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by Nicholas Von Robison and Debbie Suran

Originally published in American Lutherie #36, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

Nick: Deb, you just recently completed your 100th instrument. That’s great! Why did you choose jatoba?

Debbie: I wanted to do something special for my 100th instrument. There were times when I was starting out when I thought I’d never live long enough to get into double digits! I decided to build a hammered dulcimer (my 95th) entirely from salvaged woods. I called on friends from CompuServe’s crafts forum’s woodworking section for help, and they sent me maple flooring from an old gym for the pin blocks, birch door casings from a 1913 old-folks’ home for bracing, and the redwood bottom of a wine cask from a 19th-century California monastery for the soundboard. You can still smell the wine on a damp day! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any salvaged wood nice enough for the exterior frame and bridges for the instrument, so I decided instead to use a lesser known species of wood.

In 1986 I bought some tropical woods from a couple who had lived in Brazil for several years and who were augmenting the cash income from their homestead by importing Brazilian woods that were being harvested in an ecologically sound manner. They wanted a hammered dulcimer and I wanted some wood, so we swapped. Greg had a number of woods available that I’d never seen or heard of before and was quite insistent that I give these a try. He was persuasive, so I took some Amazon rosewood (Dalbergia spruceana), one piece of macacaúba (Platimiscium ulei), and a piece of jatoba (Hymenea courbaril). Both jatoba and macacaúba qualified as lesser-known species in those days; the jatoba had more character so that made the decision. A rather roundabout way to be introduced to a new wood. How did you first stumble onto jatoba?

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