Apalachian Dulcimer



Introduction: Apalachian Dulcimer

First of all, this instructable is an homage/rip off/copy, call it what you will, of theskashow's great instructable:


Except, I used power tools and made a couple of minor changes. Thanks to theskashow for inspiring me to make this.

I was only vaguely aware of the existence of this instrument through the work of Joni Mitchell, an artist I have loved for years. Until youtube came along I had no idea what she was playing on some of her songs. I thought it was just some sort of guitar. Thankfully, I now know a little bit more about traditional instruments.

Because they are so new to me, I think it would be a waste for me to buy a dulcimer and then find out I didn't play it very often, so finding a really good instructable like theskashow's allowed me to enjoy building and experiencing an instrument I wouldn't have otherwise pursued.

Hopefully, others will see our instructables and be inspired to make a dulcimer of their own. If I can do it, anyone can.

Please enjoy.

Step 1: Body/Soundbox

All the measurements I used were from theskashow's instructable so I won't repeat them.

Cut your plywood to the right dimensions, covering your cuts with masking tape to reduce splintering. I used a handsaw because I find I can cut straighter with that than a jigsaw.

I started by glueing up the bottom and the sides as he did, but later on I changed my mind and decided to glue the top and bottom ON to the sides rather than up against them. I think it is more structurally sound and it looks neater on the finished article.

Step 2: Top Piece

Cut the top piece. I drilled out two simple sound holes as I don't have the talent for anything more complicated.

Glue the top to the sides and bottom.

Step 3: Cutting the Headstock and Strumming Area

Theskashow doesn't go into too much detail about measuring and cutting a scroll headstock, so hopefully this step will help some people. I used a salt shaker that was around the right size to draw a circle at the end of my neck, then marked points on it so that it would blend into the soundbox (sort of). I then used a ruler to draw from these points to the bottom and middle of the circle.

Using the ruler and a square, I marked around what I had drawn out so that it would be an even cut on both sides. I then marked it off into manageable sections and cut into it with my saw.

After making multiple cuts I chiseled away the wood. What you are left with is pretty rough, but that's where the electric sander comes in :)

Apply the same technique to the strumming area.

Note: make sure whatever way you cut it the headstock is thin enough to accommodate whatever tuners or machine heads you will be using.

Step 4: Fret Board

Here is where my instructable starts to get a bit different.

The only 2 x 2 timber I had was reclaimed from some old shelving, so it was full of old screw holes, so I decided to use the same thin rosewood I use on my ukuleles. It's dirt cheap at the timber yard, and has a lovely smooth finish.

This method also appeals to me because if you make a mistake at any point, you can start again with a fresh piece without having to throw out the neck you just spent ages carving.

So, I cut a length that fitted the neck, while leaving room for the nut, and I visited the usual place for fret calculations, stewmac.com. Stew's calculator comes up with measurements exact to 3 decimal places, but I just round them up or down - I don't have the tools to do otherwise.

Sharpen your pencil and mark out your fret spacings. Use a square to get them as straight as possible.

I like to then score my pencil marks with a stanley knife, make the initial cut with a junior hacksaw, then deepen it with a full size hacksaw.

For frets I opted to use cocktail sticks/toothpicks. They are cheap, easy to work with, and can be sanded or filed to get rid of any glaring imperfections.

Glue them into your slots with superglue, wait for it to set, then cut off the ends with a pair of snips or sharp scissors.

I usually file the ends down and lightly sand the edges of the fret board so that nothing is protruding.

Step 5: Back of the Neck

I copied theskashow's method for drilling out and chiseling the back part of the neck. I could have used a router but his method is quicker and just as effective. Like he says: no one will see it.

Step 6: Tuners

I got my tuners from an old guitar headstock I had left over from another project, but obviously you can get them pretty cheap from the usual places.

Mark out your headtsock for where you want to drill the holes. Make sure you aren't too near the edge, as you will be drilling holes approx 8mm in diameter.

The tuners I had came with ferules (I think that's the right term). I made the holes slightly narrow so that the ferules had to be tapped down into them. If they are loose it can affect the reliability of the tuners.

Unfortunately for me there was a really tough wood knot on the edge of my headstock - lack of forward planning on my part. I did what I could with it, but a chunk of it popped out. I made sure to avoid it when drilling the holes for the tuners.

Step 7: String Anchors

Screw 4 small screws into the butt end of the neck to anchor the strings.

I didn't know anything about dulcimers so I read up on some forums to get an idea of string spacing. A common rule of thumb seems to be to measure in 1/8 of an inch from both sided of the fretboard for the outside strings, then center the middle string.

I used similar measurements to decide on where to put the anchor screws.

Step 8: Fretboard Attachment, Nut, Bridge, Glue.

Now that the neck is carved and the frets are glued down, glue the fretboard to the neck.

Throughout this build I used a mix of wood glue and superglue. The superglue speeds things up a lot and removes the need for too much clamping time. The wood glue then does its job over time.

For the nut and bridge I used the throw away pens they have in shops like Argos and betting shops. They're vaguely triangular in profile, giving a good base for fixing to the neck, and a semi pointed tip for cutting slots for the strings. Plus, they're free, so if you mess up it doesn't matter.

I had to shim the nut with a small piece of plastic to make it a little higher than the frets, and I had to raise the bridge with a piece of popsicle stick to even it out. The nut is glued into place, but the bridge is floating, i.e. held in place by the strings.

As mentioned in the previous step, I made my string slots based on the 1/8 of an inch measurement, and for the double string I allowed approximately 1/16 of an inch gap.

With the nut and bridge in place, string up the neck and adjust the frets. I spent quite a while filing and sanding the frets on this, and if I make another dulcimer I am seriously thinking of ordering some fret wire.

When I had it in a usable state I glued it to the sound box, again using a mix of wood glue and superglue.

Step 9: The Finished Article

For my first attempt at a dulcimer, I think it turned out pretty well. Thanks and kudos again to theskashow, without whom I wouldn't have known where to begin.

Hopefully you can see the difference in the soundbox - the top doesn't have the unsightly edge to it my original one had.

The frets aren't 100% straight, but the intonation seems fine.

The videos were done quickly so please be kind. I had never played a dulcimer until I made this one. Now I have to learn some tunes :)

Be the First to Share


    • Puzzles Speed Challenge

      Puzzles Speed Challenge
    • Secret Compartment Challenge

      Secret Compartment Challenge
    • Lighting Challenge

      Lighting Challenge