Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: August 2010

The Sape – A Dulcimer-Like Instrument From Borneo

I first learned of the sape while watching a documentary about Borneo many years ago.


As both a dulcimer and clawhammer banjo player I am fascinated by this beautiful instrument and its music. Listening to the music of the sape and observing the techniques of playing it have helped me grow as a musician.

The two tunings I have heard of are either similar to 1-5-5 or open tunings based on a major chord. The sapes I have seen in pictures and videos commonly have four strings but I have also seen a few with three.

The strumming technique using the thumb is similar to strumming a dulcimer yet also reminiscent of clawhammer banjo.

The sape is a quiet instrument. Contemporary players often play electric sapes and often one sape player will be accompanied by another.

If a picture is worth a thousand words these videos should be worth much more!



And a sape lesson!


The Heart Of A Mountain Dulcimer

I consider every component of a dulcimer to be integral to the instrument’s sound, playability, beauty and structural integrity.

The choice of wood, the thickness of the top, back and sides, bracing and other structural elements are unique to each dulcimer I build. I adjust each component as the dulcimer is constructed to bring them into harmony.

Though every part is integral to the final result I consider the fretboard to be the heart of the dulcimer. The fretboard transmits the music within the musician to the body of the dulcimer.

Fingers and fretboard - photo by Mustafa Farhad -

The fretboard is the primary soundboard brace.  It also acts as a bridge and transfers the vibrations of the strings from every fret directly to the soundboard. By altering the material, weight, and mass of the fretboard I can adjust  volume, tone and sustain.

The choice of wood for the fretboard is as critical as the choice of wood for the soundboard. The fretboard needs to be resonant, stable and strong enough to carry the tension of the strings.

I treat the hollowing-out of the fretboard, the carving of the strum-hollow and the shape of the tail-end of the fretboard in a similar manner to shaping the internal braces, thicknessing  the sides and graduating the top and back.

This process takes time but it brings me great joy.

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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