic hardwood with heart soundholes, a spectacular highly-figured streaky red-brown hardwood – Koa perhaps?  The solid single piece fingerboard is again walnut and has a full complement of frets (including the 6½ AND 13½) running for two octaves.  MOP inlay dots at 3rd, 7th and 12th frets.  Very hard plastic nut and replacement buffalo bone bridge, with slots for a variety of string configurations.  Four mushroom-headed pins as string anchors; rosewood cap for tail end of strings to run over (to protect endblock).  Overall length 37½”, upper bout 5¾”, lower bout 7½”, depth 2⅛”, FBW 1½”, VSL 30″ (long scale), weight 2lb 7oz (1115g).  Original 6½ fret.

This is an excellent example with its original, fitted shell case.  Intonation is pretty good with the new bridge.  Surprisingly, given its size, it is not overwhelmingly loud, but instead displays an unusually full and attractive tone, perhaps a little stronger on middle and bass frequencies.  See pictures 1-3 below.