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Sticks and stones

By Staff | Nov 2, 2012

Kent Pearson probably isn’t the only person inspired to get into music by listening to the Rolling Stones.

But Pearson, an electrical engineer from Mylo, N.D., is definitely among the rare few who was motivated to build folk instruments after hearing the influential British rock group.

Pearson was driving in his car in his home state of Minnesota in the mid-1970s, when he heard the Stones’ track “Lady Jane” on the radio.

Within the track, he heard the sound of a unique instrument, which he later found out was a dulcimer being played by guitarist Brian Jones.

That was the hook for Pearson, who since that time has built or assembled a dozen different varieties of instruments.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with wood and playing music and this put the two together,” Pearson said. “With my curiosity, that’s the only way I can find out what something is. I’ll do it.”

In 1979, he moved to North Dakota to start working at the Turtle Mountain Corporation.

Since he landed in the state, he’s built a multitude of string instruments: a mountain dulcimer, a bowed psaltery, an autoharp, a hurdy gurdy and a hammer dulcimer.

He doesn’t sell his instruments; he’s given some away and made a couple for his musically-inclined wife.

“It’s a hobby and I want to keep it that way,” he said.

He has crafted instruments using a variety of scrap woods and has rarely, if ever, paid a significant amount for his building supplies. That hasn’t stopped him from building some very refined instruments and cases to go with them.

“I think of what can I do, not what can’t I do,” Pearson said. “If I can’t afford something that’s really expensive, well fine.”

Pearson is mostly self taught as both a woodworker and a musician. Both building the instruments and playing with them when he’s done are forms of escape and relaxation.

“They’re all kind of fun in different ways,” he said. “The easiest and hardest to play at the same time is the harp,” he said. “It’s such a simple structure, but to play it well you have to coordinate your hand and eyes totally opposite of the other one.”

Although he downplays his musical skill, Pearson would like to see more people try music, regardless of their skill level.

“I’d like to encourage people to go out and try something and enjoy the music,” he said. “People think they don’t think they have music ability but most of it taught.”

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