No two instruments are the same for Berea dulcimer maker

Spirit of the Bluegrass
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BEREA, Ky. (WDKY) — Warren A. May has pep in his step when he goes to his workshop. There are so many projects to finish.

“This could be cut some modern ways, but people know I cut them by hand,” he says, while turning a knothole into a hummingbird at his workbench. “Each one’s a little different.”

May fell in love with dulcimers when he was teaching industrial arts in Louisa, Kentucky 50 years ago. He said he was inspired by other musicians in the schools and the community.

“I made one, and then immediately starting making ten. “Then word got out.”

Did it ever. His reputation for fine handiwork struck a chord with musicians and art collectors. Now, he has buyers all over the world.

“We do,” he said. “We just sent one to Singapore.”

May says when the uninitiated are introduced to this mountain instrument, they’re hooked because it’s so easy to play.

“Three strings and two notes and you can sing almost any ballad or country or gospel song,” he said.

So how popular are his dulcimers? He numbers each one and will soon hit 19,000, meaning he’s averaged more than one a day over the past half century.

Probably no one else has made as many dulcimers as he has.

“Not start from scratch,” he said. “Some of the music shops in Arkansas have made many many more. But they have streamlined the process with much less handwork.”

It’s that handwork that makes his dulcimers pieces of art, crafted from native woods as varied as cherry, walnut and tulip poplar. Prices start at $400 and go up from there, depending on the wood and level of decoration.

May worked out of a retail shop in Berea for years, but recently closed it, selling now through his website and Facebook page. He says he’s “semi-retired,” but it’s hard to tell it. He’s still in his home workshop every day– carving, singing, and enjoying life.

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