CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in the later 20th century

Dave Williams, (d. 1997), Totton, Hampshire

To all the makers and players mentioned so far in this section, the dulcimer is a subsidiary interest, in many cases something of a novelty to be exploited for its unusual sound. To discover players with a deeper interest, we must look to the influence of David Williams, a buyer for an international electronics firm, whose over-riding interest in life is involving people in creative music-making cheaply and easily.

To this end he has made square guitars, countless bowed psalteries, a simple crwth, a devil's fiddle (something between a banjo and a cello, also known as hum-strum) and many other gadgets; he is also a talented entertainer, with the ability to realise the music potential of any artifice, whatever its original purpose, but specialising in melodion and guitar.

A portrait by his mother Ruby, of the proud maker of his first dulcimer which later became mine and opened so many doors in so many countries

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Detail from a Gloria painted by Cornelisz van Oostzanen, dated 1512

David's interest in the dulcimer was first captured by a little entry in The Observer's Book of Music - as indeed was my own - and when he consequently saw Jimmy Cooper's instrument, he decided to have a go at making one; he borrowed it for a week and produced quite a different instrument, one which happened to be remarkably similar to that portrayed in Cornelisz van Oostzanen's painting of 1512, and which is now my normal performing instrument. David simplified the stringing, using only double courses, and says of more complex systems, "I personally can see no advantage, other than being able to tell more jokes while tuning up"(44); he also added side panels, so that a lid could be added, having lugs to fit inside these panels, a spontaneous regeneration of the form of many older instruments. All his later instruments, however, revert to the form more normal today, where the blocks themselves form the sides, and the front and back panels are more nearly flush with the soundboard.

He has made two instruments with triple courses, one of them with only one bridge, for Ashley Hutchings; David considers that neither has a very satisfactory tone but has no idea why this should be. More recently, he has made a series of dulcimers using cedar for the soundboard, all with high bridges, and well-spaced courses: the tone of these is very luxuriant, almost velvet, and they sound particularly fine when plucked. All David's instruments have his personality indelibly printed upon them: bold, clear and simple, primarily functional, with aesthetic considerations coming second but nonetheless catered for in his own individual style.

Plans based on the more recent instruments have been published in Sing Out! magazine (44) and more recently in my own book (45) and were privately circulated before that, and a number of enthusiasts have made instruments from them: Neil Bettinson, Whitehaven; Paul Buckle, Winchester; Bob Green, Bristol; Griff Jones, Lutterworth; Marek Kaminski, Wolverhampton; Bob Longstaff, Hersham; Pru, Loughborough; David Phillpot, Reading; Dick Spencer, Nottingham; Bruce Watson, London; Christopher White, Sevenoaks.

You can read the address given by Rev. David Slater at Dave's funeral