The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #60344 Message #965450
Posted By: JohnInKansas
10-Jun-03 - 07:23 PM
Thread Name: Building a mountain dulcimer
Subject: RE: Building a mountain dulcimer
For the sake of tradition and authenticity, you shouldn't be allowed to play a mountain dulcimer until you've built yourself at least one - but a small fistfull of dollars will get you around that tradition.
There are quite a number of makers who will sell you a kit, with the sides already bent and the fingerboard slotted for the frets - the two most difficult parts of the building. A good workspace about 3 ft square is about the only other thing you'll need. For clamps, you can get a hundred or so wooden (spring-style) clothespins for a couple of bucks - and use a book or two to dead-weight the rest. Using most kits, about the only "real" tools you need are a good sharp knife, and wire cutters and a file to trim the frets.
If you want to do it all yourself, you need to figure out how to cut and finish a few thin pieces of wood. This is a whole lot easier with good equipment, although you can do it with just a hand saw and sandpaper if you have a sufficient masochistic streak. You can "default" to thin plywood for top and back, but you won't likely have much luck bending it for the sides.
The most "technically demanding" part is figuring out how to bend the sides, but you can do it with a hot flatiron and a wet rag if you're determined enough.
The "best sounding" md I've seen was the one I built all out of quarter-sawn spruce, with a couple of innovations I just wanted to try out. Unfortunately, I compromised on a pretty piece of wood for the fingerboard and it warped badly - making the thing almost unplayable. Expect similar results from your first "scratch" attempt(s). The nice thing about it is you can always make the next one better.