Musical Instruments #8: Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer #1

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Blog entry by johnstoneb posted 03-15-2017 02:40 PM 1669 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: The Resonators and completion Part 8 of Musical Instruments series no next part

This mountain dulcimer build is entirely the fault of LJ’er Dave Rutan. I followed his blog on building a mountain dulcimer while I was building a marimba. When I finished the marimba he had convinced me that I could build a dulcimer. Thank You Dave, I think. I started searching “building mountain dulcimer” after a week or two of reading. There are a lot of people building dulcimers as it is a folk instrument there really is no right or wrong way to build a dulcimer. It’s a dulcimer thing. I decide to build a four string hourglass shape dulcimer. I ordered a paln from McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers. This gave me the shape and basic dimensions. I went to town. I decided to use traditional wood as much as possible. I had some fiddleback maple and walnut. I decided to do the front and back with the maple and the sides and scroll from the walnut. This was all resawed glued up and planed to 1/8”. I used a piece of padauk I had for the fret board while not a traditional wood. I found in my research that a lot of nontraditional woods were also use. It’s a dulcimer thing.
I found a jig for bending and glueing on line that I liked so made one of those.

I used 5/8 dowels when I build one for a different shape I will probably try 1/2” dowels. to get a template to mark the shape I went to Fedex Office and had a copy of that portion of the plan made and cut it out.
That worked for both the jig and a template to cut the front and back from.

Glued up and cut out the scroll head.

Glueing the reninforcing strip down the middle of the back. That #8 works for more than just a plane.

Glueing the side, head and tail in.

Ready for the top and fretboard

Top and fretboard glued on. There are several calculators available for figuring fret spacing. I tried several and they all were within .0001 of each other.

The tuners in the head. I finished this with several coats of shellac before installing the hardware. Next time if I use padauk I will finish the fretboard before glueing it to the top. I taped everything really well but still had a little bleed thru from the padauk.

Here is the finished instrument all tuned and ready for my wife to learn how to play it.

If you are interested in building stringed instruments. I would recommend a dulcimer as the first. They require a lot of the skills other stringed instrument require but are much more forgiving. I will build another one or two or three. It was a fun build. I learned some new skills and it didn’t take a lot of time. Most of the time wa waiting on glue to dry.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

10 comments so far

View luv2learn's profile


2998 posts in 2904 days

#1 posted 03-15-2017 04:09 PM

Wow Bruce, what a beautiful instrument. Nobody would have guessed that this was your first attempt. Check out Matthias Wandel’s Big Print program. It allows you to print full sized patterns at home.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3468 days

#2 posted 03-15-2017 04:37 PM

Bruce, this dulcimer is so beautiful and nicely done. Congratulations.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Dutchy's profile


3506 posts in 2770 days

#3 posted 03-15-2017 04:41 PM

Fiddleback maple?


View johnstoneb's profile


3131 posts in 2774 days

#4 posted 03-15-2017 06:00 PM

It’s a curly maple.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Dutchy's profile


3506 posts in 2770 days

#5 posted 03-15-2017 07:00 PM

It s a curly maple.

- johnstoneb

I thought it is mountain dulcime maple :)


View bushmaster's profile


3764 posts in 2884 days

#6 posted 03-16-2017 02:10 PM

Looks like a super fun project, wish I was musical.

-- Brian - Hazelton, British Columbia

View htl's profile


4870 posts in 1761 days

#7 posted 03-16-2017 05:15 PM

I’m with you bushmaster.
Great project!!!

-- An Index Of My Model making Blogs

View HankLP's profile


112 posts in 1103 days

#8 posted 03-17-2017 02:31 AM

Very nice Job! I really like the scroll work and the headstock. Looks like you went the extra yard with the tuners… nice touch.

View crowie's profile


3367 posts in 2552 days

#9 posted 03-17-2017 09:35 AM

Now that’s a master craftsman at work…wow!!!

-- Lifes good, Enjoy each new day...... Cheers from "On Top DownUnder" Crowie

View robscastle's profile


6675 posts in 2805 days

#10 posted 01-16-2018 02:02 AM

Thats very good work Bruce.

Not sure what Dave is up to I havent seen any posts for some time, he is possibly flat out repairing instruments I guess.

-- Regards Rob

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