anyone ever make a mountain dulcimer?

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Dad has one of these things, made of walnut. I've played with it, but I never thought much about it until I heard an interview with a group called Laliya on the radio. Wow! A mountain dulcimer can sound like that?!
Ever since then, I've been gnawing on the idea that I'd like to have one of those, and it would probably be a good first instrument project because they're not terribly complicated.
For starters, I can just copy the one Dad has, which was made by some local crafstman, not mass produced. Without taking it apart or damaging it though, I can only guess at some things. Thickness of the top/bottom/sides for starters. How the top/bottom/sides are all fitted together for another thing. There's no banding at the joints. I don't have it in front of me, but I'd say the top and bottom are glued or otherwise fastened directly to the sides in a simple butt joint.
I guess all the tension is on the neck/fretboard, and it looks like you could just about make a neck/fretboard as a free-standing piece, and it's just glued to the box as an amplifier.
What about cutting out nifty little holes in the top? This one's maple leaf holes are so crisp it looks laser cut, but this was made in the early '80s. Probably not laser cut then, I don't imagine. I don't think I could get a cut this sharp and clean on a scrollsaw, but maybe I haven't practiced with the scrollsaw long enough. (Haven't used it much. It's sloooooow, and I've found everything that isn't plywood breaks immediately, so it seems one of the more pointless machines in my arsenal so far.)
What about fret wire? Is this just some standard item I can buy anywhere, and do the many readily available instructions for installing frets on guitars apply evenly to a mountain dulcimer?
I guess the biggest question of all is the bending. I've never bent diddly. It almost looks to me like an hourglass dulcimer is a simple enough shape that I could bend suitably thin wood to that shape without some steam contraption. Is that unrealistic?
How much do woods matter? The original is all solid walnut except the bottom, which I would guess is wormy chestnut salvaged from a barn or something. I haven't seen a lot of chestnut, with it being extinct and all, but I think that's what this is.
I guess I should take it to rec.music.makers or something, but I'd rather just stay here.
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Wed, Dec 15, 2004, 1:31am snipped-for-privacy@users.sourceforge.net (Silvan) tells us: Dad has one of these things, <sni> they're not terribly complicated. <snip> How much do woods matter? <snip> I made a dulcimer. Many moons back, when I was assignned to Disney East. But I didn't call it a mountain dulcimer. That somds like something made up by some city folk, something like farm table, or harvest table, rather than just a table.
Mine was more an elongaed oval shape. A block of wood at each end, slotted to hold the sides. 1/8" luan plywood for the body. Don't recall what the other wood was. Did use frets, but only because I had fret wire. The wires, were that, wire.
I think the Foxfire books have something on making dulcimers, been a long time since I've looked at mine. I know they have something on banjo making.
I doubt anyone would say much no matter what wood you used. I'm sure the people that originally made them weren't too picky. Check some of the instruments in the Smithsonian, if you ever get a chance. Been too long since I was there, too. I betcha google images would have some pictures.
Now that I think on it, might be something nice to make for the grand-dau.
JOAT We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. - unknown
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JOAT responds:

Yeah, well...I think it comes from record marketing of "mountain" music. We called it hillbilly music in the good old non-PC days.

I've seen two types, your tear drop and a figure eight type. Both sound great in competent hands.

I kept some of the old Foxfire books after my divorce. I noticed in Books A Million some time ago that they have newer editions. Must be up to version 40031 or so by now.
Charlie Self "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." Sir Winston Churchill
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Wed, Dec 15, 2004, 11:07am (EST+5) snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme (Charlie Self) says: Yeah, well...I think it comes from record marketing of "mountain" music. We called it hillbilly music in the good old non-PC days.
No telling, but if you've ever heard any of the OLD, old timers, they just called them dulcimers. I see some people are saying they are called "mountain" or "lap" dulcimers to tell them from hammered dulcimers - except I've always heard a hammered dulcimer refered to as a hammered dulcimer, period.
I've seen two types, your tear drop and a figure eight type. Both sound great in competent hands.
If you leave out the hammered dulcimers, there's probably as many styles as makers - at least before people tried to standardize them. I've sean rectangular, sorta trapazoid, double, all sorts. Way I figure it, if you're making it from scratch, and not for a customer, you can pretty well make it anyway you want.
I kept some of the old Foxfire books after my divorce. I noticed in Books A Million some time ago that they have newer editions. Must be up to version 40031 or so by now.
I think I've got about 7 of them. I think I'll check and see if I can track down some I don't have. Good books.
JOAT We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. - unknown
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J T wrote:

Trapezoid. You're right. Good thought too. No bending. Good first try.
I wonder how a fretless would work. Just draw the fret locations but no wires. They make fretless guitars and basses. Might be interesting, and would solve a lot of complicated problems.
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"J T" wrote in message

They are truly known as "mountain" dulcimers, or sometimes regionally as "Appalachian" or "lap" dulcimers.
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Swingman wrote:

To distinguish them from real dulcimers, also known as "hammered dulcimers," which are an entirely different animal:
http://www.rtpnet.org/~hdweb /
The real dulcimer is a much older instrument, and it's #1 at the top of things I would buy if I had a few thousand bucks to spare. Too complicated to build. Especially as a first instrument project. Maybe eventually.
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Wed, Dec 15, 2004, 6:57am (EST-1) snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com (Swingman) says: They are truly known as "mountain" dulcimers, or sometimes regionally as "Appalachian" or "lap" dulcimers.
Maybe now, but I bet if you asked one of the really old timers what they were, they'd just say dulcimers.
JOAT We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. - unknown
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J T wrote:

That type gets called a few different things. The main thing is to make difference between the ones that go on your lap and the hammered dulcimers , kinda trapezoid shaped.
Dave in Fairfax
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On Wed, 15 Dec 2004 02:56:34 -0500, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (J T) wrote:

Actually it's an important distinction. The mountain dulcimer is one of two common types of the instrument. The other is the hammered dulcimer, which is completely different.

That's another common variation on the shape.

Frets are usually made with a special fret wire. It's shaped like a T with a rounded top. The other side fits into slots sawed in the fretboard.
If you want to build a dulcimer take a look at some of the kits out there. Even if you don't build from a kit you can learn about construction from the web sites.
http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Kits/Dulcimer_Kits/Dulcimer_Kits.html (these people have a reputation for quality kits)
http://www.acousticguitar.net/dulcimerkit.html (A fancier dulcimer from a more expensive kit)
http://www.folkcraft.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=F&Product_Code=K-SSCH&Category_Code=Kits
http://www.everythingdulcimer.com/links.php?action=howto (A bunch of dulcimer links)
http://thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/wi73j.htm (A description of making a dulcimer)
http://hearth-fire.home.mindspring.com / (pictures of a dulcimer being made)
--RC

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Wed, Dec 15, 2004, 3:00pm (EST+5) snipped-for-privacy@TAKEOUTmindspring.com says: <snip> Frets are usually made with a special fret wire. It's shaped likea T with a rounded top. The other side fits into slots sawed in the fretboard. <snip>
Yeah, I said I used fret wire. Fretless would have worked too. But, I should have said the strings on mine were wire - thin wire, worked great.
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J T wrote:

As opposed to what? Cat gut? I've never seen one that didn't have metal strings, come to think of it. I figure I'll use D'Addario dulcimer strings on it, and use tuners from my Washburn 12-string that is in extremely dire need of a neck job and needs more work than the guitar is worth. Good tuners.
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You can use any string material. Had one girl who made hers out of twisted sheep intestine. The wood "bending" is really not much, if you're talking the convex designs. Even the waisted variety is easily steamed.
You can actually string high and then experiment with fret placement, though musical theory and generations of players have already worked it out for you. Some kids needed the confirmation that only self-involvement gives, and I was not going to discourage experimentation.

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I think the main point of "mountain" dulcimer is to distinguish it from a hammer dulcimer.
bob g.
J T wrote:

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I think that "mountain" is because it was a folk version which originated in the Appalachian _mountains_ rather than the hammered version which is closer to its zither roots, with maybe a bit of clavichord....

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"Robert Galloway" wrote in message

I think that may be more true of the term "lap" dulcimer. A hammered dulcimer is generally a fairly large instrument with its own stand.
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Silvan notes:

http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Kits/Dulcimer_Kits.html
There are others out there, too. If we were closer to October, I'd say go over to Ferrum to the Folk Life Festival and talk to some of the builders. I'm not really sure of how to get in touch with them this time of year.
Charlie Self "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." Sir Winston Churchill
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"Silvan" wrote in message

Never made one but recorded some of the best, including Lloyd Wright, who won Winfield in 2000, and Don Pedi, one of the best known mountain dulcimer players in the world. Lloyd's father Jerry, patriarch of the Wright Family, a well known "old time" music group, showed me a couple he built on the kitchen table, and he professes no skill whatsoever in woodworking.
I have a fairly recent woodworking magazine with step by step plans/instructions for building one. I'll see if I can dig it up for you if you're still interested.
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That's the essence of the instrument. It makes pleasant noise no matter how it's made. The noise is from the strings, the "voice" from the box.
Foxfire is a good source. Reader's Digest folk art book has one, FWW has had some, but they're woodworking tours-de-force rather than a home-made instrument.
A number of kids at school made them from Foxfire, which is what I had on hand. Wood for the sounding board had greater volume if it was coniferous, though the holes were a big factor. Best -sounding was made from some resawn spruce 2x8 from a barn of indeterminate age, though even eastern white cedar sounded better than hardwoods like red oak (tinky brittle). Tradition had them out of hardwood, though, so I imagine it's a personal thing. Most beautiful was a face of burled cherry, though I tried to talk them into quartersawn wood, mostly.
We used hobby shop brass for frets, though some also used simple brazing rod. Key is the cutting/leveling. I believe the jig in FWW is a good a place to look at that aspect. I rigged one for a Dremel with router base that worked well for the rod frets.
The sound holes worked well with anything from overlapping Forstner holes to fretsaw. I never set up a router template, but that would probably work just fine.
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It's called "How to Make and Play the Dulcimore" by Chet Hines. The copyright is 1973.
I haven't made one yet so can't really say how good the book is, but it looks pretty good. Roughly 100 pages on making, 50 on playing, and a few patterns in the back. Take a look on ABE.
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