Making a mountain dulcimer takes patience, time and the love of music. A well-constructed mountain dulcimer will enhance the musicians’ playing by providing the perfect tone.
Hardwoods such as redwood, cherry, walnut, spruce and hickory are best to use in the mountain dulcimer. They hold a better tone and are far more resilient. Common shapes are the hourglass, teardrop and elliptical.
Several types of glue are used in the making of a dulcimer. The best is hide glue and should be used in as many areas as possible throughout construction. Hide glue is made from animal flesh that is combined with a mixture of proteins that makes it very strong and durable. Other glues include epoxy, yellow wood glue and crazy glue. These last glues should be used only in small areas.
Shellac is the best finish to use on a mountain dulcimer. Shellac is harder than normal varnish and helps add tone to the instrument.
Purchase and follow the plans to make all the appropriate cuts for the pieces required. Cut the decorative sound holes in the soundboard (top) before sanding. Sand all pieces then wipe them down with a tack cloth to remove all traces of wood dust.
Plane or scrape the front and back pieces to achieve the shape desired. Drill holes for the tuning pegs in the scroll along with making the cuts for the fret markers. Cut, shape and sand the fret markers.
Glue the sides of the mountain dulcimer to the scroll. Secure the pieces with clamps. Glue the tailpiece sides on and clamp. A dowel will need to be cut and secured inside the dulcimer tailpiece to ensure the shape remains open during drying.
After the piece has dried, draw a center line down the back panel. Position the constructed sides of the mountain dulcimer over the back panel. Draw a line with a pencil around the inside of the dulcimer shape. Gently remove the piece and place glue along the line. Replace the top portion making sure the edges are on the glue. Clamp onto a flat surface to prevent warping. Cut and insert dowels in the form to hold the shape and let dry.
Sand the fretboard and gently tap the fret dividers into the grooves. Carefully cut the string grooves.
Lightly draw a center line on the soundboard (top) of the dulcimer. Place the fretboard on the line and center. Trace around the fretboard, then remove. Place glue on the inside of the tracing and replace the fretboard. Clamp and let dry.
Glue the soundboard of the dulcimer to the base. Clamp the top to the bottom and let dry. After the glue is dry, remove the clamps and round the bottom edge of the fretboard with a rasp. Sand until smooth, then attach the nut.
Sand the entire piece. Apply the stain using a soft brush. Let the stain dry overnight before applying shellac. A minimum of three coats of shellac should be used.
Finally insert the tuning gears, bridge, and string. Now tune and play.
A well constructed mountain dulcimer will provide years of entertainment for the family. This interesting historical instrument will help to bring the mountain music to your own backyard.