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Adventures in Lutherie #1: Dulcimer Nut and Bridge Replacement

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Blog entry by Dave Rutan posted 10-29-2014 05:57 PM 2932 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Adventures in Lutherie series Part 2: Diving in Again: Mountain Dulcimer »

Over the summer my wife came home after visiting a former colleague and brought in an oldish mountain dulcimer. It had hung on the wall at her friend’s house and she was wondering if it could be made to play. I’m no expert, but I took a good look at it. It looked to be a genuine mountain dulcimer, not a mere decoration. A label inside says Geoffrey R. Johnson, NOVEMBER 1989. A Google search on that yielded nothing useful.

The Nut was broken and the floating bridge was missing, but I figured that given time and research I could likely repair the instrument.

I removed the old nut and used its remains to reproduce it in a piece of walnut wood I saved for just such a purpose. I sanded the piece to shape and marked where the string slots will go. Then I glued it on, using Titebond’s liquid hide glue. (N.B. The Elmer’s white glue was not used for this repair. It was simply on the table in shot.)

Information about floating dulcimer bridges is scarce out there, so I created a prism shaped piece to serve and put small notches where the strings will ride. It’s fortunate that there are two marks on the fretboard where the floating bridge should go.

After the glue on the nut dries, I’ll string it up and between my musician wife and I we’ll set the strings in the nut to the proper height and make sure the thing really works.

I have a book coming in from our library about making dulcimers. I’m hoping that will fill in some blanks for me. I’m wondering what I could use to clean the piece up a bit before we give it back. If it ends up being a good book, I’ll probably buy a copy somewhere.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!



6 comments so far

View CFrye's profile

CFrye

8738 posts in 1300 days


#1 posted 10-29-2014 11:52 PM

”a piece of walnut wood I saved for just such a purpose.”
No such thing as scrap! Good save, Dave.

-- God bless, Candy

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1430 posts in 1649 days


#2 posted 10-30-2014 12:04 AM

I have so little real hardwood and I have in mind to build a cigar box guitar, fiddle, and a few more dulcimers. I just hold onto stuff like that. Painted pine and warped plywood is about all I’ll willingly throw out.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View nomercadies's profile

nomercadies

577 posts in 1799 days


#3 posted 10-30-2014 01:44 PM

I feel like Hap Shaughnessy on The Red Green Show, but the “willingly throw out” part of your report reminds me of a story. A true story, believe me. I know, I know, there I go again, but maybe you’ll like it and find it somehow connected to our woodworking lives.

When I was a student teacher, the lead teacher came in one day sputtering about how ungrateful one of her neighbors was. She was sure it was going to be a deal breaker as far as neighborhood friendships were concerned. It was going to be the finish to what had been a lovely little tradition that everyone looked forward to at the end of a work day.

During the part of the day, when no one notices the sun is starting its decline and before most of the work-a-day people return to the neighborhood, some of the people that were available took advantage of that small window and got together, put up some lawn chairs, and had that first glass of wine.

They were composed mostly of stay at home wives, people that got out of work earlier in the day, and retired people. As far as gender goes, the group was made up of all women except the rather handsome divorced retiree who’s driveway and garage opening they used for their outdoor/slightly indoor restaurant/bar.

Ohhh the giggles and stories. Such fun. Everyone looked forward to that happy hour time with good drink and good friends. Real life was waiting for them after happy hour. Maybe each one of them could take turns making some kind of appetizer to pass for the following day? Good thoughts to hang onto as they finished off a bottle while doing chores at home.

“But, all good things come to an end.” she mumbled through clenched teeth. The “girls” decided to do something nice to show their appreciation for the man that hosted mini-party after mini-party in his drive. When the light rain threatened, it made them inch into the garage opening. That put a little dampness on the party.

What better way to thank him than to go over some day when he had to be away, sneak into his garage, and clean up all those tools and pieces of wood and trashy kind of things and make the garage into a lovely place to work and play?

They cleaned and organized him. It was perfect, so my lead teacher explained to me.

“And you know what happened?” she said.

I feigned ignorance, due to my very subordinate position. “No, what?” I questioned.

“We arrived as usual for our afternoon gathering. When he opened the garage, he started huffing and actually acted angry! No thank yous. No appreciation. Not even a smile from that man. He was very quiet and actually was kind of snippy. No wonder he’s divorced! We’re done with that man.”

I slumped my shoulders, shook my head, and quietly said, “The very idea …!”

She wasn’t herself for several days. Maybe no one learned anything from that series of events, but maybe … me.

-- Chance Four "Not Just a Second Chance"

View nomercadies's profile

nomercadies

577 posts in 1799 days


#4 posted 10-30-2014 01:46 PM

I’d like to know more and follow your dulcimer adventure. Can’t wait.

-- Chance Four "Not Just a Second Chance"

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1430 posts in 1649 days


#5 posted 10-30-2014 02:00 PM

nomercadies, Sometime in the foreseeable future I will be building another dulcimer. When I do that I’ll definitely post many updates here AND I’ll make a multi part video of it. YouTube seems to have zero tutorials on making a dulcimer, so I’ll be the first.

Your tale reminds me of when I was a printer. I worked in a mom & pop shop and I was in charge of the old pressroom with the metal type and old antique presses. When doing that sort of printing, a craft really, you collect all kinds of its and pieces of wood spacers, index card slices and other seemingly useless bits of stuff. I went on vacation for a week. When I returned, I discovered that someone had ‘cleaned up’ all my bits and pieces, so I had to start afresh collecting all my little helpers that would speed my work along.

So far no one has done anything like that in my workshop, but usually a month after I throw something out that wasn’t actually falling apart, I find a use for it—after it’s gone.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View nomercadies's profile

nomercadies

577 posts in 1799 days


#6 posted 10-30-2014 03:29 PM

There is a thin line between a hoarder and a person that actually needs the things others believe to be trash. I am old and still haven’t decided where the dividing line is.

-- Chance Four "Not Just a Second Chance"

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