Article and Photos by Colin LaVaute
To will oneself to become a notable musician takes an immense amount of time, focus, and perseverance. While anyone can learn how to play a musical instrument, it takes a special breed of person to push the envelope of their craft into the arena of becoming a professional musician.
Mike Dulak has garnered praise for his musical abilities. What separates this picker from the vast array of talented music makers in Mid-Missouri is his drive and passion to move beyond the stage and into the workshop as he creates quality handmade mandolins in Rocheport, MO.
Dulak has been building mandolins for 22 years. Having spent decades playing in honky-tonks and clubs, he is a seasoned and grizzled musician with the chops to hang with any band you could put him with. Folks in Columbia might recognize some of his hilariously named (but blazingly talented) groups such as The Rank Sinatras and The Boone County Tickpickers. Anyone that has seen Dulak on stage knows that he is just as much a comedian and performance artist as he is a musician. Sometimes, he would refer to himself as Mike Raphone while bantering with the audience (Get it? Microphone?).
“There was a period where I was playing four nights a week, for seven straight years, year-round at the same club,” says Dulak. “That’s how I got relatively good at playing the guitar and country singing. When you play that much, you either get good or they throw you out.”
The shop for his company, Big Muddy Mandolin Company, is nestled in the river village of Rocheport. There, with his trusty Basset Hound Oliver at his side, he meticulously hand crafts each mandolin with great precision and care. Using such exotic woods as koa and purple heart he has created a mandolin that not only looks gorgeous, but sounds great. Handmade mandolins of this caliber could easily cost an arm and leg, but Big Muddy Mandolins are very reasonably priced for the quality of the product.
Dulak enjoys the quiet life of living in Rocheport. When he isn’t building mandos, he is hitting the trail with Oliver or playing in senior league baseball tournaments. Don’t let that laidback lifestyle fool you. When it comes to precision of his craft, Dulak never skimps on quality. When the rare occasion in which a client needs a repair, he goes out of his way to help them out. In one instance, a broke college student needed a major repair.
“I told him that it would cost him two pounds of dark roasted coffee from his local roastery,” says Dulak. “I could hear the guy’s jaw hit the floor when I told him that over the phone, because it was a pretty major repair. When I got the package I actually ended up with five pounds of coffee.”
His craftsmanship has gotten him noticed by national acts. Atlantic Records Country Recording Artist Hunter Hayes plays a Big Muddy Mandolin. Hayes even went so far as to send Dulak a signed endorsement stating: “Thank you Big Muddy Mandolin for making an unbelievable little instrument that I can’t put down!”
When speaking with Dulak, it becomes obvious that this craftsmen is bound, not only by a common love of instrumentation and musical talent, but also by a jovial air of pride in his work. He is a musicmaker in more than one sense and the effects of his passion can be heard echoing throughout the corridors of music venues across the U.S.