The hammered dulcimer is a folk instrument traditional to the Appalachian Mountains. A popular music-maker until the early twentieth century, the hammered dulcimer is enjoying a renaissance among professional and amateur musicians alike, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Easy to learn to play, the hammered dulcimer sounds lovely at the hands of both beginner and expert players.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Plywood, 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch thick (the Smithsonian recommends birch plywood if available)
- Maple wood
- Spruce wood
- Bridge caps (can be made of coat hanger wire)
- Zither tuning pins
- Steel wire, 0.020-inch diameter
- Wood glue
- Hand saw
- Bar clamp
- Tape measure
- Electronic tuner
Measure, mark and cut the plywood into panels of the following sizes: 19 inches long by 4 inches high; 43 inches long by 4 inches high. Cut the maple into two blocks 20 inches long, 4 inches high and 2 inches wide. Cut the plywood into the top and bottom of the hammer dulcimer: each piece should be 19 inches at the top and 39 inches at the bottom, with a 55-degree angle at the bottom. Mark the centre of the top panel. Drill two holes, 1½ inches in diameter, into the top, each 3 inches from the centre line.
Glue the maple blocks along the sides of the bottom panel to form the inside bracing for the hammer dulcimer. Glue the 19-inch panel of plywood to the top of the bottom panel and the top two blocks. Glue the 43-inch panel to the bottom panel and the bottom two blocks. Finish with a box centred on the bottom panel with 2 inches extending from the blocks and top on the bottom panel. Clamp all of the joints and allow to dry.
Cut the maple into pin blocks by cutting strips 1 inch thick and 20 inches long. Glue these strips to the bottom panel, building up in 1-inch blocks until you are 1 inch from the top panel. Cut two maple strips that are 1 inch on one side and slant away at a a 20 degree angle. Glue these strips to the stack of strips already in place. Clamp and dry.
Mark the positions for the tuning pins. All of the pins for each course should be close together, and the three courses' pins should be at least 1¼ inches apart and ¼ inch from the edge of the top of the instrument. Pierce the pin marks with the awl, drill the holes to open them up and then insert the pins. Most 12-course hammer dulcimers have three or four strings tuned to each note.
Cut the spruce for the treble and bass bridges. The bridges should be 39 inches long and ½ to ¾ inches wide and should come to a point at the top, like a small triangle. Drill 12 holes ¾ inches in diameter and 1/8 inch apart in the bridges to allow the other strings to pass through. Mark and then notch with a knife where the strings will pass over the bridge to help keep the strings in place when you put them on.
Position the bridges so that the treble bridge is 8 inches from the side of the top panel. Position the bass bridge so that its top is about 9 inches away from the top of the treble bridge. The bridges should angle away from each other slightly so that they are about 10 inches apart at the bottom of the dulcimer.
Sand all of the edges and joints of the instrument smooth and even, and varnish and let dry. Flatten out the coat hanger wire into small, square sheets and apply these to the notches on the bridge, retaining the indentations. Attach the wire to the tuning pins and tune the strings using an electronic tuner.
Tips and warnings
- Work slowly and carefully.
- Wear safety glasses when cutting and drilling.
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