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His first dulcimer wasn’t great but, nearly 11-thousand instruments later, Masterworks lives up to Russell Cook’s name

BENNINGTON, Okla. - Backs, braces, sound boards and pin blocks.

The raw pieces of what will become a hammered dulcimer look like any other blocks of wood, but they're all carefully chosen by Russell Cook.

"I put my name on all of them," he chuckles.

It's been more than 35 years since he took an abandoned piano and went to work building his first dulcimer.

"And, it was absolutely horrible," Cook recalls.

The second one was better, and he kept after it, making and playing, winning awards as a musician and gaining a reputation as a craftsman.

"In the process of learning, I had to build," he explains. "In the process of building, I discovered I enjoyed building just as much as I did playing."

His learning curve was natural not sharp.

We paid his Masterworks factory a visit in 1996 before he built his big shop.

"We struggled through the first couple of years," Cook said.

In talking with other musicians, he figured out hammered dulcimers didn't need to feel like a sack of hammers.

They could be lighter and, by being lighter, they produced a brighter sound.

"Mellow and rich and full," Russell said. "And, at the same time, a bright, top end pop."

He ships his instruments all over the world now.

His biggest dulcimers go to some of the world's best players.

Russell is no slouch himself with two hammers in his hands.

He is musician and maker both.

Russell Cook is still pounding out the details of how to get better still.

"There's no fence to ride," he states. "You're either getting better or getting worse."

For more information on Master Works, including a shop tour, click here.