Timeless Love Songs

Written by
Kyle Sherman
Published on
June 2, 2022 at 8:00:00 AM PDT June 2, 2022 at 8:00:00 AM PDTnd, June 2, 2022 at 8:00:00 AM PDT

Consider giving your sweetheart a Whamadiddle for Valentine’s Day, with a custom plaque to accompany it.

Recent PlaqueMaker customer William W. Burrows shares a story he’s written that describes the artistic work of North Carolina-based Windsong Instruments and the hand-crafted instruments they make. “They are true works of art, hand-crafted the same way as it was done 300 years ago,” William says. “Many people, including myself, purchase these custom-made, authentic old-fashioned dulcimers to hang on the wall as room decorations. One thing was missing – a plaque that explained the significance of the musical instrument.”

Here is more of William’s story:

Denver, NC resident Shirley Upchurch and her daughter Karen Knapp have been crafting musical instruments in Shirley’s home workshop for the last two decades. “I love to make musical instruments that are indigenous to our area here,” Shirley says. She expertly them in much the same way it was done hundreds of years ago. The “Mountain Dulcimer” – her favorite- is an authentic musical instrument used in honest “Old-Timey Music”, especially emanating from the Appalachian region. The instrument is sometimes called the “Appalachian Dulcimer”, “Lap Dulcimer”, “Lumberjack’s Piano” and even the “Whamadiddle. “I call them whatever the customer wishes!” Shirley says.

Shirley and Karen honed their skills when working side by side with Fred Wellborn, the well-known master wood craftsman who was raised in nearby Newton, NC. The instruments he created were masterpieces and his long-term goal was to pass his craft down to the next generation. Fred first hired Karen to be his apprentice and later Shirley joined his team. Karen is now teaching her daughter Mary this unique craft. Although Fred has since passed away, his techniques have been well preserved.

The four-stringed instrument is placed flat on one’s lap and plucked or strummed with the right hand while fretting with the left (fretting is a rubbing or swirling motion). It can be placed on a wooden table to boost the volume.

“Dulcimers are so versatile and can harmonize with nearly all types of Country and Folk music, and even Rock and Roll,” Karen says. “They can even imitate the sound of a bagpipe for Celtic music. Many of the early descendants of the area were Scots and Irish.”

Shirley’s husband Ken notes there is competition from various Asian countries to build these instruments on massive assembly lines, “but the quality of construction and resulting sound is not very good – and they don’t have the love and affection that Shirley and Karen put into each instrument.”

Shirley has experimented with almost every type of native wood. Her instruments are made of cherry, maple, walnut, ash, spruce and combinations of all these woods. “I want the sound to be pure, not thin or metallic. Each can be slightly different and unique.”

Dulcimers are made in several styles. Shirley generally crafts the four-string type. She’s not satisfied until she achieves a superior action, nice volume and bright tone. Sometimes, the sandpapering alone takes six weeks to achieve the pleasant tones.

Shirley says, “After all, the term dulcimer means, ‘sweet sound.’”

William placed a personalized PlaqueMaker plaque next to his Windsong dulcimer, which hangs in his living room, just like they do in an art museum.

“The plaque tells the history of Shirley’s Dulcimer Number 3121,” he says. “The Sycamore wood shows a slight imperfection from an old staple because the wood was actually recycled from a used wooden pallet. I love it. It makes great music and it is fine art.”

William chose an 8×10 silver aluminum plaque with border decorations. It uses contrasting black text to describe his dulcimer. The plaque is mounted on cherry wood and it has a useful key slot for hanging.

“I chose PlaqueMaker because it matches the beauty and craftsmanship of the instrument.”

Thank you for singing our song, William!

About Windsong Instruments

Makers of hand-crafted musical instruments. For further information contact Shirley Upchurch or Karen Knapp at Wingsong Instruments, 6481 King Wilkinson Road, Denver NC 28037. Tel: 828-302-3685. E-mail: maknapp@yahoo.com.