How to Build a Mountain Dulcimer

By Kochava R. Greene ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Mountain dulcimer plans
  • Cherry or walnut block, 30 inches by 3 inches by 3 inches
  • Pencil
  • Saw
  • Tuning peg reamer
  • Rasp
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • C-clamp
  • Dowel
  • Frets
  • Hammer
  • Wire cutter
  • Tuning gears
  • Strings
  • Varnish, stains, or oil
Three mountain dulcimers

The mountain dulcimer is a beautiful, sweet-sounding stringed instrument that developed in the Appalachian mountains in the 18th and 19th centuries. The mountain dulcimer remains a popular instrument in folk and dance music of the mountains. Kits for building mountain dulcimers are widely available, but many people prefer to build their own instruments. Learn how to make a mountain dulcimer.

Using professional plans ensures good proportions and sound for your mountain dulcimer.

Select what shape you would like your dulcimer to be: hourglass, elliptical and teardrop are all traditional shapes. Once you have selected a shape, you will need to purchase a set of plans with schematics for the measurements of your chosen shape. Using plans will ensure that your mountain dulcimer has correct proportions, and sounds the way it should.

A decorative soundhole rosette

Construct the parts of the dulcimer according to your plans. The shapes and measurements will differ from design to design, so be careful not to mix designs or measurements. Mixed designs can result in improper string tension and damage to the strings or even the neck. Cut, shape, and sand the sides, back, top, scroll, neck, fingerboard and tailpiece. Cut any decorative sound holes you like into the top, or soundboard, and make holes for the tuning pegs in the scroll with the tuning peg reamer.

The scroll, pegs, nut, and fretboard of a mountain dulcimer

Glue the sides to the scroll and clamp them in place. When the glue has dried, glue the sides to the tailpiece and clamp until dry. Cut the dowel to fit between the sides at the top and insert it while the tailpiece dries to keep the shape of the instrument open.

Draw a center line down the back panel and carefully position the framed sides of the mountain dulcimer over it. Trace around the sides of the instrument onto the back. Apply glue to the back just inside this guiding line, and place the framed sides onto the back. Clamp the sides and back to another piece of straight, flat wood or other surface, put in dowels cut to fit the sides, and allow to dry fully.

Sand the fretboard and very lightly cut grooves into it for the placement of the strings, as according to your plans. Lay the frets across the fretboard where indicated by your plans, and tap the frets gently into the grooves. Clip any frets hanging over the fretboard with the wire cutters. Use the rasp to sand the edges of the frets down so that they are level with the fretboard.

Draw a center line down the middle of the soundboard or top of the mountain dulcimer and place the fretboard on it. Trace the outline of the fretboard, remove it, and apply glue just inside the marks. Clamp the fretboard to the soundboard and allow the glue to dry.

Glue the top or soundboard to the rest of the instrument and clamp until dry. When the glue is dry, cut away any bit of the fretboard hanging over the bottom end of the mountain dulcimer and round the bottom of the fretboard using the rasp and sandpaper. Glue on the nut.

Sand the instrument all over to make sure it is smooth. Make a note of where the strings will go, and make small notches in the nut where they will rest. Cover the fingerboard with masking tape and apply a stain, varnish, or oil as you prefer, and allow the instrument to dry completely. Remove the masking tape when you are finished applying the stain.

A man plays a finished mountain dulcimer

Insert the tuning gears into the scroll. Place the bridge on the instrument, and put on one of the center strings in order to hold the bridge in place. Do not glue the bridge! Put on the rest of the strings and tune up.

Tip

Always use professional plans when making a mountain dulcimer in order to ensure correct proportions and a good sound.