Long Neck Fretted Dulcimer

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Launching this blog has given me cause to revisit some of my past projects.  The first fretted instrument that I built was a long neck dulcimer.  It is tuned and sounds like an Appalachian Dulcimer.  But instead of playing it on your lap, you hold it like a guitar or an octave mandolin.

Looking at my pictures of the build process was a real trip down memory lane.  Many of the techniques that I used in 2011, I still use today.   Others caused me to laugh and say “You’re kidding, I did it like that!




For example, bending sides.  Before I heard of a Fox bender or even a bending pipe,  I wrapped the side in wet paper towels, cooked it on a hot plate, and wrapped it around a cookie tin.  Same process, I guess.  Apply heat and wrap around a form.



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I didn’t have a lot of clamps yet but I did have a lot of things that were heavy.  This is how I glued the back onto the body.




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Here is something that hasn’t changed.  I still use those clamps sometime when gluing in linings.

Notice also the Spanish Heel.  That is a type of neck-body joint in which the sides are inserted into slots in the end of the neck heel.  Only recently have I tried that again.  Everything else has used a bolt-on neck.


Fretting has changed too.  I no longer use a calculator and a ruler to figure out where to cut the frets slots by hand in a miter box.  And there are much easier ways to bend to pre-bend frets.  But it all worked!

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Hammer Dulcimer #1

June 22, 2004.  That is when you would have to say that I started building musical instruments.  That is when I went to Crossscut Hardwoods and bought the materials to build my first instrument: a Hammer Dulcimer.


I found a book of  plans and instructions on line and followed it quite closely.  I was fortunate to have at my disposal a very nice shop building, a Shopsmith, Radial Arm Saw, Drill Press, a Smithy Mill, and assorted hand tools.  I devoted all of my spare time to the project and it came together fairly well.


I used Cherry for the sides, Maple for the bridges, and Baltic Birch plywood for the back.  The sound board is made from cedar fence boards from Home Depot.  I had to go to three stores to find enough pieces that were straight and quarter sawn.


At this point I was probably a lot happier and pleased with my progress  that I look in the picture.


The strings are various sizes of music wire from Wink’s Hardware in Portland.  I turned the end loops by hand and the process required more than a few band-aids.


I was quite satisfied with the results and put a lot of miles on it playing in public many many times.  Here I am jamming with some friends at a church picnic in 2009.

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The only drawback to the instrument is that it is so big and over built.   It weighs 35 lbs.  After 9 years, I  got tired of lugging it around so I bought a 15 lb. Dusty Strings D550.