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Forum topic by DMiller posted 04-17-2020 09:24 PM 404 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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DMiller

537 posts in 1273 days


04-17-2020 09:24 PM

Topic tags/keywords: dulcimer making luthier fretboard fingerboard dulcimer question mahogany walnut traditional modern rustic

Recently my sister said she wanted to learn to play the dulcimer and I offered to help her build one. To those of you that have built them, where do you purchase the fretboard/ fingerboard? I’ve checked all the usual luthier places (LMI, unable to make; Stewmac, hasn’t replied) but can’t seem to find them for sale anywhere under $40, which seems quite excessive compared to guitar fretboards (approx. $25). Any suggestions? I’m good with doing all the major work, I just need a basic standard guitar style fretboard slotted for a dulcimer.
Thanks for the help!
-Dale

-- Dale Miller Modesto, CA "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13. "Woodworking minus patience equals firewood."


14 replies so far

View Foghorn's profile

Foghorn

526 posts in 186 days


#1 posted 04-17-2020 09:34 PM

View Picken5's profile

Picken5

314 posts in 3492 days


#2 posted 04-17-2020 11:15 PM

While I’ve never built one, I’ve played them along with several other acoustic instruments. I’ve considered building one and read some articles about how it’s done. It seems that most luthiers build their own fret-boards from scratch. You’re only cost would be the wood (pretty nominal depending on how exotic you select) and fret wire (also pretty inexpensive.) I know you’ll need a fret saw and perhaps a fret hammer and a fret file. The tools can get kind of expensive. And all the fret slots need to be cut and aligned properly. The pre-slotted guitar fret-boards you may have seen are easier to produce repeatedly with automated equipment because fret spacing & slot depths for guitars are fairly standardized — which isn’t always true for dulcimers.

-- Howard - "Time spent making sawdust is not deducted from one's lifetime." - old Scottish proverb

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johnstoneb

3146 posts in 2972 days


#3 posted 04-18-2020 12:55 AM

I was unaware that you could buy premade fret boards. I would guess they would be more expensive than a guitar simply because of numbers made. It has been several years since I made any appalachian dulcimers. I always made my own fingerboards. Do a search there are several sites that have a program that will give you the fret spacing based on your particular instrument. Dulcimers are diatonic instruments, they have 7 notes to an octave. I did build one as a chromatic. Some of the plans available will give you fret spacing and nut and bridge dimensions.
The Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer is a folk instrument and as such there are as many types as there are builders. You need to do some research and figure out what is available and what you want to build. StewMac ibelieve has plans available Georgia Luthier supplies is another. The ones I built were all 4 string DADD tuning. They are not difficult to build once you decide on a style, strings and tuning. You will find in your research you really can’t build one the wrong way. You just have to sort through everything and decide on a preferred way.
The following are links to dulcimers I built
https://www.lumberjocks.com/projects/319145
https://www.lumberjocks.com/projects/311674
https://www.lumberjocks.com/projects/305514

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

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DMiller

537 posts in 1273 days


#4 posted 04-18-2020 01:17 AM

Thanks for the help guys!

Foghorn, thanks for the link. I had seen that place previously and am considering them. Maybe I’m just thinking low, I just wasn’t expecting a fretboard to run you $40-90.

Picken5, thank you for the suggestion. Having recently completed an acoustic guitar, I know a decent amount about luthier. When I started the project, I figured that places like LMI or Stewmac would carry them, but I guess they don’t. I’m kind of opting for a pre-slotted fingerboard primarily because of their accuracy.

Johnstoneb, thanks for the advice. I probably should have clarified more as to the specifics. I’m planning on building a 4 string, DADD tuned hourglass-shaped mountain dulcimer. By the way, your dulcimers look awesome! Did you happen to use banjo or guitar tuners on them?
Thanks,
Dale

-- Dale Miller Modesto, CA "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13. "Woodworking minus patience equals firewood."

View Foghorn's profile

Foghorn

526 posts in 186 days


#5 posted 04-18-2020 02:16 AM


Thanks for the help guys!

Foghorn, thanks for the link. I had seen that place previously and am considering them. Maybe I m just thinking low, I just wasn t expecting a fretboard to run you $40-90.

Picken5, thank you for the suggestion. Having recently completed an acoustic guitar, I know a decent amount about luthier. When I started the project, I figured that places like LMI or Stewmac would carry them, but I guess they don t. I m kind of opting for a pre-slotted fingerboard primarily because of their accuracy.

Johnstoneb, thanks for the advice. I probably should have clarified more as to the specifics. I m planning on building a 4 string, DADD tuned hourglass-shaped mountain dulcimer. By the way, your dulcimers look awesome! Did you happen to use banjo or guitar tuners on them?
Thanks,
Dale

- DMiller

No problem. It’s a bit of work to build one so the price isn’t too bad for one all done and fretted. Building one is pretty easy if you have the tools including the right kerf size saw for banjo wire. Accuracy in cutting the slots is important as even .005” out can throw your intonation for a loop. If you can stay within .002” to .003” on the slots, it’ll all be good. If you’ve already built a guitar and have cut slots, you’ll know what I mean. I use templates and StewMacs ground blade for the tablesaw but used to cut them by hand.

-- Darrel

View JohnPaul01's profile

JohnPaul01

3 posts in 109 days


#6 posted 04-18-2020 02:47 AM

Most mountain dulcimers will not have the 12-note chromatic fretting you see on most stringed instruments, although I have built and seen a few that did. Generally the frets are spaced in such a way that a major scale is built right in. With an optional extra fret to create a mixolydian pattern starting from the nut (0 fret), another major scale can also be played starting from the 3rd fret. Except for those included in kits, I have never seen any offered for sale pre-slotted. A few suppliers of instrument parts and supplies will sell custom made fretboards to your spec, but are pricey. To calculate custom scale fret positions, you could use the calculators offered for our use at Stewart-MacDonald’s website, or Luthier Mercantile International’s site . (There are others. Just search for them.) There are also application programs available for download. Or, you could do the math yourself: You will be using two constants. One is the Scale Length(The distance from the nut to the saddle, k= Scale Length), and the other has a set value of 17.817 (c = 17.817). Your variables will be: x (distance from saddle to fret. For our purposes the nut is treated as the 0 fret.) y (distance from fret to fret) z (distance from nut [0 fret] to fret) The value of x for 0 fret, which is used to start the loop, is your Scale Length. To get the distance from the nut to the first fret, divide the distance from saddle to nut by your constant: x÷c=y For the second fret (this is for chromatic fretting, you will drop a few frets afterwards to create the ionian/mixolydian pattern.) Subtract the distance from the nut to the last fret calculated from the Scale Length. Then, divide that by your constant to get the distance from the first fret to the second. Subtract the distance from the nut to the second fret to derive a new value for x, and repeat the process of division to get the distance from the second to the third fret. Keep repeating the loop by subtracting the distance from the nut to the last fret calculated from the Scale Length, dividing that number by 17.817, adding that to the value of z (distance from nut to fret), subtracting the new value of z from the scale length to derive a new x, and starting all over again till you have values for each fret measured from the saddle to the fret, the nut to the fret, and fret to fret. x÷c=y y+z=z k-z=x
Three calculations. Start the process by setting the value of z to zero. 12 loops for 12 frets, 12 frets to an octave, decide how many octaves you need, then after all that, use only the frets needed to create an interval pattern of whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step (w w h w w w h), with each whole step being a two fret interval and each half-step a single fret. Use the tenth fret also (skipped when adhering to the w w h w w w h pattern) to give both Ionian and mixolydian patterns and then you can start the fun part of making sawdust…

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DMiller

537 posts in 1273 days


#7 posted 04-18-2020 04:20 PM

Thanks for the help guys, I appreciate it!

-- Dale Miller Modesto, CA "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13. "Woodworking minus patience equals firewood."

View Woodknack's profile

Woodknack

13431 posts in 3180 days


#8 posted 04-18-2020 04:44 PM

I make my own fretboards. The Harbor Freight wood handle pull saw is perfect as a fret saw if you stone the teeth a few passes. I use a template and marking knife to score slot locations, accuracy is not difficult. There is a place that sells surplus and seconds guitar parts, bodies, fretboards, necks, etc., I can look it up later when I’m back home.

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View Foghorn's profile

Foghorn

526 posts in 186 days


#9 posted 04-18-2020 04:52 PM



Most mountain dulcimers will not have the 12-note chromatic fretting you see on most stringed instruments, although I have built and seen a few that did. Generally the frets are spaced in such a way that a major scale is built right in. With an optional extra fret to create a mixolydian pattern starting from the nut (0 fret), another major scale can also be played starting from the 3rd fret. Except for those included in kits, I have never seen any offered for sale pre-slotted. A few suppliers of instrument parts and supplies will sell custom made fretboards to your spec, but are pricey. To calculate custom scale fret positions, you could use the calculators offered for our use at Stewart-MacDonald s website, or Luthier Mercantile International s site . (There are others. Just search for them.) There are also application programs available for download. Or, you could do the math yourself: You will be using two constants. One is the Scale Length(The distance from the nut to the saddle, k= Scale Length), and the other has a set value of 17.817 (c = 17.817). Your variables will be: x (distance from saddle to fret. For our purposes the nut is treated as the 0 fret.) y (distance from fret to fret) z (distance from nut [0 fret] to fret) The value of x for 0 fret, which is used to start the loop, is your Scale Length. To get the distance from the nut to the first fret, divide the distance from saddle to nut by your constant: x÷c=y For the second fret (this is for chromatic fretting, you will drop a few frets afterwards to create the ionian/mixolydian pattern.) Subtract the distance from the nut to the last fret calculated from the Scale Length. Then, divide that by your constant to get the distance from the first fret to the second. Subtract the distance from the nut to the second fret to derive a new value for x, and repeat the process of division to get the distance from the second to the third fret. Keep repeating the loop by subtracting the distance from the nut to the last fret calculated from the Scale Length, dividing that number by 17.817, adding that to the value of z (distance from nut to fret), subtracting the new value of z from the scale length to derive a new x, and starting all over again till you have values for each fret measured from the saddle to the fret, the nut to the fret, and fret to fret. x÷c=y y+z=z k-z=x
Three calculations. Start the process by setting the value of z to zero. 12 loops for 12 frets, 12 frets to an octave, decide how many octaves you need, then after all that, use only the frets needed to create an interval pattern of whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step (w w h w w w h), with each whole step being a two fret interval and each half-step a single fret. Use the tenth fret also (skipped when adhering to the w w h w w w h pattern) to give both Ionian and mixolydian patterns and then you can start the fun part of making sawdust…

- JohnPaul01


Fretboard blanks and slotted and even fretted boards are available in the link I provided previously. There’s also a handy fret spacing calculator on that site that does the math for you.

-- Darrel

View Kelly's profile

Kelly

3046 posts in 3744 days


#10 posted 04-18-2020 06:30 PM

My buddy comes to my shop to make his dulcimers. Of course, it becomes a team effort.

We’ve made different sizes, so the fret boards change. He knows music and I know just enough about woodwork to scare people. He was having trouble placing the frets using the usual math. From there, he panicked, because he had to plane the wood to get rid of the mistake.

I pointed out to him, the ONLY good reason for the super thick neck on such a narrow instrument was, they had to beat saber tooth lions to death with them too. If a guitar were built to the same specs as a dulcimer, the fret board
would be five inches thick, give or take ten.

I asked him why we didn’t just modify a piece of fret material (remove the back that goes into the wood) to determine the fret positions by way of tuner. It worked beautifully. More so because one dulcimer might be 28” and the next 34”, or what have you.

Yeah, on the back saw. Just note their thicknesses change from manufacturer to manufacturer. I think we MIGHT have used an Exacto back saw for one.

View mjon's profile

mjon

58 posts in 4579 days


#11 posted 04-24-2020 05:55 AM

Folk craft instruments has the plans and the the fretboards ,I model mine from there design

View robscastle's profile

robscastle

7237 posts in 3004 days


#12 posted 04-24-2020 10:25 AM

Talk to Dave Rutan he built one and his wife played it.

I think he might even help you.

Dont mention me or he might block you!

-- Regards Rob

View JCamp's profile

JCamp

1208 posts in 1350 days


#13 posted 04-24-2020 11:10 AM

https://www.prussiavalley.com/about.html

This guy use to make them. I don’t play so I can’t speak for their sound but they were very pretty. U might touch base with him if u need any help

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View PeteStaehling's profile

PeteStaehling

135 posts in 1919 days


#14 posted 04-24-2020 11:24 AM

If you are just building one or even a few dulcimers that $8 Harbor Freight saw works okay. If you are building a bunch the Stewart Macdonald tablesaw blade is worthwhile. Since I build dulcimers from tiny octave models to travel sized to full sized, I have a bunch of templates for all different VSLs in 1/2” increments and could email you the one you need in pdf format. You can print it out on a laser printer and glue it on the fret board before sawing the slots.

I use a jig that locates the table saw cuts with notches for the sizes that I have made jigs for and use the paper as a guide on the tablesaw for others, but the paper templates and the cheap HF saw worked okay before I had a better setup The tricky part was getting the right depth cut with the HF saw. CA gluing or otherwise attaching a stop on the side of the blade is one way to accomplish that. Be very careful though. It is easy to slip with the saw and scar up the fret board.

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