Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

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Month: May 2008 Page 1 of 2

Davy Crockett’s Dulcimer?

This clip is from “The World,” a New York City newspaper dated August 30th, 1900:


Crockett’s Dulcimer


“Here is a dulcimer which belonged to the great pioneer Davy Crockett. It was made by a French army officer who served under Lafayette. It is now owned by Geo. F. Crockett of Philadelphia, a second cousin of the original owner.”

A Palm Full of Wood Shavings

I was joining a two piece maple dulcimer back this afternoon.

I shoot the joint with a jointer plane; a Stanley #7. The throat is set tight and I hone the blade with a back bevel which roughly gives me a 55 degree cutting angle. Having the plane set up this way lets me make very light passes and leaves a surface free of tear-out on most hardwoods.

After shooting the joint I saw this small pile of thin, fluffy maple shavings sitting on my bench. I picked them up. The sun coming through the window fell on the shavings.

A Palm Full of Wood Shavings

I find so much joy in this.

One More Coat of Finish

These four dulcimers are in the home stretch. Today they will get one more coat of finish and in a few days I will be rubbing out the finishes and setting them up.

One more coat of finish

I tend towards a thin finish on the soundboard and a few more coats on the back and sides. The thinner finish on the soundboard allows more of the tonal characteristics of the wood to be heard while the slightly thicker finish on the back and sides helps protect the dulcimer a little more from normal wear and tear.

Attention To Detail

I am currently at the finishing stage of making two CDs and five dulcimers. It is at this stage that my eyes and ears become increasingly more critical of my work.

What began as a burst of creative force transmutes into discernment. The dark side of this process for me is when the critical eye or ear focuses on faults rather than the complete message of the work at hand.

I aspire to do the best work I am capable of yet I also have to have a reasonable expectation of what defines the best work I can accomplish.

dilemmaAnd what defines the best work I am capable of executing? Is it the overall design, look, feel and tone of an instrument or that slight imperfection in the finish? Is it the overall experience of a piece of music or that note I sang that seems a little bit off pitch?

Should I leave things as they are because they are working beautifully or redo some aspect of the work because it could be a little better?

Surely it will be even better next time but what about now?

I’m curious to hear from other creative people about their thoughts on this process. Please comment if so inspired.

forest retreat

Chuang Tzu on Craftsmanship

Woodworker Qing made elaborately carved wooden bell stands.

When others saw the completed bell stands, they were startled and thought they must have been created by supernatural beings.

The Marquis of Lu saw one of them and asked: “What special art (artistic skill) do you have to be able to do this?”

He replied, “Your humble servant is merely an artisan. What special artistic ability could I have?

However, I do use one system.

forest retreatWhen I’m about to create a bell stand, I’m careful not to expend too much of my vital energy, so I have to first settle my mind and heart in calmness.

For three days I prepare myself by giving up on any ideas of praise or rewards for my work.

The next five days I prepare by not being concerned whether my work will be criticized or considered to be not perfect enough.

Then for seven days I prepare myself by forgetting about the prescribed shapes of things including the shape of my own body. By that time I’ve lost all consideration as to what the royal court would demand of me, concentrate completely on my task, and outside influences just disappear.

Then I enter the mountain forests and observe the naturalness of the heavens. By seeing that all the shapes around me are complete of themselves, I can envision a completed bell stand. At that point I can actually start working with my hands, but not until then.

It’s because I use the heavens to fit perfectly with the heavens that some suspect my tools were used by spirits. That’s all there is to it!”

-Chuang Tzu

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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