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Dulcimer Boomer: Bonnie Carol

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

How can I convey some of the wonder of Bonnie Carol in a short blog post when she merits an entire book about herself? I have never met anyone like her on so many levels and she was invaluable as a contributer to the research for Pluck. Consider this my introduction to Bonnie if you're not familiar with her work.

I don't remember how I first got an inkling about Bonnie, but it was through the research for Pluck; someone probably told me to contact her because she was a considerable mover and shaker in the Dulcimer Boom of the seventies. I was a little nervous after reading her website: is there nothing this woman can't do, and why in the world would she be willing to talk with me? I didn't need to worry; she was wonderful the first time and every time we talked on the phone, and incredibly patient with my endless questions about her, the Boom, about the backstory of her work with David, about her work since the seventies along with lots of both related and even unrelated topics.

You see, among many other talents she has, Bonnie is a luthier (a stringed instrument craftsperson); see her partner Max in the photo above? He is a professional guitar luthier and artist, and at the beginning of the Dulcimer Boom he taught Bonnie how to make dulcimers. She was already an accomplished musician on piano and guitar, so she picked up the dulcimer quickly and before long was one of the very few female luthiers/dulcimer players who was embraced by the largely male dulcimer leaders of the Western U.S. Boom of the seventies. (Yes, there was a whole group of young people in the Western United States who were exploring what the dulcimer could do and be at the same time the folkies out East were doing the same.) And Bonnie--see her on the cover?--worked on the seminal dulcimer book and album called the Pacific Rim Project. She was a woman on fire, a dulcimer evangelist you could say, who invited the best players in the country to Colorado for a one-of-a-kind dulcimer festival in 1979. Almost a hundred musicians took her up on the invite to attend her Rabbit Junction Festival. David Schnaufer was there; so was Doug Berch, Alan Freeman, and many of the other people you'll meet in Pluck and who also will be profiled in this blog in the near future.

To visit Bonnie's website is to take a peek into the many interests of a fascinating woman. Photographer, world traveler, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, performer, festival director, radio personality, teacher, won or placed in all the dulcimer contests in the country, author of eleven books (five marimba, six dulcimer) and producer of six recordings.... she does it all seemingly effortlessly and with boundless generosity. But it isn't effortless at all; she just makes it look that way. Thanks to Bonnie's generosity, some of the rarest professional-quality photos of David during his pre-Nashville years appear in Pluck.

L to R: c. 1976 Bonnie Carol, Diana White, David Schnaufer Courtesy of Bonnie Carol

When you visit her website, do make sure you look at her fretted dulcimers while you are there ... they are absolutely gorgeous. She and Max are retiring, and so these dulcimers are some of the last she'll make; they're already collectors' items.

I loved writing about Bonnie in Pluck; I would give anything to have been her student/friend/even her lackey, whatever(!) during the Boom. She is a marvelous human being who recently appeared on the cover of Dulcimer Players News ... not for the first time. She has been inside the magazine and on the cover over the years both in photos and via her writing contributing to dulcimer knowledge and U.S. music history. But this time, on the verge of her retirement, it's especially wonderful to see her appear

there once again. See her dulcimer she's holding? It's in the Smithsonian American History museum.

Oh, and, by the way: regarding that last B/W photo of Bonnie's? Read all about the three of these performers in Pluck; they called themselves "Tres Ríos". I'll profile Diana White in a future blog post. Like Bonnie, she was very important to David's development as a virtuoso player.

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