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 80’s. 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 national contest in 1986. Only three of the country’s best craftsmen are invited to provide custom instruments for the winners. As of 2007, Russell Cook and Master Works instruments have been chosen to provide an instrument for the winners of the National Contest 23 years straight.
In 1991, Russell dedicated himself to building the “finest Hammer Dulcimers in the world,” inviting Mark Tindle (known for his exquisite mountain dulcimers) and Steve Tindle to join him. The name Master Works was chosen representing craftsmen who are masters of their work, about the work of the Master. Their logo was that of 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 mountains in Colorado and to be more directly under Russell’s supervision, Master Works moved to Bennington in southeast Oklahoma (Russell’s home town) in 1994. New jigs were designed, better tools were purchased, and more craftsmen were trained. By the end of 2007 Master Works/Russell Cook will have made over 10,000 instruments!
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 chosen by the winners 16 times (through 2007) since being invited to participate as contest sponsors in 1986 at the National Hammer Dulcimer Contest. Master Works is committed to excellence–not just in their handcrafted instruments, but in their service and responsibility to promote and sponsor dulcimer activities. Long after the first notes flow from a new Master Works instrument, these craftsmen will be working to fulfill the needs of musicians, just as Russell continues in his commitment to excellence!