Make a Dulcitar From a Cheap Guitar at No Cost





Introduction: Make a Dulcitar From a Cheap Guitar at No Cost

A Dulcitar is a Guitar that has frets like a Dulcimer. This means that it is easy to play simple melodies with just a little practice, since only the whole notes can be played.

Step 1: Get a Cheap Guitar

I bought this cheap kid's guitar at Wal-Mart. It would not intonate very well and was very quiet. I have also seen cheap guitars at the local Mexican market for under $20. I decided to make mine into a Dulcitar.

Step 2: Get Ready to Remove Some Frets

You will need to pull off some frets to give the Dulcitar the diatonic scale. I used a pocket knife to score along the sides of the frets I was going to remove to make them easier to pull off. You will be removing the following frets, starting with the first fret closest to the nut being number 1.

1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 18, 20

Step 3: Remove the Unnecessary Frets

Use a needle nose pliers to remove the frets from the last step. You might have to wiggle them a little, but they should pull straight out of the neck.

Step 4: Here's What the Neck Looks Like

After you've removed the extra frets, you may need to use the knife to smooth out any glue or rough spots from where the frets had been. Don't worry about the grooves that are left, they won't affect the playability of the instrument.

Step 5: Stringing the Dulcitar

The easiest way to string the Dulcitar is using the I-V-I method. I strung mine C-G-C. The low string was done by using the regular D guitar string and tuning it down to C. For the middle string I used a regular G string tuned to G. The high C string was a B string tuned up to C.

I spray painted my Dulcitar gloss black so it wouldn't look so hokey. Then I added a cow tie as a strap so it would look even hokier.

Play melodies on the high string while strumming the other two as drone strings. It's easy to play simple folk tunes and Celtic-style melodies with just a little practice.

There are lots of examples of dulcitar players on You-Tube if you'd like to hear what one sounds like.



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    many dulcimer players are switching to chromatic dulcimers, so you could leave all the frets, but remove 3 strings. You could also cut new grooves in the nut and bridge and move the first & second strings about 1/8" apart then same with, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6, but still play as 3 stringed. This would add a little extra volume.

    2 replies

    A guitar can be re-tuned to DADGAD which is a very rich Dulcimer-like sound. Then you'd have a 6-string Dulcimer that can be turned back into a Guitar. Alternately remove that G string and have DAD AD. Alternately remove the bottom 3 strings and have a bass-sounding DAD. So may possibilities!

    If you can do this with a guitar, why not a Ukulele?

    A "Dulci-Uke"? Or a "Diatonic-Uke"?

    I have an unused cheapy Soprano Uke, so maybe I'll give it a go.

    I am planning to tune the diatonic-Uke to C-G-C', since this
    tuning is closer to the Uke's original tuning and will place less
    stress on the strings and bridge (which has a habit of popping off).

    The Soprano Uke has 12 frets, so the frets to remove should be
    frets 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10. These happen to be the same as the first
    5 frets needing removal from a guitar to make a dulcitar. Removing
    these frets, and tuning to C-G-C' should give you the following
    notes on your fretboard:

    New Fret Numbers: 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |
    Melody String (String 1): C' | D' | E' | F' | G' | A | B | C
    Middle String (String 2): G | A | B | C | D | E | F# | G
    Bass String (String 3): C | D | E | F | G | A' | B' | C'

    So, to my line of thinking, this should work out okay. Do you see
    any problems with my thinking?

    2 replies

    I'm sure this would work just fine with a ukelele. In fact, it should actually work with any fretted string instrument (banjo, balalaika, whatever). Of course, what you make up in ease of playability, you lose in versatility. Can't get any of the in-between notes. BTW, I think I'd call your new instrument a "Dulcilele".

    A banjo already is tuned to an open G so it already pretty much is a 4-string Dulcimer anyway (ignore the drone string).

    Keep the extra frets; just paint them black and don't use them unless you need a sharp or flat for a certain song.

    Sooo.... I have a question. I feel like a complete ignorant and idiotic fool when I ask this considering the fact that I have been playing the cello for 7-8 year, but does the tuning of a strumstick allow playing songs that are originally composed for something like... lets say a guitar Easily (easily in italics but I don't know how to do that) Because it seems that you can't get to notes if the fret "bars" (i don't know what they are actually called) don't allow you to get to certain notes (I tried to play "you are my sunshine" and there was one note (i don't know if I had it wrong) that I just couldn't get to). If any one can answer my questions, that would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    1 reply

    A Diatonically tuned instrument only has the whole notes; no sharps and no flats. Also the string tuning is very different so no. Guitar songs as written won't work at all. You need Dulcimer songs. The only problem is this instument is upside-down to a standard Dulcimer so you'd have to reverse all the chord patterns. Functionally this is a three-string Cigar Box Guitar/Stick Dulcimer/Strumstick so look for songs and tutorials for those instruments.

    how do I get my mom to let me do this? I really want one!!!

    1 reply

    Let you? This project is very safe so just tell her that.. Ask her to buy you a guitar from Craig's list. Don't bother with a cheap-ass toy from Wallyworld.. The one I bought (a REAL guitar) was only $20 and I have seen electrics going for $10.

    I'm doing this with a guitar i got off of Craig's List

    but am leaving all the frets on. I'm going to paint the fretboard and Non-Diatonic frets black. That way if I am careful I can still have a Diatonic Instrument but also the option of all the sharps and flats for more complex songs. Alternately I may remove the sharps/flats frets but make some slide-in frets so I can add what I need for select songs.

    One of the problems I see for doing this with a soprano Uke is that its short 12 fret fretboard gets reduced down to about 8 frets (counting the one they call 6 1/2 on mountain dulcimers. This means you don't have the range of notes that you would have on a strumstick or guitar-based dulcitar. But it is still feasible. The other difference is that you want to keep fret 10. When I went to a dulcimer website to figure out (double check) the spacing of frets for a soprano Uke with a 13.625" scale length, it came back with all the values, including one that corresponds to fret 10 on the guitar. I think it has something to do with the odd 6 1/2 fret position of mountain dulcimers. Now, I have to decide if I want to sacrifice my Uke.

    Is it a good idea to scallop the space between frets?

    1 reply

    I wouldn't. Because frets have been removed the spaces between frets is huge, especially near the head of the dulcitar. Most players usually put their fingers as close to the frets as they can, but even if you don't the sound should be the same.

    On the two outside strings the notes going up the neck are C D E F G A B C, just like the white keys on a piano. The middle string is tuned to G so going up the neck it plays G A B C D E F# G (a regular G scale). The dulcitar is extremely easy to play even if you have zero musical knowledge. Just strum all three strings while fretting the 3rd string (the one closest to the floor) at various points. You can't really hit a wrong note.

    Wow! This opens up some possibilities. That's a stck dulcimer. I have a $25 travel guitar that is a piece of junk. Bet it would make a great dulcimer. ...Bill

    great stuff!! i've got lots of crappy kids guitars laying around, and even my 'good' ones are unstrung in different ways with reduced strings and altered tunings.. but i never though of actually REMOVING frets. i've wanted to make a ducli-type instrument for a while, and you've just given me the hints i needed. THANKS!!!!