The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #60344   Message #966822
Posted By: JohnInKansas
13-Jun-03 - 01:02 PM
Thread Name: Building a mountain dulcimer
Subject: RE: Building a mountain dulcimer
I'd agree that maple is seldom seen in dulcimers, although for a "first try" it might be okay for the back. My recollection is that it's one of those "hard to bend" woods that makes it a risky choice for the sides, unless you have someone with some experience to give some help. It is also - relatively - a very heavy wood, and you don't want something that needs a cart to carry it around.

If you're planning to kill your own tree - as implied by the reference to needing a drying kiln, you'll have plenty of time to build one - or three or four - "practice" pieces while you're waiting for the wood to be stable. With access to reasonable tools, one 8-foot spruce or pine 2x4 from you local lumber yard should have enough wood for a dulcimer - if you can find one without too many knots.

Since the top and backs are flat, constant thickness, and don't carry any load, you can butt-glue strips quite easily to make a "plank" big enough for these. Getting strips wide enough to bend the sides is a little more tricky, but a table/radial saw and sander should suffice with a little planning.

Walnut is almost universally used for the fingerboards. Some other woods with more than adequate "strength" have a tendency to "creep" under load, so you need to be careful about substituting there. For a relatively cheap practice build, you may find walnut stair treads at a local yard that are big enough for 3 or 4 fingerboards. They won't be "dense grained" but are serviceable.

McSpadden, mentioned often above, uses a thicker fingerboard than most other makers, and you probably won't find a piece thick enough to match theirs, but you should find full 4/4 (or even 5/4?) available. (I can't confirm that McSpadden's fingerboards are hollowed out - SWMBO won't let me take hers apart to see.)

You can check with local music shops for "junker" tuners that they've taken off of things, and mandolin tuners can be split easily to make a 2 x 2 setup - although the pins point the "wrong way" for a conventional dulcimer so you get to do a little "design" work.

About the only things you need to "buy new" should be fretwire and the "bones" for the nuts. (And a set of strings.)

Once you have your plans doped out, and while you're waiting for the wood to dry, I'd encourage you to try-out things on a practice piece. Lots of fun.