The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #25849   Message #306214
Posted By: catspaw49
26-Sep-00 - 09:48 PM
Thread Name: Making Catspaw's 2-String Stick Dulcimer
Subject: Making Catspaw's 2-String Stick Dulcimer
Several folks including the very patient Ed Pellow have asked for building instructions on this old musical folk toy. I have built thousands (literally) and because I used to sell them at street fairs have come up with the simplest and least expensive things to use. You may use higher quality stuff if you want, such as real tuners.

The stick dulcimer does have a history as a legitimate and fun little instrument for those folks and kids who could not afford the real thing in the mountains. Its not very loud, but laying it on a table or a hollow log will increase the sound dramatically.

Spaw's Stick Dulcimer

First, cut a piece of 1x2 32 inches long. You can use simple pine since there is little tension, but try to get a piece that's reasonably straight and not warped. Sand it smooth. I cut a little fancy cut at one end for the headstock appearance, but that's not necessary. Leave the other end blunt.

Next, measure down 3 inches from the headstock end and scribe a mark across the width of the wood. Measure 27 inches from this mark and scribe another, again across the full width of the wood. These two marks are for the nut (headstock end) and the bridge (blunt end). Designate an edge as the playing side. This would be the edge closest to you with the headstock to the left. Measure 1 inch above the nut scribe line and 1/2 inch in from the edge and mark for drilling. Measure 2 inches above the nut scribe line and 1 and 1/4 inch from the edge and place another mark for drilling. Split the difference between the bridge scribe line and the blunt end (about an inch) and drill two 1/8 inch holes. One hole should be 1/2 inch from the edge and the other 1 and 1/4 inch from the edge. Before you drill the 2 holes at the upper headstock end, READ THIS:

TUNERS: I use eye screws for "tuners" but they will not hold tightly in the wood so I screw them into plastic drywall anchors. You may use any "tuner" that you like of course, but if you use eye screws, buy some anchors of the appropriate size and drill the two upper holes to fit the anchor. Then apply a little wood glue and tap the anchor into place. ALSO, while you're looking at that eye screw, BE SURE to take pliers and crimp it so that there is NO opening where the ends meet.

Now that you have your holes all drilled, marks scribed, anchors in place......its time to stain, paint, stencil, lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, whatever....your "stick." Whatever "decoration or fun thing you like, do it now and let it dry. Then we're ready to "fret" the stick. You will need a Heavy Duty Stapler such as the T-50 or something on that order and then practice with it a bit so you can put the staples on the marks you are about to make. Ready?

Here are the measurements between frets:

NUT to F1 ..... 2 7/8 inches
F1 to F2 ...... 2 5/8 inches
F2 to F3 ...... 1 13/16 inches
F3 to F4 ...... 2 1/4 inches
F4 to F5 ...... 2 inches
F5 to F6 ...... 15/16 inch
F6 to F7 ...... 1 9/16 inches
F7 to F8 ...... 1 1/2 inches
F8 to F9 ...... 1 5/16 inches
F9 to F10 ..... 5/8 inch
F10 to F11 .... 1 1/16 inch

Put a small mark at each position and be sure to measure carefully. Now put a staple in at each mark as closely as you can. The staple should be as close to the edge as possible so it lays under the fretted string. This fretting arrangement with two strings gives you the chance to play in several modal tunings and you have enough frets to play "Wildwood Flower." (:<))

Use one long string in the .006 to .014 gauge range either from a banjo or the treble E from a guitar (I use #4 piano wire cause I got tons of it). Run each end up through the two eighth inch holes and secure each end to your "tuners." If you are using eye screws, wrap the end around your "tuner" in a figure 8 and tie it off, clipping the excess. I use 1/4 inch threaded rod for the bridge and nut (hey, its pre-slotted!) but you can use a decent hardwood chip of about 1/4 inch size or a 1/4 inch hardwood dowel. Put both in position on the marks you have scribed and "tune her up!" Do not glue the bridge or nut in place as you can adjust for intonation by rolling them a bit in either direction. I would suggest gluing the 'nut" and adjusting at the "bridge" end, but if you have messed up your stapling a bit, you may need to move both.

You will probably have to "level the frets" a bit. Fretting the string behind each fret should produce ae different note, if not, tap the fret ahead in slightly. Be careful as each should be about level with the wood surface. You can then also attach a "resonator" to the blunt end. I paint veggie cans and screw them on the bridge end.....kinda' cute idea I picked up from the Schillings. I know Art Thieme used to have one of these with a lunchbox as a resonator as I recall. Also I think Howie Mitchell once referred to the two string as a "Dulciless" (as opposed to "dulcimore" as its often pronounced).

In any case, you may want to use better materials, but the folks who bought them for 12 bucks from me all had a pretty good time and I never had a complaint! I used to build 50 of these a week prior to the summer and fall fests. I have a marking stick and a drilling jig, so they go pretty fast and I'm pure hell with a stapler!

Good Luck...and most of all..........HAVE FUN!!!

Spaw