In the Smokies region, history is all around you. Some might think that this history mostly just involves all the historic buildings in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and nearby, but there’s also an important musical legacy available to all who are curious, and there are two experts in Townsend with tons of knowledge on the subject. Connie and Mike Clemmer own the Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop and keep an Appalachian musical tradition alive around the world with their handmade dulcimers.
Decades of Knowledge
Mike first began building dulcimers as a hobby in 1976, and eventually he and Connie opened up their shop. Each dulcimer takes weeks to build, using local woods like walnut, sassafras, butternut, cherry, or wormy chestnut, and customers can custom-order their own dulcimer with the soundhole pattern design that suits them.
Plenty of Innovation
Mike invented an instrument called the Ban-Jammer, his own banjo-dulcimer hybrid. Known for its distinct sound, ease of playability, and high-quality construction, the Ban-Jammer is tons of fun for musicians looking for an authentic Eastern Tennessee sound. Mike also created, upon request, a dulcimer called the “Baby Grand,” an extra-large dulcimer with a deep and resonant sound.
Besides both hammered and mountain dulcimers, the shop also offers banjos, guitars, harps, psaltries, lap harps, bohdrans, and even some steel drums and djembes, as well as a huge selection of books and CDs relevant to the Appalachian music scene.
Music for Everyone
Mike famously says, “If you can count to twelve without taking off your shoes, you can play a dulcimer.” That may be true, but musicians still need an audience! At Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop, Mike and Connie host free concerts on the “Pickin’ Porch” every Saturday evening, May through September, and all are welcome to bring their camping chairs, relax and enjoy the music and the scenery of the shop’s woodsy location.
Mike and Connie also release their own CDs of mountain music. They actually have a book and CD combo, called Simple Faith & Homestead, that includes 2 CDs and tablature, so that listeners can actually learn to play the songs, whether in time along with the CDs, or on their own.
Fans of the music can also check out the resources they’ve gathered online, especially hours of free videos of their Saturday evening concerts, and clips from Tennessee Home and Farm, Tennessee Crossroads, a PBS special, and other clips that include tours of the shop or interesting facts about dulcimers and Appalachian music.
Come on Down and Visit
Mike and Connie invite everyone to visit them and learn more about the dulcimer and dulcimer music. The shop is open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Saturday, at 7645 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Townsend. More information, including an online shop (yes, they ship instruments!) is available on their website. Check them out, and whether you’re new to Appalachian music or an expert, you’re guaranteed to learn something before you leave!