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Jim Ash Feature

September 9, 2022 - Jim Ash Feature

Good morning, Y'all!

I have to say how lucky I am. Really, really lucky. For the past 25 years, or so, I've been working with my dad. First I hired him as a computer programmer when he "retired" from his big-corporation job. Then, when I bought Folkcraft Instruments back in 2007, I moved him from an office to the wood shop, and have kept him busy working as a dulcimer builder ever since. My dad's father was a professional carpenter/woodworker and Dad was already pretty extraordinary in a wood shop before instrument building became my primary vocation. It made sense to use his skills in the shop!

Dad can do everything from running the computer-controlled tools to operating a piece of 4" x 6" sandpaper. He's got a pretty broad skill-set, really. Dad's musical background is pretty broad, too. He played clarinet in the 70s (even performing on stage with Linda Brockinton, dulcimer champion!), sang in lots of singing groups - church choirs, barbershop quartets and the like - both in Arkansas and in Indiana. Dad still plays - and sings - with the Woodburn (Indiana) Dulcimer Club every Tuesday evening.

Lately, I've put him in charge of fretboards and heads. The fretboard is easily the most complicated, fussy, and time consuming part of making a dulcimer. Especially on our new triple-racing-stripe Custom Series instruments.

jim ash installing frets

The above photo shows Dad using an arbor press to insert frets into a fingerboard. (I guess it's not, technically, a fretboard until there's a fret or two?) We could install the frets with a hammer, but they would end up bent - just a little - and that's a problem when trying to set the string height during setup.
We work with six kinds of fret wire and make fret slots in two distinct sizes - 0.5 millimeters and 0.6 millimeters - and we do both flat fretboards and radiused (curved) fretboards. Dad has a whole page of specs - details that are unique to each fretboard. It is quite fussy, but Dad's mind handles detail-oriented tasks really, really well.

I couldn't make a dulcimer without my dad's help. Regardless of the name on the tag inside, any instrument we've made since 2007 has had Dad's hand on it. So when you play a nice tune (especially a snappy fiddle tune), think of his contribution to your music, if you would!
Thanks for reading, and for giving me the opportunity to brag about one of my favorite people. I hope Y'all have a great Friday and can find time to make some music this weekend! Maybe on an instrument that my dad helped make for you...
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Richard Ash