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Folkcraft Instruments a handcrafted art

More Information

To find out more and see a catalog of their instruments go to www.folkcraft.com or call 1-800-433-3655.

Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 12:01 am

Though the name Folkcraft may be unknown to a lot of people, to those who play a mountain dulcimer, hammer dulcimer or ukulele the name is synonymous with high quality handcrafted instruments.

The company, 22133 Main St., Woodburn, employs eight people and turns out 10 instruments a week. Richard A. Ash, president of Folkcraft, said he bought the 46-year-old company seven years ago. He had been looking for an investment as an alternative to his Encore online sheet music business.

When he saw the Connecticut business advertised, he thought it would be a good fit. With a degree in music education Ash had been a high school teacher for several years before shifting over to his Woodburn-based online sheet music business. He already had a building that would prove to be the perfect size for the new venture.

“The day I purchased the company I had semis lined up in the parking lot and promptly moved everything back to Indiana,” Ash said.

They were able to get 30 days of shop time from the previous owner. Now seven years later Ash said they are doing well.

Their top seller is the mountain dulcimer, and many of their clientele are professional musicians. Mountain dulcimers start around $420 and can go as high as several thousand dollars depending upon the wood selected or custom inlays and sound holes. Instruments can be purchased already constructed; a basic off-the-shelf mountain dulcimer starts at $430. Hammered dulcimers start at $715, and ukuleles start at $520.

The dulcimer has its origins in the Appalachian Mountains, where early settlers designed and built the instrument in North Carolina and Virginia. It has no sharps or flats in its design, or as Ash said, no black keys like a piano. The hammer dulcimer is a totally different instrument; with a full chromatic scale it is very similar to a piano, but without a top. The strings are played with wooden spoons that give it the unique sound, not unlike a piano. Different versions of the hammer dulcimer can be found in different countries.

“The only things they have in common is the name,” Ash said.

In the past couple of years the company started building ukuleles, and that has become their second-best-selling line of instruments.

Ash said he is really the third owner of the company; the original founders were two brothers, Howard and Michael Rugg. They started the company in California back in 1969 after Howard Rugg heard a “hippy,” living in his parents' barn, play a mountain dulcimer. He liked the sound and decided to build his own. His brother got involved in the project, and before they knew it Capritaurus Dulcimers was born. The company later became know as Folk Roots Dulcimers.

Folkcraft still uses some of the original equipment, including a specially designed wood press that shapes the sidepieces of the mountain dulcimers. The two brothers originally designed the press by using salvaged heating elements from waffle irons the brothers purchased from a Salvation Army store.

Folkcraft uses 20 different varieties of wood to make their instruments; different woods have different sounds. Depending on the density and grain pattern the instrument will be stiffer or softer, which changes the tone.

One employee does the vast majority of assembly, while the other employees make the parts that are used to make the instruments. This allows them to use their most experienced person, Ash, to do the assembly.

During festival season, April through September, Ash spends much of his time on the road, demonstrating the instruments and giving the company the exposure it needs to reach their clientele. And they do online sales as well. There is a full display room in the Woodburn store for those who prefer to come to them. A small concert hall is right off the back of the store, and is used for performances. The company often brings in professional musicians from around the country to conduct educational workshops.