Master Works instruments, designed by Russell Cook, are among the few elite, performer-quality hammer dulcimers in the world. All our instruments are hand crafted in our workshop in Russell’s small hometown of Bennington, Oklahoma. We have been dedicated to setting the standard in innovative dulcimer design and building for more than 40 years. From our introductory Pioneer model to our professional and custom models, each dulcimer is constructed from the finest materials available, creating lightweight instruments with a rich, mellow tone that stands the test of time.
Russell built his first instrument in 1979 using materials from an old discarded piano. We’ve come a long way since then. Russell Cook and Master Works have built over 14,000 instruments. However, upon visiting our workshop, you won’t find a factory of machines manufacturing these beauties. Instead, you’ll be welcomed by a friendly “Howdy!” from a few good folks of southern Oklahoma dedicated to handcrafting the world’s finest hammer dulcimers.
Master Works Models
Master Works builds a variety of dulcimer models to suit everyone’s needs:
Workshop Video Tour
While playing around on a hammer dulcimer made from a kit belonging to his brother-in-law, Russell Cook’s imagination was stirred. One day while driving a school bus, he spotted an old junk piano sitting under a big oak tree. With permission from the owners, Russell took what he needed to build his first dulcimer in the spring of 1979. Teaching himself to play, he participated in several dulcimer festivals and competitions with his handmade instrument. Continuing to experiment, Russell even sold some of his dulcimers enabling him to buy tools and supplies for future instruments. Entering the Southern Regional Dulcimer Competition in 1981, Russell won first place. A few months later, he became National Champion.
Stepping out on faith, in October of 1981, Russell decided to devote his energies to building, playing, and recording the hammer dulcimer full time. Naming his business Wood ‘N Strings, he built approximately one thousand instruments during the 80s. While travelling the country and meeting hammer dulcimer players, Russell acquainted himself with their needs and desires for their instruments. He was even asked to produce a hammer dulcimer for the Walnut Valley National Contest in 1986. Only three of the country’s best craftsmen are invited to provide custom instruments for the winners. Today, Russell Cook and Master Works have been chosen to provide an instrument for the winners of the national contest for 34 years straight.
In 1991, Russell dedicated himself to building the “finest hammer dulcimers in the world,” inviting brothers Mark and Steve Tindle, both skilled luthiers, to join him. The name Master Works was chosen to represent craftsmen who are masters of their work, going about the work of the Master. Our logo is a cupped hand, palm-up, representing craftsmen building instruments by hand, while being “cradled in their Master’s hand.”
During 1991-93, Master Works produced 622 hammer dulcimers in Estes Park, Colorado. Primarily to escape the arid environment and excessive expense of the Colorado mountains and to be directly under Russell’s supervision, Master Works moved to Russell’s home town of Bennington in southeast Oklahoma in 1994. New jigs were designed, better tools were purchased, and more craftsmen were trained.
Master Works instruments are now considered to be among the very few elite, performer-quality hammer dulcimers in the world, just as the Russell Cook instruments were before them. In fact, Russell Cook/Master Works instruments have been the choice prize of more than 25 national champions at the Walnut Valley Festival.
Why Master Works? A Note from Russell
Your Dream Instrument
How do you view dulcimer shopping? Is it fun for you? Are you excited about finding just the right instrument? Searching for a musical instrument should be an enjoyable, soul-satisfying project. Discovering the instrumental entity that fulfills your heart’s yearning should be a gratifying experience. What are you searching for? What will make “the one” exactly right for you? Well, I hope that “the one” will be an inspiration, causing many hours of practice time to magically appear in your lifestyle simply because of your appreciation for its voice. I hope “the one” elicits such pride that a sunset never fades without your soaking up its harmonies. I hope “the one” is smart, doing everything it should do without the “baggage” of hammer dulcimers of the past. I hope your treasure is just that: a highly-respected and valued item of great worth, something you would retrieve if you had only one trip back to your burning home. My desire is for you to become known for your performance of beautiful music on your new instrument. It will take a special piece to accomplish this, and I have dedicated a huge portion of my life to realizing this challenging goal.
Leader in Innovation
Master Works seeks to marry the glorious foundations of the hammer dulcimer’s past while creating innovations to meet the needs of the modern dulcimer player. Music and instruments change. We recognize the demands of future musicians, providing them an instrument without limits, enabling momentum as they expand their craft. These innovations must evolve without sacrificing the tradition and beauty of an instrument that has been played for many generations.
Master Works builds portable instruments without sacrificing structural integrity. The hammer dulcimer abounds with hundreds of pounds of stress, complicating the process of producing a portable instrument. What good is a personal instrument that’s sturdy but too heavy to transport? In the process of building hundreds of experimental dulcimers, I discovered something wonderful: less mass and stiffness not only lightened the dulcimer but also made it livelier, louder, fuller, and more responsive. A hammer dulcimer doesn’t have to weigh a ton to be durable and stable. While successfully reducing bulk and weight, Master Works has maintained the highest standards of structural integrity, providing the ideal performance experience.
Rich, Mellow Voice
Master Works builds instruments with a richer, mellower tone versus the traditional tinny, thin, brassy voice of past instruments and most produced by present-day manufacturers. I have had many folks comment after a concert on the harp-like sound of my instrument. Of course, how an instrument is played is somewhat responsible for the outcome. But that is how I describe Master Works instruments: almost a hybrid of piano, harp, and mandolin in voice. They are musically versatile, capable of playing wonderful hymns, harp tunes, and love songs with great emotion, while also adept at performing American traditional fiddle tunes, Irish jigs, and complicated jazz and classical melodies with clarity and power. Sustain is often of great concern to many, especially experienced players. Sustain is not a product of tone but of basic engineering, mostly of the bridges and bridge caps. In other words, it can be varied tremendously on a single instrument design. The ability to satisfy everyone’s taste comes purely from the level of experience attained by the craftsmen at Master Works.
Tried and Tested
And, what is the benefit of a new invention if not tried and tested? The Groves Musical Encyclopedia is full of thousands of untested prototypes of musical infatuations that did not survive the test of time. When you invest in a Master Works hammer dulcimer, you are vested in an instrument of historical value that will fulfill your musical needs now and in the future.
Come See Us!
Take the time to hear the difference. Come by the workshop in Bennington, Oklahoma, or visit me at one of the festivals and shows I attend each year all over the country. If I don’t have the instrument that sets your heart aflutter, we will make it! It will be our honor to do so.
Our Organization is Here for the Hammer Dulcimer Community
Master Works supports players, realizing the dulcimer community is sprinkled throughout the nation and even the world. Most performers do not have an organized club nearby to keep their dulcimer feet on the ground or a dulcimer shop around the corner to solve dulcimer puzzles and problems. At Master Works, we know that the best way to succeed on the dulcimer is by associating with other players as often as possible. We remain committed to sponsoring numerous dulcimer festivals in several states with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of donated instruments, free advertisement in our publications, and promotions in all available avenues.
QuaranTUNE Dulcimer Festival
Master Works is proud to be host sponsor of the QuaranTUNE 2.0 Dulcimer Festival on August 28-30, 2020. Join us online for this global virtual event with live workshops and concerts, supporting dulcimer artists affected by the shutting down of the American economy and arts festivals. Please visit http://virtualdulcimerfest.com for details and to enjoy along with us!
“Fullness without foolishness.”
“Complete but not complicated.”
“Innovative but not impossible.”