Saturday, 17 December 2011

Materials for Stick Dulcimer

The great thing about making a Stick Dulcimer is that it can be made of very small pieces of wood, the scrap from making a guitar for example.
It's also a great opportunity to use offcuts and recycled materials.

If you do buy your materials from the guitar Luthier material suppliers the wood sold for guitars will make lots and lots of Stick Dulcimers! 
For the neck of the instrument you want a wood that is strong and not too heavy, the traditional mahogany, or maple woods are fine.  Many of my instruments have a cherry neck, as I want to avoid using mahogany unless it is old recycled material.

The Body can be made of any medium to fine grained hardwood,  I have used Cherry, Walnut, maple, Rosewood, laburnum, and there are some ones to come in native oak and ash that are looking good so you are really free to see what's available locally.   Tonally maple cherry or walnut are good first choices.

The Soundboard needs to be close grained Quartersawn spruce as sold for guitars, Fir or cedar can be used too.  Since the wood is worked quite thin and has minimal barring the stiffness of sitka spruce can be useful, though most of mine have a Finnish spruce top.  Western red Cedar can be used but bear in mind how easily this wood can dent, you might want to think about a pick guard.

The fingerboard needs to be hard wearing and able to hold the frets in well.   Ebony is the traditional wood, though I only use old boards of ebony.  I have been using Plantation grown rosewood which is fine for this , but there are many woods of smiler hardness. 
American hard maple works well, but the European maple tends to be a bit soft for this.
Good European woods are Pear, Holly, Hornbeam, Plum, and Apple.

Owen Niblocks Stick Dulcimer pictured above has a fingerboard made from an African hardwood, Pau Rosa

The Bridge is made of maple, often with an insert of ebony, or hard plastic .

The internal blocks are made from whatever you have available, you can use pine/spruce like the violin family, I usually make mine out of walnut.
the Linings can be solid like a violin, though a shade thicker, especially if you want to add bindings, these will require heat bending.  Or you can make kerfed linings like the ones sold for making acoustic guitars/mandolins, these require no bending, but will take a while to make.  

Bindings help protect the soft soundboard edges and are very useful here, if you add them to the back it is more decorative than absolutely necessary.  I have mainly used plantation rosewood and Walnut for bindings, They can be purchase or made by hand.

The Rosette/Ring I use on these instruments is simply made from violin purfling doubled for thickness,  If you use fibre based Purflings they will bend easier as the  radius is quite tight.
Lastly, the machine pegs are mini machines, of the enclosed type.  My supplier sells them individually, but otherwise you could buy three sets and make 4 instruments!

The fretwire is the standard guitar fretwire, the nut can be made of Bone, Micarta, old ebony or even hard plastic.
The strings used for this instrument are just normal acoustic guitar strings, the helpful thing is that this instrument has a standard scale length so the guages used for guitar apply.  More info in the stringing section to come.

The Tailpiece

My plans show a basic form of the tailpiece, These can be made from sheet brass or angle iron or aluminium.  It works very well if the screw fits tight.  Since 2008 They have been improved by rounding the edges. If making one seems daunting you can now get these from my website, they come complete with endpin and screw. buy here online 

The case for the instrument  can be just a simple box made of pine and plywood, joined with miller dowels and painted or covered in fabric/vinyl/rexine/leather of your choice.   I used 10mm foam padding sold for camping mats, covered with a crushed velvet cloth.

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