Appalachian Dulcimer

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Project by GnarlyErik posted 02-16-2017 11:15 PM 1160 views 1 time favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After research and some fussiness I’ve just completed an Appalachian Dulcimer for my wife’s birthday, which is tomorrow. She got her dulcimer today though, and loves it already, so I am very happy about that. It sounds good to my ear, with a very nice ringing and resonating tone quality. However, since I do not play myself, what do I know?

This is very traditionally made, with ebony tuning pegs in lieu of mechanical tuners, and with brass string pins, etc. The top is New Zealand pine (Pinus radiata), the bottom is an intarsia amalgamation of white ash (Fraxinus americana), and black walnut (Juglans nigra). The sides and fret board are red cherry (Prunus serotina) and the peg box is Honduras mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Top, bottom and sides are all 1/8” or less in thickness and the dulcimer is light as a feather. Everything is glued, there being only one actual screw in the entire structure, holding the tailpiece in place. There’s a piezo pick up installed inside for an amplifier.

The finish is four coats of a high quality marine varnish. I guess I’m stuck in a rut with my finishes, since I very much prefer to use marine grade, oil-based paints and varnishes. You can always get a superb, high gloss ‘wet look’ which outshines everything else if you know what you’re about with those. It’s fussy and you must use patience – and lots of elbow grease with fine hand sanding between coats, but the results are unsurpassed. The final three coats are sprayed on with a small touch-up air gun. Honestly, that finish just blows away the finishes on all those fancy factory made instruments.

Onward! Next project is a small ‘Cigar Box Guitar’ with a 24” string length, with 3 strings for a small child less than two years old. The reason this is added to my line up is because she was so interested in the ones I made for her older siblings. She was so fascinated by those I just have to go ahead and build a smaller version for her, earlier than I planned to. Serendipitously, I made a find recently at an auto swap meet of over a dozen wooden cigar boxes. These had never held cigars and I grabbed the lot for a song. Now, I have the starting material for lots of small guitars!

I’m learning a lot and having so much fun with these things!

  • EDIT – 2/18/17: Though it is not very obvious in these pictures, I tried a ‘shadow effect’ at the leaf sound holes. I inserted a darker, contrasting wood (walnut) to try to outline and emphasize the leaf design. I have now posted a closeup picture to show this. At the moment I’m busy finishing up two more two 3-string guitars I had almost finished them when I put them aside to finish the dulcimer. Now I am on the last hour or so to complete those. I have a tendency to add little ‘improvement’ touches as I build things. These last two will have mechanical geared tuners instead of the traditional wooden tuning pegs.

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

15 comments so far

View tyvekboy's profile


1734 posts in 2946 days

#1 posted 02-16-2017 11:32 PM

Nice Job. Must sound as good as it looks.

-- Tyvekboy -- Marietta, GA ………….. one can never be too organized

View Kelster58's profile


523 posts in 473 days

#2 posted 02-16-2017 11:39 PM

It’s beautiful. GREAT JOB !!

-- K. Stone “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

View PaulDoug's profile


1487 posts in 1637 days

#3 posted 02-16-2017 11:43 PM

Beautiful instrument! I’ve built several CGB guitars and Ukes, and one “strum stick”. Someone stole the strum stick when my son had it at his house. I have always wanted to try a dulcimer. I love the sound of them. Like you I do not play so I enjoy building.

Congratulations on a beautiful project.

-- “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

View triviasteve's profile


190 posts in 1634 days

#4 posted 02-16-2017 11:57 PM

that is gorgeous! video of it being played?

-- You know I'm on the level 'cause my bubble's in the middle.

View poospleasures's profile


690 posts in 2417 days

#5 posted 02-17-2017 12:22 AM

Beautiful!!!!!!!!!! I made two dulcimers for my wife. One looked really good but we could never tune it. The second which is an hour glass style has the very best sound. However the appearance does not come up to yours. Thanks for posting.

-- I,ve had amnesia for as long as I can remember. Vernon

View johnstoneb's profile


2817 posts in 2106 days

#6 posted 02-17-2017 02:58 AM

That looks nice. You say it sound even better. I am building a dulcimer right now should have it done in another week or two.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View wiser1934's profile


524 posts in 3080 days

#7 posted 02-17-2017 04:30 AM

fantastic job. absolutely beautiful. one of the nicest acoustic instruments, and sounds fantastic.

-- wiser1934, new york

View hunter71's profile


3128 posts in 3120 days

#8 posted 02-17-2017 12:49 PM

Absolutely beautiful. I am sure it sounds great.

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2336 posts in 581 days

#9 posted 02-17-2017 01:01 PM

True craftsmanship!

-- Ron in Lilburn, Georgia.  Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself.

View david38's profile


3518 posts in 2277 days

#10 posted 02-17-2017 03:59 PM

looks great

View Purplelady's profile


77 posts in 893 days

#11 posted 02-17-2017 04:39 PM

Beautiful! I love the sound holes. Nice work. Dulcimers are not easy to make. Putting frets in is scary. Nice job!

-- Marsha, Northeast Ohio

View helluvawreck's profile


30512 posts in 2800 days

#12 posted 02-17-2017 07:15 PM

This is a beautiful instrument and so nicely done.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View johnhutchinson's profile


1243 posts in 1563 days

#13 posted 02-17-2017 08:44 PM

It’s wonderful !!!

-- John - Central Ohio - "too much is never enough"

View Woodknack's profile (online now)


11312 posts in 2313 days

#14 posted 02-19-2017 05:49 AM

Handsome dulcimer

-- Rick M,

View bushmaster's profile


2819 posts in 2216 days

#15 posted 03-14-2017 02:27 PM

This should have been a top 3,sometimes we miss fantastic projects, projects like this where not made in a day. I had to limit my cell phone data but now I have high speed hub so hope I do not miss your fantastic instruments.

-- Brian - Hazelton, British Columbia

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