Rev. Tom M. Jones, born and raised in Easley, South Carolina, never dreamed that he would become an expert in the making of dulcimers. He would humbly declare that he is no craftsman or musician, but simply a hobbyist. He says that a person feels peace listening to that instrument’s “sweet song”. He loves the dulcimer’s soft music, easily drowned out when played with other instruments, but heard if you take the time to listen.
A retired Baptist minister, Tom Jones pastored several churches in North Carolina before returning to the Pickens area to shepherd the East Pickens Baptist Church in 1971. It was here that his interest in this folk instrument originated. At that time, no one paid much attention to dulcimers, but he became acquainted with Dean Eades, a craftsman and professionally trained musician who had a genuine love for these instruments. Fascinated by Eades’ work, Mr. Jones attended various craft fairs and eventually met Bill Young, a master craftsman in the making of dulcimers. The late Mr. Young, who manned a Hill Skills booth for many years, once constructed a special dulcimer for the Pope. Now, on Mr. Jones’ living room wall hangs his own treasured dulcimer fashioned by this dear friend, Mr. Young. Even the tuning pegs are delicately carved from wood.
In those early years, Mr. Jones wondered if he could make his own dulcimer, so off he went to the Greenville Library to check out a book on the topic! It just so happens that they were tearing down a door at the East Pickens Baptist Church. He needed a 1/8- inch-thick piece of wood to construct the sound box for his new instrument. By removing the veneer from that door and cleaning off the back of it, he procured just the right piece for his instrument. Still, he needed help in figuring out how to complete his instrument. His wife and children came to the rescue by purchasing a dulcimer kit from Arkansas. Using the enclosed instructions, he made a dulcimer from the kit and completed his very own instrument as well.
That was over 45 years ago. Mr. Jones has gone on to construct some 30 dulcimers. Some he has given away and others he has sold. Each dulcimer is a work of love and it requires around 20 hours to complete each one. At first, Mr. Jones had a workshop complete with a Shopsmith in his garage where he built the instruments. Now, having moved to Rolling Green Village, he cuts out the main parts in their workshop. He then brings the pieces back home to finish and assemble. Over the years, he has experimented with different woods, his favorite being walnut because it produces such a resonant, mellow tone. Other woods such as mahogany and cherry work well, too. Mr. Jones says that the hardest part is finding adequate wood for the creation of his pieces. Sometimes, he uses wood that would have been discarded. Pieces this thin are hard to find and often expensive. He prefers to use guitar or banjo tuning pegs rather than wooden ones since wooden pegs allow the strings to go out of tune faster. His dulcimers are all the four-stringed variety and he employs banjo strings to create their sound. Each of his dulcimers contains a secret message inside: “Handcrafted by Tandy III.” It points to his real name, “Tandy Martin Jones III”, but he says to just call him “Tom.”
Mr. Jones appreciates traditional Appalachian music which accounts, in part, for his fascination with the dulcimer. He says that these people immigrated from Europe with just the clothes on their back. They remembered the instruments and music from back home and created the dulcimer from memory out of the stuff of their new home. They even used turkey feathers for a pick. He loves that the Appalachian songs always tell a story like “The Old Gray Goose Is Dead”, for example. He also enjoys playing the old hymns on his instruments. Over the years, he has presented classes at Rolling Green Village and has done demonstrations with both senior adults and children in schools.
Most recently, for Rolling Green Village’s 30th anniversary, Mr. Jones created a commemorative dulcimer crafted from mahogany and cherry woods and bearing a “tree of life” symbol on both sides of the sound hole. The tree of life is part of Rolling Green Village’s logo. Indeed, at 83 years of age, Mr. Tom Jones and his wife Dian make retirement look good because they give so much of themselves to others and are still growing and learning new things. Besides his dulcimer hobby, Mr. Jones regularly teaches Sunday School. An artist in her own right, Mrs. Jones formerly taught art in schools with students ranging from kindergarten through high school. Beautiful paintings and drawings created by her own hand adorn the walls of their home and she also crafts original greeting cards with lovely sentiments inside. She sells these cards through Rolling Green Village with the proceeds going to the Rolling Green charity of the month. In addition to all of this, Mrs. Jones teaches drawing classes at Rolling Green Village.
As the conversation ended, Mr. Jones fondly pressed his “noter”, a small wooden piece, across the strings on the fret board of his very first dulcimer and gently strummed across the strings with his pick. A beautiful old hymn rose from its strings. In the future, he hopes to visit individuals at Rolling Green Village, particularly those with memory and other health concerns. He says that long after other memories have faded away, the words of these hymns remain strong, and it gives folks great comfort and hope to hear those old familiar strains.