Return From Black Mountain, North Carolina
October 21, 2022
Good Morning, Y'all!
As you're reading this, it's very likely I'm in the middle of driving back to the shop - in Woodburn, Indiana - from the amazing Black Mountain Music Fest in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
I'm going to talk about quality today. It is kind of a nebulous subject, but in some ways, it isn't nebulous at all.
I'll use machine heads as an example, but this could apply to most anything we buy or make. Anything that goes into building dulcimers for you all. Since we don't have a metal shop, we must buy all the machine heads (sometimes people call them tuners or "gear thingies") we use for our instruments. Thankfully, there are lots of good sources for high-quality machine heads.
With that said, we work with one American manufacturer, one in Europe, and one in Korea. The American company has really slipped lately, quality-wise, so we no longer carry their tuners because the cost (at $100 to $200 a set) wasn't worth the new (lower) quality we were seeing. Our European supplier is definitely a budget manufacturer. We will sell their machine heads to home-instrument builders, but make it clear in our product description that we have better options available. We don't use the European tuners on the instruments we build. Our Korean supplier? Premium quality, at a fair price, so most of our machine heads now come from this company.
But back to my original thought, now, talking about quality. I could sell a dulcimer with a flat head for $40 less than I do now, IF I chose to put the less expensive machine heads on the instrument, but I made the decision years ago to always go for the best quality I could lay my hands on. This applies to labor in the shop, lacquer, machine heads, strings, cases, and all the other little things that make up your finished instruments. It all adds up, in the form of one hundred little details, to make the best instrument we possibly can. But it also adds up in the total price of an instrument.
This thinking has served us well over the years. We're always pushing for something that will make a better instrument, and after building instruments for 54 years (since 1968) it seems like everything we do is an incremental upgrade. But 54 years of upgrades adds up, doesn't it? I look at the earliest FolkRoots Dulcimers, or the earliest Folkcraft dulcimers, and compare them to today's instruments, and see 50+ years of quality improvements. I'm trying to be particular about every little detail and make the best quality instruments I can make.
I would like to thank each and every one of you for allowing us to constantly innovate. Knowing that y'all like the little details, as much as I do, gives all of us at the shop great incentive to constantly push our capabilities. And make you better and better dulcimers!
Thank you for reading - happy playing!