Ken Bloom wrote:I became aware of the dulcimer in the 60's and a good friend of mine, Robbie Long got into building dulcimers at that time. This was in California. All the dulcimers I saw had full width frets and, as far as I know, Robbie only made them with full width frets.
Ken's remarks suggest another feature of the progression of full-width frets -- a geographic one.
It seems reasonable to make the conjecture that in places like the West Coast and New England in the mid 1960s, to where the instrument was imported, dulcimers had full-width frets from the get-go, while half-width staples persisted for a while longer in the dulcimer heartland, where older makers were transitioning to full-width frets, and newer makers starting out with them. It also seems that at least some North Carolina builders had a full-width-fret tradition, and all of them started abandoning stapled frets as early as the late 1950s, whereas this did not happen in Kentucky for another few years, perhaps because of the strength of the tradition revolving around Jethro Amburgey, Jess Patterson and the settlement schools. I've never seen an Amburgey (who died in 1971) with full-width frets. I have two Pattersons; the one dated 1962 has half-width stapled frets, and the one dated 1968 has full-width stapled frets. Other than that one, every Kentucky dulcimer I've seen from the mid-1960s or earlier had half-width frets. In Tennessee, too, there seems to have been both full-width and half-width traditions, with the latter dominating before disappearing quickly sometime in the mid-1960s. I have no idea what was going on in Arkansas before Lynn McSpadden started building there.
There's no question that Jean was the first and most important evangelist of the instrument in New York, and that the first Kentucky hourglasses she brought there had half-width frets, as did the first instruments she built there. But she appears to have decided pretty early on to build (and have built) full-width-fret dulcimers to market in New York.