I've played several new dulcimers in recent days and there are two that deserve very special mention. One is custom instrument from Paul Conrad, which I will write about at length later.
The other is an astonishingly inexpensive ($135) all-cherry dulcimer from Rodney Hensley in Kentucky. It is a remarkable, professional-calibre instrument sold at far below its real value.
When I first took the instrument out of the box, I was very happy, but not quite blown away. It's made of a very handsome piece of seasoned cherry, apparently from an old barn. Top and back are both bookmatched. The fattened waist and carved pegs are also very pleasing, but the overly-large dove soundholes prevent me from calling the aesthetics perfect.
The instrument intonated terribly, but the moveable bridge offered hope. After tapping and wiggling the bridge while testing the frets against the harmonics, and tuning and retuning for close to 45 minutes, I brought the instrument into good pitch without filing the bridge or nut. The intonation is now comparable with with many of the better dulcimers I own.
The wooden tuning pegs are snug but smooth -- among the nicest fit I've ever come across, actually. Tuning is accurate and easy.
And the sound --- my, my my. Luxurious and shimmering, all the way through to the highest notes on the fretboard. Powerfully resonant with great clarity. The timbre reminds me of a fine viola.
After playing it for two hours or so, I realized I had a gem. The wonderfully crafted joints, the subtle edging, the seductively dark cherry are reminiscent of a Mize. Only this instrument intonates better than a Mize does, and is quite a bit louder, too. The overall quality far exceeds that of dulcimers I paid more than $400 for.
I recommend this instrument *not* for beginners, but for intermediate and advanced players who can adjust the bridge themselves and appreciate the subtle refinements of sound this dulcimer offers.
$135? The price is absurdly low and unsustainable. Eventually, he'll either raise his prices or stop making them. If you see one, grab it --- especially one with smaller soundholes.
photo by Bill Howard
Full photo album of this instrument:
http://s272.photobucket.com/albums/jj19 ... %20CHERRY/