Eubank nursery owner will make you a dulcimer and teach you how to play it

jwarren@herald-leader.comJuly 11, 2014 

  • Berea Craft Festival features artists' booths, live music

    When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Historic Indian Fort Theater, Berea. Follow signs from Exits 76 or 77 off Interstate 75.

    Admission: $6 adults, $5 seniors, free for children younger than 12

    Learn more:

EUBANK — Mark Eubank put strings on a brand new dulcimer he'd just made last week, strummed it a few times ... and did not like what he heard.

But he grabbed a tiny saw, made a groove on the dulcimer's bridge a hair's breadth deeper, and solved the problem. When he played some chords of Amazing Grace, the golden sound filled his little workshop.

"That one's done," Eubank said, hanging the finished dulcimer on the wall with several others he hopes to sell at this weekend's Berea Craft Festival.

Eubank, 61, has been making and selling dulcimers for about 18 years, and his standards are demanding. He doesn't consider an instrument finished until it sounds exactly right, not matter how long it takes.

Eubank recalls a man who ordered a dulcimer from him some years ago.

"He said, 'I'm not going to rush you.' And I said, 'You couldn't anyway, because I'm not going to rush. I want it done right.'"

Eubank's "done right" dulcimers are in demand. When the Berea festival ends Sunday, he will travel straight to Asheville, N.C., for a weeklong crafts show there. He figures to hit 13 shows in various parts of the country over the next 15 weeks.

When he isn't making dulcimers, Mark Eubank runs a nursery business in Eubank with his wife. And if you're wondering, yes, the town (which straddles the Pulaski County-Lincoln County line) is named for one of his ancestors, Wesley Eubank, who came from Virginia in the early 1800s.

In an era when handmade things are increasingly rare, Eubank finds his greatest satisfaction in his workshop, quietly turning old wood into beautiful new dulcimers.

He makes what you might call "standard" dulcimers, and also custom models featuring exotic woods or special touches ordered by customers. He insists, however, that every dulcimer he makes is a little different, and therefore unique.

"It would be simpler if I used jigs and forms to shape them," he says. "But I don't want them to look like they'd all been stamped out of a mold."

His standard dulcimers sell for $275 to $550. But if you want one with exotic wood — say, koa or Brazilian rosewood — you might pay two or three times that.

He especially enjoys it when someone brings him some wood from an old tree or a fallen-down barn on a family farm, and asks him to make a dulcimer out of it.

No matter what the style, Eubank never gets tired of making dulcimers.

"I can be at a craft show like Asheville, where I stay a week, and when it's over I can't wait to get back to the shop and get to work," he said.

Maybe that's because dulcimer-making combines his two personal passions: woodworking and music making.

He loves dealing with wood — "It talks to you," he says — and he's been a musician most his life. He began playing guitar around age 13 and figures his musical knowledge and skill help him make better dulcimers.

"Someone who has never picked up an instrument, I can show them in a few minutes how to play a tune on the dulcimer," he said. "It's a real thrill to see someone buy a dulcimer and come back a few days later grinning from ear to ear saying, 'You know what? I can play Amazing Grace!' They just get so thrilled.

"That's really why I do this."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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