Why Earl started building nyckelharpas

One question I often get asked is:  How did I get started building nyckelharpas?
My short answer is that it is back therapy that got out of hand.  While basically true, this answer usually does not satisfy most people.

DoAnn & I met in 1981 doing Scandinavian couples dancing.  This was in the Madison area while we both attended the UW.  In 1985 we got married, I graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and we moved to Eau Claire where I spent 29 years working as a consultant.  We continued to do some folk dancing, had a son, and I developed a fairly serious woodworking hobby.  We raised our son to be a fiddler. 

Around 2003, while attending a Swedish music and dance weekend, our son got the opportunity to try a nyckelharpa.  In about 10 minutes, he was playing tunes and decided he wanted one.  After a bit of research, we decided to build one from a kit.  I figured this would be a good shop project for our high school son.  He built an OK playable nyckelharpa, which has since had the keys and key box rebuilt and has been sold.

Then came the car accidents in 2006 and 2007.  I had back surgery in 2007.  In 2009, two years after the surgery, I realized my back would not allow me to work with a full length board.  I was looking for something I could do in the shop that would be reasonably challenging but not require large lumber.  I really needed something to do to keep busy that did not cause back pain.  Since I had the plans, I decided to build another nyckelharpa.  I raised the workbench tops and a couple of the power tools so I could work ergonomically.  In 2010, I built two more.  In May of 2011, I traveled to Sweden to study how to build nyckelharpas. 

A couple weeks before the 2011 trip to Sweden, I was informed at work that the recession had resulted in a reduction in available work and they might have to ask me to go to reduced hours.  I was also realizing that I was burning out on the Engineering career.  On the flight back, I had the realization that I could build nyckelharpas as a business.  So in mid-2011 I went to 30 hours a week and started building nyckelharpas part-time.  It took me a couple years to get things figured out.  In January of 2014, I went to 20-hour work weeks in the office.  The 20-hour work week did not work out, so in July of 2014, I left the engineering and am now building nyckelharpas full-time. 

The back is now as good as it is going to get.  I can only play a nyckelharpa about 10 minutes, which is enough for key testing and to play a couple simple tunes. 

I find that this is a very interesting blend of woodworking, engineering and applied physics.

So this is really back therapy that got out of hand, and I am OK with that.

(Page last updated 12/29/2016)