The Dolceola Pages

created by Gregg Miner, May, 2003, as part of
(Last update December, 2019)

If you've never heard of a Dolceola, don't be embarrassed - I (who pride myself on knowing of such things) had never heard of it either until just a few years ago. Here is the story of my introduction to this rare instrument.

A piano? A zither? Or what?

Dolceola Patents

Dolceola Brochures  

Dolceola Ads

Dolceola Announcements in The Music Trade Review
(Added December, 2019)

In Search of Washington Phillips' Instrument

This is a huge section containing my research and notes intended for those involved in the ongoing discussion and study of the instrument(s) Gospel singer Phillips may have played.

The Leadbelly 1944 Hollywood Sessions
Featuring the first known historical recordings of the Dolceola.

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1905 Dolceola serial #2582
(images copyright Gregg Miner)

NOTE: My pages are not meant to be a standalone history or presentation of the Dolceola. I am a relatively new member of a select group of dedicated scholars, preservationists and players - and on my site am only adding additional, new or personal information. My pages are best understood if one is already familiar with the following (sorry, I cannot keep up with all the broken/moving/retire links):  My site will at least be up well past my own lifetime.

"The Dolceola: A Story of Musical Enterprise in Toledo, Ohio" by William E. Hettrick.
An expertly-written, exhaustively researched history and study of the instrument, by the great-nephew of the co-inventor! Absolutely essential. Published in Vol. 26, 2000 of the American Musical Instrument Society's Journal, and available through the AMIS web site.

Andy Cohen is one of the very few performers on the Dolceola and has a marvelous CD (the only all-Dolceola recording available). He also created the Dolceola List above and wrote an article on the instrument for the EMI journal.

Fretless zither collector and expert Kelly Williams' Dolceola page. His site also features other fretless zithers such as Phonoharps.

The late Garry Harrison also created a wonderful fretless zither site with a Dolceola section. On it, he shared his challenging Dolceola restoration project. He also took on the impossible task of re-stringing and tuning various Phonoharps to re-create the fretless zither playing techniques of Washington Phillips, which he did amazingly well on his own Washington Phillips page.

Document Records in the U.K. sells a CD of the infamous 1944 Leadbelly sessions -the earliest known historical recordings of a Dolceola. Also a new 2004 re-mastered version of the Washington Phillips sessions.

How many are there?

For awhile, Bob Mead was keeping count.  I honestly haven't kept up, and considering that a few thousand may have been built, they may not be as rare as we once thought.  Hard to find intact, yes!

I think "20-something" was the original count, then about 50; since then I've seen many more on eBay and get a couple emails a year from new (or original) owners wanting to sell or restore their instruments.  I imagine a hundred or more are kicking around.  If you want to get one in working order, that'll cost you (a lot), but there is someone doing it: Peter d'Aigle.

Special Thanks to: Andy Cohen, Pat Conte, Michael Corcoran, Jim Garber, Garry Harrison, William Hettrick, Virgil Keeton, Bob Mead, Earl Phillips, Wardell Phillips, Kelly Williams.

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