Karl F. Dieterichs passes

Karl Dieterichs with his wife, Jackie – photo courtesy Kim Dieterichs

Karl F. Dieterichs, who inspired and gave service to generations of bluegrass musicians and fans through his Bucks County Folk Music Shop in New Britain, PA, his Buck brand musical instruments and accessories, local show promotions, and his overall warm enthusiasm, passed away peacefully at home on May 26, 2023. He was 84 years old.

A lifelong resident of New Britain about 30 north of Philadelphia, Karl Dieterichs was born on April 7, 1939. He was first exposed to folk, bluegrass, and old-time music in the 1950s during the burgeoning national folk revival. The Weavers with Pete Seeger on banjo were an early favorite band. Immersing himself in nearby opportunities to enjoy traditional sounds, Karl began driving to the Campbell’s Corner store and performance venue in Oxford, PA, to hear Ola Belle Reed & the New River Boys and Girls. He was soon taking banjo lessons from the now-legendary Miss Ola Belle. He also attended sessions of the Philadelphia Folksong Society. 

Inspired to boost Southern music locally, he founded the Bucks County Folk Song Society in 1963 and, soon thereafter, formed The Odes folk group (which remained active into the 1980s). The band not only furthered his music but his overall life: Future wife Jackie Bricker joined the group in 1964, and they were married in 1969. 

Karl soon saw a need — and an opportunity — to support the music by providing necessary instruments, accessories, lessons, and repairs. In 1966, he opened the Bucks County Folk Music Shop (with Jackie as his partner and the store’s first guitar teacher) in a former farmhouse at 40 South Sand Road in New Britain, PA. It has been there ever since. As bluegrass festivals blossomed, Karl and his vendor tables became familiar and popular features of those gatherings.

“If someone showed a real interest, he would give you all the time in the world,” recalls Jackie. This proved especially notable, she adds, when novices wanted to buy an instrument and get started in music. “He’d find out how they played and what kind of music they liked. Then he’d set them up with just the instrument they needed.”

Taking the long view of a teacher/mentor, Karl would forego making a quick sale of an instrument simply because he had it in stock. One time, Karl determined that one new customer would most enjoy and benefit from a Martin M38 guitar. Not having one in stock, he placed a special order for the man with C.F. Martin & Company.  

Ever the enthusiastic entrepreneur, he also founded Buck Musical Instrument Products which at its peak manufactured banjos and tone rings, guitars, ukuleles, and more. The reputation of the Buck trade name spread across America and even overseas: Famed Britain-based folk singer-songwriter Peggy Seeger, for example, played a Buck-brand Celtic-style bodhrán drum. (The company continues to make leather instrument straps and other accessories.)

His motto, included on the shop’s literature, was “Do it right the first time.” This forthright attitude was applied to his own work and came out in his strong opinions, including those expressed during his service with New Britain Borough’s zoning hearing board and planning commission, drawing on his education and professional work as an engineer. 

“He brought things he was passionate about to the attention of the public,” Jackie says. “He loved to educate people.”

That was true of his many endeavors, including his years as a high school coach in the track & field throws of shotput, discus, and javelin. He took special satisfaction when some of his students set new district or even state records. 

During many autumns and winters in the 1970s and ’80s, Karl promoted bluegrass shows at local restaurants, starring such notables as J.D. Crowe & the New South (then including guitarist/vocalist Keith Whitley and mandolinist/vocalist Jimmy Gaudreau), Larry Sparks, Don Reno & Bill Harrell, Charlie Moore, and Del McCoury & the Dixie Pals. These events were enthusiastically welcomed both by fans (grateful to have top-level bands performing near them) and the bands (grateful for work when the festivals and country music parks were dormant).

But the Bucks County Folk Music Shop, with its warm welcome and personalized service, will likely provide Karl Dieterichs his most lasting legacy. Its staff today includes wife Jackie and their elder daughter Kim, managing everything from retail sales to music lesson schedules, with younger daughter Sarah among the repair persons.

Karl’s devotion to his customers lives on, too. Hearing of his passing, the man who’d purchased the special-order Martin M38 contacted Jackie. He was in tears, recalling the time and attention Karl spent to outfit him with just the right instrument. 

“I still play it,” the man said. “I’ll never give it up.”

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About the Author

Richard D. Smith

Richard D. Smith is a journalist/researcher/author (as well as bluegrass musician and theater person) based in the Princeton, NJ area. He is the author of six books of history and biography, including Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass. His writing has appeared in national publications ranging from The New York Times to Bluegrass Today.