Where Dulcimers Are Born
A Visit with Homer Ledford

The Appalachian dulcimer is the Kentucky's official instrument. There are several craftsmen in the state who hand-make the instrument, including Homer Ledford of Winchester.

If you're looking for Homer Ledford’s workshop, check behind his house. You can't miss it because there is a hand-carved dulcimer on the mailbox. Inside, there are stacks of wood, various saws and drill bits along with instruments in various states of repair.


Perched on a stool, Homer Ledford begins the dulcimer-making process at his saw.

Homer Ledford has been crafting Appalachian dulcimers since 1946. He's working on number 5,963 right now. It's a labor intensive process that has to meet tough standards: his own.

Homer lucked into his profession by being in the right place at the right time. While a student at a vocational school in North Carolina, a handicraft guild in New York city requested some dulcimers to sell. (The instrument was gaining popularity in the East thanks to folk musician Jean Ritchie who incorporated the dulcimer in her work with under-privileged kids in New York.) Homer jumped at the chance to fill the original orders with his own creations. Until then, he had only made a fiddle from cast off wood. His dulcimers sold quickly and soon there were more orders to fill. Homer started producing 200 a year. That wasn't his only source of income, though. He also taught industrial arts. But he had to quit teaching in 1965 to devote more time to dulcimer making.

Ledford inspects a recently cut dulcimer top.

Homer Ledford works by himself. He says he doesn't have time to teach an apprentice. His son, Mark, used to help a little in the shop but he favors computers over wood. Homer prefers to work with walnut, spruce, cherry and butternut woods: the thinner, the better. He gets some of his wood from old barns and churches. The machines he uses include electric drills, fret and coping saws, a table sander and lathe. But he considers his "basic" tool a pocketknife.

Homer Ledford’s first dulcimers sold for $20. Number 5,000 brought the highest price he's received at $1,200.

Homer owns more than a dozen of his own creations including acoustic, fretless, bowed, and eight-string dulcimers. One of his Appalachian dulcimers is on a rotating display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC along with a 5-string banjo and his dulcitar, an instrument that is part dulcimer, part guitar

Ledford also repairs various instruments including guitars.

Homer knows where most of his creations are because all but the first 100 have a serial number and he keeps a record of the number and owner. He also logs any repair work he's done on the instruments. Homer is a master repairman with the C.F. Martin Company and spends more time these days “fixing" rather than "making" instruments. But at age 75, he says he doesn't plan to stop crafting dulcimers anytime soon.

Learn more
Homer Ledford's website
University Press of Kentucky book about Ledford

Homer Ledford story and photos by WEKU's Marie Mitchell.
Dulcimer photo courtesy Kentucky Arts Council