Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: May 2009

Bracing The Back Of A Dulcimer

The influence of the back and sides of a dulcimer can effect the sound almost as much as the soundboard.

Over the years I have found that there are no hard and fast rules as to what works best. This goes not only for dulcimer backs but just about everything else too!

I have made dulcimers that weighed very little for their size as well as heavier instruments. The effect of weight on tone, in my experience, is very subjective. Each piece of wood is different and the influence of design and material must be considered as a whole. This is why I have “ballpark” measurements for thicknessing wood. The final tolerances are arrived at by feel and sound.

My friend Anna is making a dulcimer as one of her home school projects. Anna is an amazing young woman who knits, weaves, contradances, plays violin, acts and does many other wonderful things. Here Anna is thicknessing a back using my shop-made thickness sander.

Anna at the thickness sander

A week later she was laying out the positions of the back braces:

Anna laying out dulcimer back braces

Here are a few photographs of a maple dulcimer back I recently completed. After the braces are glued on I bring them to final height with a plane and shape them with a paring chisel and  scrapers:

Carving maple dulcimer back braces

This small scraper is great for cleaning up braces and beveling the edges of the center seam reinforcement strip. This strip of wood both strengthens the thin butt joint of the two halves of the back  and adds stiffness to the back:

Small scraper used for shaping braces and center seam reinforcment

Here is the completed back ready to be glued to the rest of the dulcimer:

Figured maple dulcimer and back

And here is passionate dulcimer enthusiast eagerly awaiting the first musical sounds this dulcimer will soon be making.

Dulcimer enthusiast eagerly anticipating the first sounds of the latest dulcimer made by Doug Berch

Involuntary Aesthetic Decisions

I put a lot of time into choosing which pieces of wood become a finished dulcimer. Sometimes I spend hours deciding which board (or boards) will provide the top, back peghead, fretboard, endblocks and sides for a particular dulcimer.

sorting wood in the attic

I am currently working on two walnut dulcimers. One is curly with beautiful red, brown and orange highlights, the other remarkably clear and straight grained. Both dulcimers are beautiful in their own way.

Yesterday I braced the backs, glued in the labels and glued the backs to the two walnut dulcimers.

This morning, after almost completing flush trimming the back  of one of the dulcimers I saw that I had put the curly back on the plain dulcimer and vice versa!

Here is an artist’s rendition of how I felt when I realized what I had done:

Artist's rendition of how I felt when I realized I had put the wrong back on a dulcimer

I checked to see if I could remove the backs  and put them on their originally intended dulcimers. The bodies were shaped slightly differently from each other and once trimmed the backs could not be switched .

Here is a lovely dancer performing an interpretive dance of how I felt in that moment:

Interpretive dance showing how I felt when I realized I could not do a dulcimer back transplant.

All is not lost though.

Both dulcimers look very nice and I am sure they will sound and play just as expected. They simply won’t look the way I had intended.

I thought I had enough coffee this morning. Oh well.

It's Too Bad Rusty Brains Don't Squeak!

Make Your Own Apprentice

I’ve been busy with one thing or another and not getting enough time in the shop.  Luckily I found this helper who is ready to go to work with a plane and a board in hand. I thought some of my readers might find him useful too!

Instant Apprentice!

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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