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How Not to Buy a Dulcimer

Denny and I sat in the studio of David McKinney in Batesville, Arkansas settling in on her new “Modern Mountain Dulcimer”. In truth, the decision had already been made before we even got there. Denny had told him the day before what she wanted. He said, “I think I have just the thing!” But, then she and he both said simultaneously, “But, You need to play it before you buy it!”

Denny got off the phone and looked at me. We have been married 45 years now. I knew at that point there was only one thing for me to say. Two words actually, “Let’s go!” Thus began a rather interesting saga of a 30 hour “road trip” to Batesville, Arkansas. Some would have considered this to be a bit impulsive and insane. But, when there is a little baby dulcimer out there who needs to be adopted; there is only one thing to do. Drop everything and go!

This was very much like some road trip out of which one might make a movie. I will list the events as they unfolded in a cursory fashion and leave you to fill in the details using your imagination.

1. Last minute trip for me to McConnell Air Force Base to handle ID card problem for our daughter. [It actually took about 3 hours] This had to be handled before we could go anywhere.

2. Started trip to Morrilton, Arkansas at 4:00 p.m. [With Denny and puppy dogs and money] [Apparently one cannot leave little Pekingese home alone overnight!]

3. Called son in Broken Arrow and determined there was no way possible to catch them for supper.

4. Grabbed food at Charlie’s Chicken in Sand Springs at 8:00 p.m. [yum] [Everything was carbs] [puppy dogs got nothing except water]

5. Somewhere in Western Arkansas stopped for puppy dogs to get rid of water. 6. Arrived at Morrilton, Arkansas around 11:00 p.m. and discovered that Super 8 does not allow pets! [This detail was not mentioned on the web page] [Solved this problem with the hotel manager with the agreement to keep the dogs off the bed and in their crates all night] [puppy dogs unofficially listed on hotel register as “therapy dogs”]

7. Next day gave puppy dogs much love and exercise in yard behind the hotel.

8. Left for Batesville at 9:00 a.m.

9. Encountered THICK [I MEAN REALLY THICK!!!] fog on mountain roads.

10. Arrived at Modern Mountain Dulcimer and met David McKinney at 11:30 a.m. [He offered to let our puppy dogs exercise in his yard]

11. Sat down to talk dulcimer with David McKinney.

That was the just first half of the trip. We had a great conversation with David. As I mentioned earlier, Denny had already decided which dulcimer she wanted to get. After playing it for only a few minutes she confirmed that it was the one! He showed her a few others. She tried them. Liked them. But, came back to the original choice every time. Even so, this was a decision that only could be made by hands-on consideration. David also said something worthy to note:

“Many people look at a dulcimer and make a decision based on looks. Many builders build with this kind of shopper in mind. Looks are one thing but sound and feel are everything!”

I have seen this to be true time and time again. Some dulcimers made from exotic woods sound fabulous! But not always. I have frequently been surprised by instruments made from common materials that sound great. Now, I am not saying don’t look at beautiful instruments. But, before you buy a dulcimer made from “Spalted Nimbicky” make sure you take some time to play it and see how it sounds.

So Denny bought her dulcimer. It is beautiful! It sounds phenomenal. We loaded it and the puppy dogs back in the car, [and Denny too] and started back. I won’t bore you with a running account of the return trip. It was likewise memorable. We made it back but it was the long classic "road trip" complete with drama, long high-speed interstate-highway runs, dirty inconvenient convenience stores, and Ozark mountain fog again. The puppy dogs held up like little troopers.

There was one point where we were almost killed by a truck driver who crossed over the lane in front of us to exit left just as we were passing. He did not use turn signals. I think this is what caused me to loose locational awareness and not to think to buy gas; because it was not long before the “empty-tank-alarm” in the car went off. We had to exit the turnpike and drive to “Somewhere in Oklahoma” to buy gas before we ran out! [Grateful for “Gas apps” on the phone!] When I did fill the tank at an inconvenient convenience store there was less than half a gallon left in the tank!

We arrived home at 11:45pm. Tired. Puppy dogs were most happy. Denny played for quite a while in spite of the time. All is well.

Gary Bell President

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