A few weeks ago, I was approached by one of our English teachers, Kat Anthony, who wanted to create a photo documentary of the construction of a dulcimer for a class at the University of Florida. She has also agreed to take some shots for me to share in this blog. Kat is an excellent photographer, so all the artsy shots or any picture in which I appear will obviously not be from me.
Adding the frets accurately is of primary importance. A beautiful instrument with imprecise frets becomes wall art.
Just as I was completing the re-fret project, I received an email from Jon in Oregon. Jon had been in contact with Johanna, a colleague in the Nature Coast Dulcimer Players and the original owner of my prototype bass dulcimer, created a year ago. After we established a dialog, he ordered a bass with shamrock sound holes.
This one will be made with walnut for the back and sides, and a beautiful quilted maple for the sound board.
Here, I cut and prepare the fretboard. It’s a long one with a scale length of 30″. As a matter of fact, everything will be a little oversized with this instrument to give it the depth of sound that we want.
After cutting the walnut fingerboard and sanding it carefully to fit the existing fretboard, I used my 1/100 ruler to mark the fret pattern for a 28″ scale pattern. It’s a very delicate operation so I can’t rush it. I then use my Japanese fret saw to cut the frets.
Once the frets are pressed into position, I must file down the edges flush with the fingerboard.
At this point, I glue the fingerboard to the fretboard using clamps and my homemade jig and let it dry.
This one may prove to be a bit of a challenge. Elsie had asked if I could lower the action on a dulcimer she had been given. On closer inspection, this instrument really needed some TLC to be fully playable.
It has a really beautiful shape and a nice sound, but the fretboard was a bit of a head-scratcher.
It appears that this dulcimer was designed to be played only on the melody string with a wooden noter–the traditional style (and the way I normally played for about 20 years). The seventh fret was a half fret, making it unusable for chording.
The scroll head is interesting, but the current nut is covering an old zero fret slot and the strings are cutting into the end of the fretboard–the same thing is happening at the tailstock as well.
Several of the frets themselves are not square; this is not so much of a problem if you only play on the melody string, but becomes problematic while chording.
Finally, the scale is strange and the frets are somewhat misaligned. It’s technically 26.375″, but the bridge is set closer to a 28″ scale. The 2nd fret (above) is close to correct, but the third fret is set for a 28″ scale.
The good thing is, the fretboard is nicely flat, so my suggestion is to create a new walnut fingerboard (above, right) with a new bridge and nut.
Once again, playing catch-up with this posting–working on the dulcimer around other projects and diversions–these are snapshots from the past week. I’m excited to get to the point where I don’t stop until I have to let glue dry.
This is the top (soundboard) re-sawn and bookmatched.
The peg head in it’s raw form on the band saw is ready to be cut to shape.
The peg head is shaped and partially sanded.
Jumping way ahead, the back and top are cut and shaped; the peg head and tail stock are mostly finished.
Here are the pieces stacked loosely into place.
Strips are added to the back to support the sides.