Top and Back

Things are really taking shape now. Removed the top and fretboard from the gluing jig and used it to trace the shape onto the bookmatched back piece. After insuring that they are the same size, I test fit the pieces so far.


Next, I need to install the strips which will secure the sides. I have always liked the artistic effect made by the clothespins. This also reminds me of the pictures from the old Foxfire book that was my construction guide 40 years ago.


Sound Holes and Stuff

Jon has requested shamrocks for the sound holes. I found several different designs to use, but we agreed on a three-leaf shamrock, with the larger ones near the strum hollow and identical (but smaller) ones near the nut. These are especially nice because they are simple and elegant–and the leaves look like little hearts. After deciding on the exact dimensions that worked best with the dulcimer shape, I carefully measured and marked the position of each of the sound holes, drilling holes into each pattern to accommodate the scroll saw blade.holes-1holes-2

I was really disappointed when my Hitachi scroll saw refused to start a few weeks ago. Rather than doinking around with heavy-duty repairs, I replaced it with a Porter-Cable machine that had good reviews. These sound holes were the initiation for the new scroll saw.



When the sound holes were cut, shaped, and sanded, I cut the top into the shape of the dulcimer and glued down the fretboard using a jig I made a million years ago.


Top and Back, Head and Tail

I sandwiched pieces of walnut into a block and laid out the pattern for the peg head. I have always liked the graceful lines of my traditional peg head but needed to do a little modifying to accommodate the extra wide sides and the tuning machines.



Next, I re-sawed a 5″ walnut board by taking slices of it–first on the table saw, and then on the band saw. By doing this, I can create a thin, wide, book-matched  piece for the back. Book-matching creates some interesting mirror-imaged grain patterns.


This plank had a little stripe of the walnut heartwood, and so I made the aesthetic choice to send that stripe up the middle of the back of the instrument. After sanding the back, a really wild pattern emerged. Then, when I sanded down the quilted maple top, a really extraordinary 3-dimensional grain pattern presented itself. This small picture really doesn’t give it justice, but it looks like little mountain ranges–and this piece is sanded down really smoothly. When I put the polyurethane on this, it may just blow my mind.


Next up–the sound holes, as I inaugurate my new scroll saw.


A few weeks ago,  I was approached by one of our English teachers, Kat Anthony, who wanted to create a photo documentary of the construction of a dulcimer for a class at the University of Florida. She has also agreed to take some shots for me to share in this blog. Kat is an excellent photographer, so all the artsy shots or any picture in which I appear will obviously not be from me.

Adding the frets accurately is of primary importance. A beautiful instrument with imprecise frets becomes wall art.








Back to Bass-ics

Just as I was completing the re-fret project, I received an email from Jon in Oregon. Jon had been in contact with Johanna, a colleague in the Nature Coast Dulcimer Players and the original owner of my prototype bass dulcimer, created a year ago. After we established a dialog, he ordered a bass with shamrock sound holes.

This one will be made with walnut for the back and sides, and a beautiful quilted maple for the sound board.

Here, I cut and prepare the fretboard. It’s a long one with a scale length of 30″. As a matter of fact, everything will be a little oversized with this instrument to give it the depth of sound that we want.



Finishing Touches

After trimming the board and working around the strum hollow, it’s time to add the string guide near the nut.



After doing some final staining and a coat of polyurethane, I’m ready to attach the strings.


And here’s the finished project:


Installing Frets

After cutting the walnut fingerboard and sanding it carefully to fit the existing fretboard, I used my 1/100 ruler to mark the fret pattern for a 28″ scale pattern. It’s a very delicate operation so I can’t rush it. I then use my Japanese fret saw to cut the frets.


Once the frets are pressed into position, I must file down the edges flush with the fingerboard.


At this point, I glue the fingerboard to the fretboard using clamps and my homemade jig and let it dry.









Preliminary Work

After receiving permission to continue, I removed the frets and sanded down the fretboard, removing the previous slots and preparing it for the new fingerboard.


Meanwhile, I trimmed and sanded the new fingerboard to prepare for fret installation.


The latest Project

full-picThis one may prove to be a bit of a challenge. Elsie had asked if I could lower the action on a dulcimer she had been given. On closer inspection, this instrument really needed some TLC to be fully playable.

It has a really beautiful shape and a nice sound, but the fretboard was a bit of a head-scratcher.


It appears that this dulcimer was designed to be played only on the melody string with a wooden noter–the traditional style (and the way I normally played for about 20 years). The seventh fret was a half fret, making it unusable for chording.


The scroll head is interesting, but the current nut is covering an old zero fret slot and the strings are cutting into the end of the fretboard–the same thing is happening at the tailstock as well.


Several of the frets themselves are not square; this is not so much of a problem if you only play on the melody string, but becomes problematic while chording.


Finally, the scale is strange and the frets are somewhat misaligned. It’s technically 26.375″, but the bridge is set closer to a 28″ scale. The 2nd fret (above) is close to correct, but the third fret is set for a 28″ scale.

The good thing is, the fretboard is nicely flat, so my suggestion is to create a new walnut fingerboard (above, right) with a new bridge and nut.


Dulcimer #45 is complete, as of this morning. The tuning pegs are Grover Sta-tite friction pegs and the strings are Vega banjo strings.completed 45

Here I am with the new baby:

Finished Tim

And here is Lynn, the proud owner and co-designer:

Lynn PlayingLynn Pose