The dulcimer project

About 30 years ago I made a 3-string dulcimer from a kit.  It was not too

Dulcimers old and new.  Top: a cherry teardrop made from a kit 30 years ago. Bottom: my latest hourglass dulcimer.

Dulcimers old and new. Top: a cherry teardrop made from a kit 30 years ago. Bottom: my latest hourglass dulcimer.

 difficult and turned out okay but was never a great-sounding instrument.  The single melody string has a hard time being heard against the drones. The sound chamber is smallish, which limits volume. Also, the soundboard is cherry, which is pretty but I’m not sure it produces the best tone. This instrument would be okay for chording, but it is not robust enough to carry a melody in the traditional way.

 

So I decided to make a 4-string dulcimer from scratch, using book-matched Spanish cedar for the soundboard and bottom, and hard maple for the sides and other parts. I used ebony for the fretboard, and a couple of small pieces of ivory I cadged from a friend for the nut and bridge.

I built to the plan, “Deluxe Hourglass Dulcimer” #MDP-04, by Scott Antes. I also bought his booklet, “A dulcimer builder’s reference manual,” which was very helpful. I purchased them from http://www.pilgrimsprojects.biz/dulc.html.

 

Bridge and tail detail.

Bridge and tail detail.

My shop is well equipped. The project employed my table saw, band saw, jointer, thickness planer, and drill press. I even used the lathe to turn a couple of decorative buttons. For carving, I used my Wecheer flexible-shaft rotary tool http://www.wecheer.com. I used all the usual hand tools: bench chisels, hammers, small saws, knives, rasps, and a ton of sandpaper. For specialized luthier tools that could come in handy, I’d recommend Stewart MacDonald http://www.stewmac.com. I bought my banjo-style friction tuning pegs from them.

 

I used my old standby, Titebond Original Wood Glue http://www.titebond.com to hold it all together and finished the piece with Minwax wipe-on polyurethane http://www.minwax.com.

This was a fun and very challenging project, which was what I wanted. It

The carved peg box with banjo-style friction pegs. The only parts turned on the lathe are the buttons between the pegs.

The carved peg box with banjo-style friction pegs. The only parts turned on the lathe are the buttons between the pegs.

 took me about 3 months altogether. The hardest part was carving the fancy peg box, as I have next to no experience with carving. The good news: I got the instrument I was after. Good volume, great tone, and not too shabby lookin’.

 

Now I just need to learn to make music with it.

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