The telephone jangled, interrupting the relative quiet of the morning hours. “Could you tell me the value of a dulcimer?” the female caller asked. I assured her that I could and would, and asked a few pertinent questions. Brand? It was a name I had never heard as a maker, but no matter. Condition? Excellent! No scratches, very nice finish. Anything broken? No nothing, except it was missing a string.
Satisfied with her answers, I placed her on hold for a few moments and did a little research. Finding no such maker in the bluebook, I turned to that most influential of all marketplaces today, Ebay. There were a couple of dulcimers with that name which had sold and I arrived at an approximate market value. I returned to the telephone, and related the results of my search to the young lady. She agreed that she would be interested in selling me the instrument if I could offer a price in the vicinity of what we discussed. Before she hung up, I reminded her that the number was not an offer. The actual offer amount would depend on the item matching her description. She was satisfied and assured me that she would be here later today.
A few moments after I opened (very few), the SUV pulled up and a young man and young lady got out, each going to the back seat to grab something. The man came in soon thereafter, carrying a very small baby, mere months old. She followed immediately after, carrying the dulcimer in a case and a cheap electric guitar. It was the usual situation; expenses were mounting for the baby and there was no job to be found for either of them. I determined to keep my mind on the appraisal of the instruments before moving to their need and began to examine the dulcimer.
Wow! Have you ever heard the ancient story from the Far East of the blind men examining an elephant? It has been retold for a number of years now to demonstrate the alleged fallacy of absolutism. The blind men all feel a different part of the behemoth and each has a different description of the same animal. One says a rope (the tail), the next a tree trunk (the leg), still another a fan (the ear), and on and on. The story is supposed to illustrate the danger of believing in absolute truth, when we have a limited knowledge of the subject. Well, this dulcimer was a prime example of that! The young lady undoubtedly had been truthful as far as her knowledge went, but she was wrong about every single point we discussed!
The name she threw out as the maker of the dulcimer was simply the name of the author of an instruction book on playing the instrument, which happened to be in the case. When the dulcimer was taken out of the case and turned over, the label plainly said “Made in Taiwan, Republic of China,” leading me to think that doubtless this fine instrument had been manufactured in the center of the Appalachian Folk Music world, where the finest dulcimers have always been made. (Sorry, just my poor attempt at irony.) Strike one! No matter; I was on to the overall condition. Of course, the first thing I had noticed as I opened the case was the high gloss of the finish. This is a huge red flag on an instrument of this type, since it indicates a heavy spray coat of varnish, which inhibits the tone of the dulcimer significantly. Also, the heart-shaped sound holes cut into the top were clearly poorly cut and sanded using power tools, leaving an irregular look to them. It was obvious that this was a factory-made, cheaply-built instrument, intended only to entice uneducated novices into opening up their wallets in the hopes of purchasing a quality dulcimer for a low price. Strike two!
At this point, I thought it prudent to warn the couple that we were not going to be purchasing the instrument for the price I had mentioned earlier, since it did not meet any of the standards we had discussed. We had one other criterion to meet; the question of whether anything was broken or not. The broken string was a given, but could be easily remedied. I asked why the other strings had no tension on them, another red flag when purchasing any stringed instrument. They couldn’t answer, since neither of them had attempted to play it (it had belonged to Grandma, now deceased, you see). Noticing a slight separation in the finish near the connection point for the strings on the body, I nevertheless started to tune it up, finding it necessary to tighten up the screws on the friction tuners before completing the task. For some reason though, the pitch continued to drop as the strings were tightened. I immediately stopped tuning and looked more closely at the finish separation. A huge gap had opened up between the top layer and the body! If I had continued tuning the strings up to pitch, it probably would have pulled the fingerboard completely off. No wonder the tension had been completely off the strings! And, Strike three, You’re out!
Stop a minute to consider…This young lady hadn’t told me a single lie, but had answered, as truthfully as she knew how, every question I had asked. Yet, she had been wrong on every single detail! The wrong maker’s name, poor condition (from poor manufacturing), and broken beyond reclamation to boot!
According to the proponents of the elephant allegory, the young lady wasn’t wrong at all, just giving me the facts as she saw them. In fact, she was in error on all points. Her ignorance of what she was holding didn’t change reality one iota. In most other areas of discussion also, we do everyone a disservice to posit that perspective changes truth. It is possible to be completely convinced of the truth of something, all the while believing a complete fabrication, to our ultimate harm.
The instrument the good folks believed should sell for a handsome price will never go up for sale as a musical instrument in my store. I do, however, now possess a very nice piece of art which looks surprisingly like a dulcimer. It could be purchased for a very reasonable price, if you care to hang it on your wall…
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.”
(Winston Churchill~British orator, author, and Prime Minister~1874-1965)
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”