Why Master Works?

How do you view car shopping?  Is it fun for you?  Do you fret over the decision for days, weeks, months or even years?  I used to – it was something I looked forward to – checking out the magazines and articles, options and colors.  Now, after a million miles (literally) of using up work vehicles, it’s just another time consuming job to replace the same stuff-carrying, trailer-towing, job-completing van that’s now unfortunately worn out.

How do you view dulcimer shopping?  Is it fun for you?  Are you excited about finding just the right one for you?  I hope it isn’t anything like my van-replacing experiences!  Nope – searching for a musical instrument should be a much more fun, soul-satisfying project.  It’s not important what the trailer-towing capacity or horsepower or cubic feet of storage space or time between servicing or whatever is.  It should be a challenge to discover the instrumental entity that completes your hearts yearning.

So, what is it that you are searching for?  What will make THE ONE just right for you?  Well, I hope that “the one” will be an inspiration that will cause many hours of practice time to magically appear in your lifestyle simply because of your appreciation for it’s voice.  I hope “the one” wells up such pride because of your “find” that a sunset never fades without your soaking up the music floating through your parlor from it.  I hope “the one” is smart, doing everything it should do without all the expected “baggage” of hammer dulcimers of the past.  I hope your treasure is just that – a highly respected and valued individual item of great worth – something you would consider retrieving if you only had one trip back to rescue something from your burning home.  I hope you become known for your new instrument and are always identified as the one who loves playing beautiful music on it wherever you go.  I know it will take a special instrument to accomplish all this – I have dedicated a huge portion of my life attempting to accomplish this challenging task.  Can my friends at MASTER WORKS and I succeed – can we satisfy YOUR needs?  Well… up to this printing, we have satisfied more than 8800 dulcimer fanatics!  But, that was yesterday – what do YOU want in your instrument today?

MASTER WORKS seeks to marry the foundations of the past (and the hammer dulcimer has a glorious past) with the most innovative ideas and modern needs of the present while seeking to understand the needs and desires of the future dulcimer player.  Music and instruments change.  We crave understanding what musicians of the future will demand of their instrument – not limiting, but enabling them to progress.  These innovations must evolve without sacrificing the tradition and beauty of an instrument that was played possibly before Christ walked the earth.

What identifies a MASTER WORKS hammer dulcimer?  Here are a few subjective comments from players over the years.  “FULLNESS without FOOLISHNESS.  COMPLETE but not COMPLICATED.  INNOVATIVE but not IMPOSSIBLE… TOTALLY COOL!”

And, what is the benefit of a neat new invention if not tried and tested?  How would you like to be a Marine on the line with a new weapon – raw and untested – “Now tell me again, Sarg, who built this and how many successful conflicts has it experienced?”  The Groves Musical Encyclopedia is full of thousands of “untested” prototypes of temporarily produced musical infatuations that have passed from reality to history.  While it is great to entertain our sense of historical adventure, I trust you are not interested in investing in historical entertainment but rather an instrument of historical value and respect (and of course, something really fun!) that will fulfill your musical needs now and in the future.

MASTER WORKS attempts to build a wonderfully portable instrument without sacrificing its structural integrity – not as easy to do as some might think.  The hammer dulcimer is full of stress – hundreds, or even a thousand or more, pounds of it!  What good is a personal instrument that’s sturdy but too heavy to travel with?  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, responsive.  More mass and structure requires more musical energy to mobilize it.  Less mass means more music!  Another wonderful thing I learned – it doesn’t have to weigh a ton to be durable and stable!

MASTER WORKS attempts to build instruments with a richer, mellower tone verses the more traditional tinny, thin, brassy voice of instruments of the past and most of them from the present.  I have had many folks speak to me after a concert commenting on how harp-like my instrument sounded.  Of course, how an instrument is played and treated musically is somewhat responsible for the outcome.  But that is exactly how I describe the instruments we build – they are 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 simultaneously capable of 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 everyones taste – no matter how different – comes purely from experience!

MASTER WORKS attempts to build a variety of dulcimer models to suit most everyone’s needs.  Student dulcimers (plywood and solid tops), full-sized instruments (Rosewood bridges and hand-picked Mahogany tops tapered to reduce stiffness and mass), chromatics (for those pushing beyond the traditional diatonic norms of the musical past), special editions (even lighter and more responsive due to honeycombed interiors and combinations of lighter woods in its structure with all the bells and whistles I would want in my personal instrument), sopranos (pint-sized reductions that take the concept of dulcimer portability and stability to a completely new level), and new old instruments from beyond the dulcimer world – bowed psalteries and zithers.

MASTER WORKS supports players, realizing the dulcimer community is only sprinkled throughout the nation and even the world.  Most of you do not have a wonderful organized club nearby to help keep your dulcimer feet on the ground or a dulcimer shop around the corner to help solve your dulcimer puzzles and problems.  We are committed to standing behind our instruments 100%.  I’m confident of our reputation – it is the backbone of my/our being successful for nearly three decades!  Also, I know the best way to succeed on the dulcimer is to be around other players as often as possible.  So, MASTER WORKS is committed to producing major dulcimer activities – by way of sponsoring numerous festivals in several states with tens of thousands of dollars worth of donated instruments, free advertisement for them in our publications and promoting them in all avenues of contact available to us.  The national dulcimer contest (Walnut Valley Association) recognizes our quality and sincere desire to help.   They have asked us to sponsor the national contest for 23 years straight!  It is a great reflection of our commitment to your success – before and, especially, after you have chosen your instrument of a lifetime, even if it isn’t one of ours.

So, take the time to hear the difference. Come by the workshop in Bennington, OK OR stop by and visit me at one of the dozens of  festivals and shows I attend each year all over the country. If I don’t have the instrument that sets your heart aflutter, we’ll make it! It would be our honor to do so.