Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: January 2008 Page 1 of 2

Dulcimer Fingerboard Preparation

I fret dulcimers after the instrument is completely assembled. Some dulcimer makers fret the fingerboard before gluing it to the soundboard and have good results but I prefer to true up the fingerboard once I know the fretboard won’t move or warp during the construction process. Leveling Tools

I use a long sanding block to sand the fingerboard dead level. The sanding block is a chunk of 2X4 that I planed flat and checked with a straight edge. There is 80 grit self sticking paper on the business side of the block. It levels the fingerboard very quickly.

straight edgeWhen the surface of the fingerboard looks evenly sanded I check it for flatness with a steel straight edge.

A good straight edge is a wonderful tool. I use it not only for fretwork but also for making sure anything that should be straight and flat is indeed straight and flat. This includes planes, bench tops, shop made tools, etc.

I like to put a little relief in the fingerboard. The relief helps prevent buzzing reliefwhen the action is a little on the low side. Most of the relief goes between the fourth and eight frets though it tapers a bit from there in both directions.

To put in the relief I make pencil marks in the area I want to relieve and sand those areas with a shorter sanding block. The sanding away of the pencil marks helps me target the right area. I use a small amount of relief as the instrument might end up with a bit more once the dulcimer is strung up and under tension.

checking reliefI check the relief using the straight edge and a feeler gauge. The area of relief should have a gradual tapering towards both ends of the fretboard.

Once the fingerboard has the proper relief I sand it with progressively finer grits of paper. Speaking of sandpaper, I should mention that I vacuum all the dust away after each step.

Though the fret slots are already cut I use a fretting saw with a depth stop to cutting fret slotsmake sure they are still deep enough after the fingerboard has been sanded. The fret slots are just a hair deeper than the tang of the fret. The strips of wood laid across the soundboard are to help prevent the saw from accidentally cutting where it should not cut, like into the top of the dulcimer. This happened once many years ago. I don’t want it to happen again!triangle filie

Frets are not intended to be a permanent part of an instrument. They eventually wear down and need to be replaced. The frets may also need to be replaced if the fingerboard warps and needs to be trued up.

I file a slight groove into the top of each fret slot with a triangular needle file. Should the frets need to be removed this slight relief of the edge of the slot will help avoid splintering the fingerboard.oiled fingerboard

At this point I check everything over and if all looks well I oil the fingerboard.

Next come the frets….


A Winter Cold


I love Winter.

Well, I should say that I love Winter weather when it gets seriously cold and snows.

When I first moved to Michigan I was disappointed to learn that the Lansing area does not get much snow compared to some other parts of the State. What the area lacks in snow is made up for by an often dreary gray sky. This particular Winter has also unfortunately confirmed that we are experiencing global warming.

But today was a beautiful snowy day. The temperature in the ‘teens and there was even a little blue in the sky.manincoil

The weather brought inspiration. I felt very alive.

And suddenly I started sniffling and feeling achy.

I was all set to have a productive day in the shop but reality had other plans. So it goes.

Another few hours in this vintage healing contraption and I should be good as new!

More Thoughts On Recording

The new album is coming along. I recently posted a rough mix of “The Seven Yellow Gypsies” for all to hear.

AcousticRecording My original idea was to record arrangements that are identical to what I do when performing live; no overdubs, no guest musicians, etc.

On listening to some of the tracks I’ve recorded I’ve come to think that the act of performing live and the attention of the listeners adds a quality to a live performance that simply can’t be experienced when listening to a recording.

The listener’s attention fills the spaces in the performance that may be sonically minimal. Perhaps more important is the “now” of a live performance, an immediacy of experience that is unique to the event for all involved.

Dulcimers have no low end; the lowest note usually being the same as the D string on a guitar. This has never been a problem for me as it is simply the way things are; it is the nature of the instrument. However, after listening to 7 or 8 tracks of the new album I felt that adding a little aural color would be a good idea.

I’ve decided to add a few overdubs to several tunes. I will still focus on keeping the performances pretty much the way I do things live; I will only record pieces I can perform solo in front of people.

Reason Is Powerless in the Expression of Love


Reason is Powerless in the expression of Love.
Love alone is capable of revealing the truth of Love and being a Lover.
The way of our Prophets is the way of Truth.
If you want to live, die in Love; die in Love if you want to remain alive.

-Mevlana Jellaludin Rumi

Hand Sanding

sb1 No, this is not about sanding hands. It’s about using your hands to sand.

There isn’t much new to say about hand sanding. The basics of sanding are very simple. Each progressively finer grit leaves scratches finer than it’s predecessor. Finer grits are used until the scratches left are no longer noticeable. In general one should always sand with the direction of the grain.

When sanding a flat surface a sanding block should be used. Curved or contoured blocks can be used for curves or special profiles. In some situations your fingers might be the perfect sanding block.

Sandpaper is a tool. As in using any tool the results will vary according to the knowledge and skill of the user.

I tend to avoid coarse grits when hand sanding. By using edge tools, rasps and files I usually don’t need to use anything more coarse than 150 grit. I use 150 grit paper “freehand” for heavily rounding, shaping and blending curved surfaces. Sometimes I back the paper with tape to give it a little more body.sb2

I also use 150 grit with a sanding block for all flat surfaces. The scratch pattern left on the wood quickly shows me any high or low spots needing attention.

I follow 150 grit with 220 grit. Usually 220 grit is all that I need to prep for finishing. Some woods like maple and cherry might reveal fine scratches unless I go up to 320 grit.

At this stage I wipe down the instrument with a slightly dampened clean rag. This raises the grain a bit and I can then sand the resulting fuzz away. This step lessens any raising of the grain when finish is applied.

To check if sanding is complete I wipe down and vacuum off the piece. If it looks good I wipe it down with some alcohol. This gives me an idea of what the wood will look like when finished. Flaws in the prep work always show up much more after the finish is applied.

When sanding you will want to keep your nose clean. When raising a lot of dust wearing a dust mask is a good idea. Don’t wipe your eyes with dusty hands (ask me how I know….)

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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