How to Make a Dulcimer

How to Make a Dulcimer

The following instructions tells you how to make your own dulcimer. A list is included with everything you will need to complete the project. If you have never heard the sound of a dulcimer, it carries the beautiful, haunting folk sound of the early mountaineers. This musical instrument was a favorite of the settlers in the Southern Appalachian Mountains where it is still widely played.

The dulcimer is popular today with folk singers because it is easy to play and has the haunting sound of the mountains. This version is a simple primitive type, common to the early mountaineers.  The hour glass shape is replaced by an easy to construct box. The playing technique is similar to the modern dulcimer.

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What You Will Need:

  1. 1/8 “plywood, 18” by 23″
  2. Saw
  3. Hardwood for bridges, one 1 1/4″by 1 1/4″ by 1/4 “, one 1/4″, one1/8″ by 1 1/4″by 1/4″
  4. Coping saw
  5. White glue
  6. Drill
  7. Birch or other hard wood, 1 1/4″by 3/4″by 28″ for finger board
  8. 3 small screws for attaching strings
  9. 2 dulcimer strings or banjo strings (see below)
  10. 3 guitar machined heads (from music store)
  11. Wire for frets
  12. File
  13. Stain
  14. Pencil
  15. Plastic tape

How to Make:

  1. With saw cut two 6″ wide by 23″ long pieces out of 1/8″ plywood. On one of the plywood pieces, mark four circles 1” in diameter 7 1/2 inches from each end. The outer edge of each circle should be 1/2″ from the edge of the plywood. Cut out the circles with a coping saw. These are the sound holes.
  2. Out of the remaining 1/8” plywood, cut two strips, each 23″ by 1 1/2″. These are the sides of the box. Glue in place to top and bottom. Cut two more strips of 1/8″plywood, 1 1/2″by 5 3/4″, for ends of box. (To be sure of a good fit measure as you go.)
  3. Take the 1 ¼ “by 3/4″by 28″ piece of birch (fingerboard) and measure 5″ from one end. With the saw taper from the 3/4″ height there to 1/2″ at the end of the wood. This is the end of the fingerboard the machined heads will be attached to.
  4. Measure 1½ “from the other end of fingerboard, with the saw make a 4″ shallow “U”shape. This is the strumming hole.
  5. Cut 2 bridges out of the hardwood, one 1 1/4″by 1 1/4″by1/4″, the second 1/8″by 1 1/4″by 1/4″
  6. Glue the fingerboard to the center of box, 1/4″ from the end. This is where the 1 1/4″by 1 1/4″by 1/4″ bridge is glued to the box and fingerboard.
  7. Take a piece of hardwood 1 1/4″by 2 5/8″ by 3/8″ and glue it to the end of the box, against the bridge. Use the U shape from the strumming hole for this; this is for attaching the screws for the strings.
  8. Take the smaller bridge(1 1/4″by1/8″by1/4″) and glue it to the fingerboard at the point where the fingerboard starts to taper. Let the glue dry completely.
  9. With the drill, make 3 holes the size of the small screws, evenly spaced on the 1 1/4″by 2 5/8″by 3/8″ wood at the end of the sound box, then screw the 3 small screws in place leaving about 1/8″of each head protruding so the strings can be looped over them.
  10. This is the time to stain and finish your instrument.
  11. Frets must be placed according to the sound of each individual instrument, use plastic tape for markers until you find the exact spot, painted lines are easiest, but metal frets made from large paper clips may be added. Cut wire to fit the fingerboard. File a small groove in the board, add glue and wire.
  12. With a drill, make 3 holes the size of the necks of the machined heads. Insert heads through holes and attach to bottom with screws. (These come with machined head.)

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10 Comments
Henry Houston, posted this comment on Sep 6th, 2007

I believe I could make one of these. I like the sound of mountain music. I just wish I had the talent.

Lucy Lockett, posted this comment on Sep 6th, 2007

I have never heard of them. This is my new thing for the day, thank you!

Kieth Simms, posted this comment on Sep 8th, 2007

I have heard these played and I think I could make one. Would be interesting to try.

Cory Felinger, posted this comment on Sep 17th, 2007

It sounds easy enough to make. I have heard of them.

Marshal, posted this comment on Sep 24th, 2007

I have heard mountian music. Idon’t know if they played a dulcimer but I like the sound.

Mattie Crowley, posted this comment on Sep 29th, 2007

I like the old mountain music. I would like to hear a dulcimer played. I don’t know if I have heard one of those or not.

Roy, posted this comment on Aug 27th, 2008

I will try this when I have time, thanks for a good guide to how its made. Its the only one I have been able to find that didn’t need an expert woodworker to do it.

Anna Blake, posted this comment on Nov 30th, 2008

I made this insturment using the instructins. it turned out sounding very good. i used some different things but the measurments and process were similar.

Player, posted this comment on Apr 4th, 2009

Accompanied with a set of drawings these would be pretty good directions. You need to know the layout of the fingerboard regarding frets. Spacing for the slots in the Bridges are sort of important for a 4 string as well. These are fun instruments and a plywood model is a great beginners tool.

Ruby Hawk, posted this comment on Aug 1st, 2009

Thank you everyone. It’s wonderful to know that you guys actually made a dulcimer. I’m happy it turned out as well as it did. A friend of mine made one following these instruction and he was pleased with the results. Yea, for you guys.

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