The Gold Standard Dulcimer


Dulcimer players often joke about having DAD — Dulcimer Acquisition Disorder.

It’s true that most of us have more than one dulcimer, and some people have large collections of instruments. We can become addicted to “just one more instrument”. I, personally, have a relatively small collection, with “just” 5 mountain dulcimers (though, I have to admit that I also keep about a dozen student dulcimers and seem to have a revolving door of instruments passing through my home to pass onto young people who want to learn…. But that’s a whole other story!).

My very first quality mountain dulcimer, is to this day, my “gold standard” instrument. It was built by Joe Brown, a local Kansas luthier, who only made a few hundred instruments. I picked it out “all by myself” when I was ten years old. I had been playing dulcimer for a few years, and my parents were convinced that I would stick with it long enough to warrant investing in a quality instrument. Joe Brown, and his wife Dorothy, had about 20 dulcimers for sale at a Kansas bluegrass festival. I spent the WHOLE DAY playing each one. After several hours, I had it narrowed down to two favorites — one that was my favorite looking and one that was my favorite sounding. Several more hours later, I finally settled on my favorite sounding instrument, and it’s the one I teach with to this day!

.....make sure the new instrument makes me smile

at least as much as my gold-standard dulcimer! 

A few years later, in 2001, I was introduced to David McKinney and Modern Mountain Dulcimers. I was getting really interested in jamming, and my beloved Joe Brown dulcimer was just too quiet to hear very well. The Modern Mountain Dulcimers were LOUD and I loved the way the sounded when played with other instruments — DAD had struck! So, I placed my order and David built me a really beautiful, custom Modern Mountain Dulcimer made from koa wood. About six months after I got it, after playing many hours on it, I picked up my gold-standard Joe Brown dulcimer…. and I was devastated to realize that I didn’t like my brand new custom dulcimer nearly as much as I liked “Joe”. Tearfully, I called David McKinney and told him I didn’t love my new dulcimer and wondered if we might be able to try again…. Eventually, I picked out a walnut/spruce Modern Mountain Dulcimer, which became my primary instrument for many years — it’s the one I was playing when I won the National Mountain Dulcimer Contest in 2004.

Nearly ten years after I got my Modern Mountain Dulcimer, “Happy”, I was ready to try my hand at a fully chromatic mountain dulcimer. I heard Aaron O’Rourke playing a David Beede dulcimer, and DAD struck again! In 2010, I got my walnut/spruce fully chromatic David Beede dulcimer, which has been my primary performance instrument ever since. Its name is “June”. 

To round out my dulcimer collection, I eventually purchased for myself a second Joe Brown dulcimer — one that looks like the pretty dulcimer I played back when I got my first dulcimer, and a baritone dulcimer also made by Modern Mountain Dulcimer.

For now, my collection is complete, but I know DAD may strike again — and when it does, I’ll get my first Joe Brown dulcimer out and make sure the new instrument makes me smile at least as much as my gold-standard dulcimer! 

Erin Mae’s dulcimers (above, pictured from left to right):

“Joe” - built by Joe Brown in 1996 - my gold standard dulcimer

“Dorothy” - built by Joe Brown in ?? - it’s #338, but doesn’t have a date

“June” - built by David Beede in 2010

“Happy” - built by David McKinney/Modern Mountain Dulcimer in 2002

“Boomer” - built by David McKinney/Modern Mountain Dulcimer in 2002



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