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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:42 AM   #1
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First Build: A 63 string....

Hammered Dulcimer

After listening to quite a bit of folk music, I have gotten the urge to learn how to play this brilliant sounding instrument. Rather than just buy a ready made one for a few thousand or a kit, I'm going to dip my toes into the luthiery pond.

The instrument itself will be rather easy to build, just a case of getting the indentaion for the soundboard and the body joints correct. After spending a few hours in Google Sketchup I've gotten some schematics:



I'm going to construct the bridges by taking a rectangular piece of tassie oak and drilling the 3/4" string guide holes in them. I'll then shape the timber back to the triangular shape shown below. The Circular thing in front of the larger (treble) bridge are the guides and show the centring for the individual courses.






I'm going to have a triple course treble and a double course bass side. Gonna have 13 treble courses and 12 bass.

The lighter timber in the diagrams is going to be Tasmanian Oak (an Autralian hardwood) and the darker timber will most likely be a hardwood stained dark. I still need to come up with a design for the sound holes (need at least 2). Most likely going to be a simple celtic symbol or something of the like.

A rather simple example of what the instrument sounds like:


More to come!

"By the way, melted binding looks like marshmallow. But it really doesn't taste like it." - MapleLeaf97
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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:49 AM   #2
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not exactly a guitar and this IS a guitar forum. But itīs a very interesting build and a great sounding harpisch, guitarisch thing

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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:52 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jarnozz View Post
not exactly a guitar and this IS a guitar forum. But itīs a very interesting build and a great sounding harpisch, guitarisch thing

Haha, yeah, i know it's not *exactly* a guitar, however many of the construction principles are the same and I figured quite a few people would be interested in how the build goes.

Also, InB4DoesItDjent

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Unread 01-14-2012, 09:03 AM   #4
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jarnozz View Post
not exactly a guitar and this IS a guitar forum. But itīs a very interesting build and a great sounding harpisch, guitarisch thing
It is, however, a stringed instrument and this is the luthiery section

Looking forward to seeing this man!! Keep us updated.

edit: You planning bkps for this then yeah?

it are go good with pizza
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Unread 01-14-2012, 09:35 AM   #5
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Yummy, hammered dulcimer is such a lovely instrument.
Looking forward to this build - and I find it absolutely ok in here

What made you choose Tasmanian oak? Which other hardwoods have you considered?
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Unread 01-14-2012, 01:12 PM   #6
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First off, I wish you luck on this. The hammered dulcimer can be easy to build.

I suggest you reconsider the triple courses. Until the dulcimer revival of the 1970s and '80s, most traditional dulcimers had triple and quadruple stringing, but the higher tensions of modern strings allow for double stringing with the same volume.

I'm unsure if those guides are clips of some kinds on the bridges. Dulcimers rely on string tension to hold down the bridges, and as setting intonation can be a matter of thousandths of an inch, anything which interferes with that is a problem. If they are clips or holders as they appear, I'd get rid of them. You don't need to crank down all the strings at once, so you can still adjust the bridges with the strings on, just with the tension lowered.

A lot of dulcimers also have open bridges, making adjustment, restringing, or even removal and replacement of a bridge possible without completely unstringing the instrument.

On hammered dulcimers, although they are traditional, there is actually no need for soundholes.

I'm not sure what online resources exist which describe the bracing of a dulcimer. It looks like you're going for a floating soundboard, instead of a torsion box. You'll probably be able to get away with two supports, one each running just a bit away from the bridge placement. The braces/supports aren't directly beneath the bridges, but just stiffen the soundboard so the up-down motion of the bridges can better drive the soundboard.

If you're already going for a 13/12, as the two notes on the right of the top of the treble bridge (G5 and A5) are already duplicated on the left three courses down, you might consider either detaching those two courses and moving them slightly to the right, or bringing in the right side bridge just a touch, in order to sharp those two courses a half step, to G#5 and A#5. I'd recommend altering the treble bridge as the easier course, as if you don't know the exact angles/measurements for the side bridge, you can run into problems.

At the same time, the two courses at the top of your bass bridge (C5 and D5) are duplicates. You can tune either of them to D#5. Going just a bit further, some builders install an agraffe (just a simple metal rod) by drilling a hole spanning the holes in the top course(s) in the treble bridge and inserting a rod. That rod cuts the string length of the top courses of the bass bridge, so that you can even tune the top course to D#6, getting you almost completely chromatic at the top end.

And, if you want to complete that trick, you can add one more bridge to the left of the treble bridge, using that now-free string length from the bisected course and putting the high D#6 ont he left, and C#6 on the right.

I know that all sounded confusing, but here's a 2/14/13/8 instrument I commissioned.



It has a range of D3 to A6, lacking only a high Ab6 to be fully chromatic. If you look at the top, the treble bridge has three offset bridges, with an agraffe spanning the holes. The top of the bass bridge and the two bridges on the top left are on the same string courses.

Anyway, it looks like an interesting project. Good luck!

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Unread 01-14-2012, 10:44 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vansinn View Post
What made you choose Tasmanian oak? Which other hardwoods have you considered?
I've chosen to use Tasmanian Oak for my bridges and bindings for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can get my hands on the stuff super easy (working in hardware and being in Australia lol). It's ridiculously easy to work with, isn't prone to splinters and it has a really bright and springy tone to it. I'm most likely going to use Jarrah for the body hardwood. It's a really hard Australian timber that has an absolutely wonderful deep red/brown colour to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Explorer View Post

Really helpful post.
Thanks again for writing all that Explorer, really appreciate it.

The "guides" (whited out things) are meant to be a reference plane for the bridge. I'll use the reference plane on the rectangular bridge stock so I can get my holes drilled before I sand the bridge to it's final shape. The vertical lines next to the holes are the centres for the treble courses.

You've also convinced me to go with twin course, means I'll have 26 less bridge pins to put in lol.

I'm probably going to use a really heavy guitar fret wire to cap off the bridges and for the break over the side of the soundboard. Sounds good to you?

One question about the bridge bracing, how is your's shaped? Are they pairs of rectangular timber or are they rounded like the ones below?


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Unread 01-14-2012, 11:30 PM   #8
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I'd love to come and see this thing when its done, or even one day when you're working on it.. This build will be a blast to watch.
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Unread 01-14-2012, 11:49 PM   #9
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yes yes that's awesome, but,
will it djent?

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Unread 01-14-2012, 11:56 PM   #10
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Very cool project! I'm excited to see how this comes out.

And Explorer, !!!!
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Unread 01-15-2012, 12:08 AM   #11
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have fun stringing this up.
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Unread 01-15-2012, 12:50 AM   #12
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t
Quote:
Originally Posted by Metal_Webb View Post
I'm probably going to use a really heavy guitar fret wire to cap off the bridges and for the break over the side of the soundboard. Sounds good to you?

One question about the bridge bracing, how is your's shaped? Are they pairs of rectangular timber or are they rounded like the ones below?

http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_Si/nmah/images/hdm4b.gif
I wouldn't go with an embedded fretwire. If you're not going to use Delrin (acetal rod). You're talking about using a pretty hard wood for the soundboard and the bridges. so I don't know if I'd go with metal for the bridge caps.

Further, I'd go with rod because you can rotate it as the strings start to notch the caps.

Funny to see the pictures from the plans Sam drew up for the Smithsonian. Sam Rizzetta is the one who introduced most of the modernizations of dulcimer design (including the marked bridges).

Sam stopped using the two brace design fairly soon after that drawing. I couldn't find any good illustrations from the Augusta Grand or the Augusta Chromatic, but here's a pictures (soon to disappear) showing the bracing of a Dulcetta, Sam's soprano dulcimer.



See that single brace? Yup, that's it. I think that Jamie is still building these older designs for Sam, as some people like Sam's old tone, and the June Appal dulcimers from Carl Gotzmer are built along those same classic lines.

Anyway, the point is, I don't think I've seen a dulcimer over the past 25 years with the pointed/rounded bracing, and I have never seen a modern dulcimer with two braces for one bridge. It was a valid design experiment, allowing the soundboard to flex like a speaker cone, but turned out to be unnecessary.

So, in my Jones instrument, I have one flat/rectangular bar for each bridge, glued to the back and with the top pressed atop it by string tension. On my other dulcimers, there is bracing from left to right to help resist the string tension, and the soundboard voicing bars rest on top of those, running from top to bottom. The voicing bar design allows one to change the timbre (assuming one knows what one is doing). The voicing bars are also rectangular.

I don't have a source for the math, but you'll likely want to make the bridges shorter as you head towards the top of instrument. As the instrument gets narrower at the top end, the tuning pins get closer to the center, and if the bridges stay the same height, the strings can miss the left and right side bridges and go right to the tuning and hitch pins, causing tuning problems due to the string length being a little longer due to the lack of contact.

You know what, though? ! I know a lot of people who have managed to make workable instruments from Sam's plans.

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Unread 01-15-2012, 01:49 AM   #13
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Hmm, thanks for the heads up about the fret wire. Was only a passing idea for a suitable candidate anyway. Was also going to use a single rectangular piece for each bridge brace anyway, the double rounded one seemed a bit complex. Also was going to use smaller pieces for the lateral soundboard bracing.

Bridge was going to get a slightly more agressive taper as well, treble bridge probably going to be 1 5/16" high on the bass end, probably going to drop down to about 1" high for the short end.

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Unread 01-15-2012, 03:54 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hollowway View Post
...Explorer, !!!!
*laugh*

ERGs are really new. I acquired my string calculation chops on the dulcimer before a lot of the modern information became available, and my cutting edge dulcimer from almost thirty years ago is still ahead of the curve.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Augury View Post
have fun stringing this up.
Ah! Although you're a ways off from starting to string this thing, you might want to start looking for information to build a small loop maker for the strings. It's cheaper to buy bulk music wire and to make your own strings than to buy individual loop end strings.
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Unread 01-15-2012, 05:59 AM   #15
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Well, time to scrap that dodgy plan I made up. Was searching around for resources and found this :

FOLKSINGER: Acoustic Dulcimer Plans

This gentleman has kindly provided plans for his 13/14 Dulcimer which I shall be using for my first build. I will be using the same timbers as above, just making it to this spec. Should make the intonation and setup so much easier.



Brian's Dulcimer plans reassembled. The top right part doesn't quite match up 100%, but is good enough for me as all dimension are there.


Will be timber hunting on Wednesday!

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Unread 01-17-2012, 07:08 AM   #16
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I'm really looking forward to how this turns out. Lots of updates, please!
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Unread 01-18-2012, 07:14 AM   #17
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Australian Hardwood gives me Australian hard wood

Got the timber today

Had to buy a couple of larger sized bits that will comprise the pin blocks and the bridges. Ripping and dressing the timber will just add to the fun of the experience



All the timber (bar the 19mm ply I'll be using for the base!). There's a sheet of 3mm BC grade hardwood ply that will form the soundboard. The long thin lengths are the tasmanian oak that will form the edge bridges, accents on the main bridges and binding for the base ply. The red/brown timber is the jarrah that will form the main bulk of the body and the two main bridges.



A shot showing the pinky tone of a lighter bit of jarrah.



Jarrah after a quick sand with some methylated spirits applied to show the finished colour. Timber was drinking up the spirits though, so I didn't get a good chance to get the colour. The bit shown here is going to form the pin blocks.


Can't wait to start cutting everything up on Friday!

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Unread 01-18-2012, 12:58 PM   #18
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That jarrah sure is Purdy!
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Unread 01-19-2012, 03:41 AM   #19
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That jarrah sure is Purdy!
It's also, quite literally, tasty The timber has a really strong, sweet, timber smell to it, gonna be hard to resist eating all the sawdust lol.

Worth noting that's it's dense as concrete. The 150x50x600 piece weighs about 5-10kg by itself with the grain all nice, straight and tight. It apparently carves and saws well, but is prone to splitting when having fasteners driven through it, so I'll have to be careful with my pilot holes for the hitch pins (which are essentially half a nail) and the tuners.
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Unread 01-19-2012, 03:44 AM   #20
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Timber porridge, no?
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Unread 01-19-2012, 05:15 PM   #21
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I just ran across these pictures from while my travel instrument was being built. It lacks the Delrin bridge caps, but does have the soundhole carving I commissioned.




I love looking down at that little guy, with his little smile beaming up at me. It reflects my Mexican heritage, and I think he's pretty cheerful.

I had never seen jarrah before, and did a little reading. Very pretty, and it makes me think about getting a piece to experiment with hitch pins and tuning pins.

In case it hadn't occurred to you, keep in mind that the pinblocks don't have to go the whole depth of the instrument. Many modern instruments have the dense wood (normally maple here in North America) on top of another wood, like in this picture.



That saves a ton of weight.

Some then put wood over the pinblock, but that jarrah is gorgeous, so I can't imagine that being a concern....

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Unread 01-19-2012, 06:04 PM   #22
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Just cut up and stained the plywood that's forming the base of the instrument. It's got outer veneers of Hoop pine. It takes stain really well and sands to a good finish. The grain pattern also looks awesome on the bit I grabbed



Full sheet before cutting.



The base cut down to pretty much the right dimensions. Will trim to the trapezoidal shape after the rails are all cut and ready.

After staining....






Unfortunately the depth of the grain of the pine isn't really showing through completely in these pics, but trust me, the stacked grain pattern looks absolutely awesome up close. I especially love how the darkness of the timber has inverted after staining.


Explorer: I'm going to brave using solid jarrah rails, I know the thing is going to weigh a ton because of it, but it'll be nigh on indestructible

*Post Working Edit*

Done for the day. Got the tuning blocks cut to length and roughly angled. The front and back braces are also roughly cut to size. All the faces need to be sanded and the visible ones I'll plane back a tiny bit to tidy them up.



Results of the day's work



A good brightly lit shot showing the partly sanded bottom rail that's been wiped over with mineral turpentine. Such a nice piece.

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Unread 01-20-2012, 08:17 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AwakenNoMore View Post
yes yes that's awesome, but,
will it djent?
damn you beat me to it.

but on a serious note. the thing has wood, strings, and makes music. this is gonna be awesome. lookin forward to this.
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Unread 01-21-2012, 04:42 AM   #24
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Wow, nice finds on the wood. That pine has really popped, it looks like a mountain-scene.
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Unread 01-21-2012, 06:33 AM   #25
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I can't wait to see this project take form.

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