Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer

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Project by Dave Rutan posted 05-30-2012 10:53 AM 3990 views 4 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

[Legebla ankaĆ­ en Esperanto]

This is a handmade mountain dulcimer I created as a Christmas gift for my wife. Done mostly in secret, I’m still astonished it went as well as it did. I found the plans for it in a Reader’s Digest book called Back to Basics. Sticking to my usual non-conformist tendencies the sound box is fashioned from pine instead of some kind of exotic hardwood. The fingerboard came from a stick of oak which I took from an old pallet. The bridge and nut are from the spine of a hard rubber comb. The tuning head is that of a guitar and the frets are banjo frets, both of which I bought. I also made the case in the background from plywood. It sports brass corner and clasp hardware. It sounds quite good. My wife brought it to church once and played it in a pit orchestra during a performance of The Secret Garden.
[EDIT] I’ve added a close shot of the neck and tail of the finished dulcimer, plus 3 shots of what it looked like while being glued up. The glue up shots are from a cell phone.

-- - Ni faru ion el ligno!

19 comments so far

View ratchet's profile


1311 posts in 2576 days

#1 posted 05-30-2012 12:58 PM

Sweet! That is one fine dulcimer.

View will delaney's profile

will delaney

321 posts in 1424 days

#2 posted 05-30-2012 01:10 PM

Nice job! I would of like to see more photos showing the details. Looks like a fun project.

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

554 posts in 977 days

#3 posted 05-30-2012 01:26 PM

will delaney,

If you mean details of the finished instrument, that’s very doable. If you mean during construction, I have a few shots from the glue up.


-- - Ni faru ion el ligno!

View helluvawreck's profile


16135 posts in 1656 days

#4 posted 05-30-2012 01:26 PM

Wow! What a beautiful instrument. Congratulations!


-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View jeffl's profile


288 posts in 2099 days

#5 posted 05-30-2012 01:58 PM

I’ve been looking for plans and a parts list without buying a full kit. I’ve got a Back to Basics I’ve been dragging around since the 80’s thanks for reminding me. Yours looks great, I think the idea was to use what was available not exotics.

-- Jeff,

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

12461 posts in 1894 days

#6 posted 05-30-2012 02:02 PM

Beautifully done and nice story to go with it!.................Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View will delaney's profile

will delaney

321 posts in 1424 days

#7 posted 05-30-2012 02:13 PM

That would be great Dave if you can edit the post and add some more finish photo and glue ups. I think this will help give some ideas to anyone looking to build a dulcimer. Thanks

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

554 posts in 977 days

#8 posted 05-30-2012 02:14 PM


If you use the back to basics book, double check the fret spacing, maybe even use a fret calculator. I had to move one of the frets.


-- - Ni faru ion el ligno!

View a1Jim's profile


113014 posts in 2366 days

#9 posted 05-30-2012 02:35 PM

I really like it a very nice job.

-- Custom furniture

View jeffl's profile


288 posts in 2099 days

#10 posted 05-30-2012 03:08 PM


-- Jeff,

View dubsaloon's profile


619 posts in 1583 days

#11 posted 05-31-2012 02:45 AM

It looks super! How does it sound?

-- The works of evil people are not the problem. It is the "Good" people standing by and watching not speaking up. Dubsaloon

View wiser1934's profile


418 posts in 1936 days

#12 posted 05-31-2012 03:06 AM

i used to have a dulcimer, so i can appreciate the work involved. looks great. mine was made from cedar and yellow poplar salvaged from a school for the deaf in danville, ky circa 1831

-- wiser1934, new york

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

554 posts in 977 days

#13 posted 05-31-2012 10:11 AM


According to my wife, the musician, it sounds very good. I think I got lucky.


-- - Ni faru ion el ligno!

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

4732 posts in 1169 days

#14 posted 06-14-2012 04:56 AM

Nice job. I would like to tackle a dulcimer sometime soon, have a few other projects to do first though.


View MarkTheFiddler's profile


1914 posts in 977 days

#15 posted 06-18-2012 08:25 PM

VERY NICE! I saw your dulcimer and Wildwood Flower started going through my mind. Quick – make another instrument or I may be stuck on that tune for a month.

A plastic comb you say?! Incredible, I never would have thought it to be hard enough at the nut. Then again, I’m thinking the string tension is a lot lower on the mountain duclimers. Am I in the ballpark?

I wish I had the courage to tackle a job like that. I’m always afraid of investing a lot of time into something that was only fit for firewood. With my current skill set – It would be firewood.

-- Thanks for all the lessons!

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