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Modern Mountain Hourglass Dulcimers

Dulcimers from David McKinney’s Modern Mountain Dulcimer workshop, Batesville, Arkansas.  David had a dual career as sales trainer and cabinet maker, before in 1994 discovering a way to combine his woodworking skill and musical knowledge in a new career as a luthier.  He apprenticed under Zeke Eltzroth in Mountain View, Arkansas to learn to build mountain dulcimers and psaltries.  Since then he has built more than 2000 high quality mountain dulcimers.  He strives to build high performance dulcimers with accurate intonation and great playability.  His dulcimers are a popular choice for many top professionals in the US.  The design is David’s own – a big-bodied dulcimer with a modern guitar-style one-sided headstock and (usually) a resonator back, built specifically for modern chord-melody play, especially fingerpicking.

2.105    2003 3 String Hourglass (non-resonator) Dulcimer – £Sold

In pencil on inside back, “AOW Thanks/ 10/03   #722/ David McKinney [signature]”.  Non-resonator back model with an all walnut body, nicely figured particularly on the bookmatched back, with some lighter sapwood tones.  Bookmatched spruce top.  Older style angled guitar-type headstock, made from walnut.  Chrome Gotohs and strap buttons.  Walnut fingerboard with MoP markers at frets 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17.  Has 6+ and 13+ frets but not extra 1+ or 8+.  Bone (?) nut and compensated bridge.  Usual cantilevered fingerboard at the bridge location and simple soundhole design, made from different size circles.  Mushroom-headed pin string anchors are inset in tail and run through deep channels in the end of the fingerboard.  Overall length 37½”, upper bout 6⅝”, lower bout 8″, depth 2⅜”, FBW 1½”, VSL 27″, weight 2lb 7oz (1199g), strings 0.012, 0.014, 0.024w.  Has 6+ and 13+ frets.

Sounds very similar to the resonator-back models – clear, balanced and loud (but not shouty).  it also shares the family characteristics of easy playability, with good intonation and straightforward action.  A very impressive dulcimer.

2.58   2008 or 2011 (?)  3 String Hourglass (resonator) Dulcimer – £595 inc. soft case

In pencil:  “AOW  Thanks!/ 08/11 (?) #1221 (?)/David McKinney [signature]”.  #1221 is made almost entirely from an attractive dark Peruvian walnut, including the fingerboard overlay.  Only the inner Galax-type back is maple (?).  The outer back is bookmatched with a darker strip down the middle.  2½ octave fretboard with hardwood nut and bridge and 1+, 6+, 8+ and 13+ frets with mother of pearl dots (smaller at treble end) on 3,5, 7, 10, 14 etc.  David’s innovative cantilevered tailpiece adds volume and the strings are inset to the right of the bridge, allowing players to rest the edge of their hand on it for extra stability when picking.  This has the earlier rounded point on the RH side of the headstock.  There is a pickup mounted internally on a floating plate, in the middle of the back, running out to a jack on the nearside.  Gold Gotohs and strap buttons.  Overall length 37¾”, upper bout 6½”, lower bout 8″, depth 2⅜” [3” with galax back], FBW 1½”, VSL 27″, weight 3lb 1oz (1402g).  Has the full complement of 1½, 6½, 8½ and 13½ frets.

Lovely full sound, as with all the other MMs, but perhaps a little softer and sweeter as a result of the all-walnut construction.  Usual great action and intonation, with the added bonus of an original under-saddle pickup for sound reinforcement.  See pictures 5-7 below.

2.80  2003  #667   £Sold

Handwritten in pencil, directly on the back of the dulcimer, “A.O.W.  Thanks!/ 4/03 #667/ David C McKinney [signature]”.  Body is made of poplar, including the resonator back (with central mahogany? purfling line), and it has a spruce top.  Fingerboard may also be poplar, but with an attractive osage orange overlay; MoP markers at frets 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 and 14 (twin markers on the octaves); extra frets at 1+, 6+, 8+, 13+.  Bone nut and compensating bridge.  High fingerboard, with distinctive arch over tail, behind the bridge.  Fender-style flat, angled peghead fitted with Gold Gotohs.  Unlike later models, has a conventional 4 string layout.  Overall length 37¼”, upper bout 6½”, lower bout 8⅛”, depth 2⅜” [3” with galax back], FBW 1⅝”, VSL 27″, weight 2lb 12oz (1242g).  Has the full complement of 1½, 6½, 8½ and 13½ frets.  Current strings 10[/10], 14, 22w.

Purchased by the previous owner from Aaaron O’Rourke, one of the best known of the younger generation of MD players and a favourite teacher at US dulcimer festivals.  He was winner of the 2010 US National Mountain Dulcimer Competition, held in Winfield, Kansas.  Aaron’s signature is on the back.  Plays very easily, with an almost guitar-type tone.  Loud, as you would expect, but not overwhelming and well-balanced.  Very responsive to different styles of playing.  Delightful!