Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

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Month: December 2010 Page 1 of 2

The Adirondack Spruce; A Study Of The Forest In Ne-Ha-Sa-Ne Park – (1898)

I often use Adirondack spruce soundboards on dulcimers with walnut back and sides.

Dulcimer with Adirondack spruce sounboard and walnut back and sides by Doug Berch

Adirondack spruce was used for the soundboards of many classic fretted instruments made before World War II. It was also used to build airplanes and in other applications requiring a strong, light and stiff timber.

Adirondack spruce was over-cut and for many years was not readily available. It is slowly making a comeback thanks to careful forest management.

Heavy Stand Of Nearly Pure Spruce

Average Number Of Trees Per Acre In The Adirondacks in 1898

Measuring Timber With Calipers

Like many old books the full title is somewhat long; you can get the book at the always wonderful Internet Archive:

“The Adirondack spruce; a study of the forest in Ne-Ha-Sa-Ne Park. With tables of volume and yield and a working-plan for conservative lumbering” by Gifford Pinchot (1898)

An Elephant Worker At A Lumber Yard At Ragoon, Burma

No teak or elephants are used in the making of my dulcimers!

An Elephant In Burma, India

Nellie The Elephant Packed Her Trunk And Trundled Back To The Jungle

Of course you have seen elephants at the zoo or in the circus. Did you ever wish you had one for a pet! What a big room he would need! How much hay would he eat! How much water would you have to carry to him!

Perhaps the man in this picture owns this elephant. Perhaps he is hired to drive for the owner. Anyway, you can see he and the elephant are friends, The stick he holds in his hand has not sharp-pointed iron pron on it. Many drivers use these to prod their elephants.

Have you seen elephants in a circus do tricks? In Burma where this elephant lives, they are trained to work. Some are harnessed and draw plows. Some have little houses fastened on their backs and carry tiger hunters in these. Some are used by postmen and travel through thick jungles. They can swim deep rivers as easily as you can wade across a brook.

Others are trained to carry heavy timbers and blocks of wood in lumber yards. Teakwood grows in India. It is very tough and heavy. This elephant has learned to bend his fore knees, put his tusks under the block and wrap his trunk over the top. Then he can lift it and pile it where he is told.

Beauty at work, hopefully treated with love and appreciation.

Elephants In Burma at EleAid – A British Charity working for the conservation and welfare of the Asian Elephant

Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) at Wikipedia

A Dulcimer In The Home Stretch

Violin makers sometimes refer to an instrument that is assembled but rough as a “corpse.”  Though it is an odd term it does seem appropriate – the instrument has not yet been brought to life.

Last night I was working with a dulcimer in such a state. All the major components are in place but there are many rough edges and raw surfaces to be dealt with.

The contours of the peghead need to be blended into the fretboard and any shaping and sculpting of the peghead happens at this stage. Most of this involves using a knife, file, scraper and planes.

Tools used for trimming, fitting and shaping the peghead.

The sides need to be cleaned up and the binding trued to the sides. I don’t know how I would get things done without using scrapers!

Scraping the side of a dulcimer.

Fun, fun, fun!


On-Line Fret Placement Calculators

A freshly fretted dulcimer by Doug Berch

Beginning dulcimer makers are often perplexed about knowing where to place the frets.

The first step towards getting a dulcimer to play in tune  is to have the frets placed properly.

There are many discussions about temperament, scale length, etc.

Most current fretted instruments in the Western world are fretted to play in equal temperament. A dulcimer that is fretted to play using the equal tempered scale will play in tune with most other (Western) instruments.

When I began making dulcimers I was taught to divide the string length by 17.81715385 and the resulting number would be the distance from the nut to the first fret.  I would then subtract the distance from the nut to the first fret and divide the remaining string length by 17.81715385.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I would calculate all the frets for a chromatic fingerboard but only use the ones I needed for a dulcimer. This way I had the measurements for any extra frets I might be installing while making the dulcimer or adding to it in the future.

After doing this for a while someone mentioned that no one would hear the difference if I simply used 17.817. They were right. It saved lots of keystrokes on the calculator.

Now you can easily generate fret positions automagicaly!

Here is a list of some on-line fret placement calculators I have found either useful or interesting.

A New Five Dollar Glue Pot!

It’s a thrill a minute here today! Let it not be said that a dulcimer maker doesn’t lead an exciting life!

For several years I used this little water boiling contraption as my glue pot. I measured the temperature with a candy thermometer and marked the spot on the temperature dial that kept the water at 140°. It worked very well.

My old glue pot that went wacko. So long, it's been good to know ya!

Recently the thermostat had become very unreliable. The thermostat had a mind of it’s own and the temperature would often fluctuate wildly, usually towards suddenly boiling the water surrounding the little jar of hide glue inside. This overheats the glue and ruins it very quickly.

I can’t complain as the pot cost me $1.00 at a yard sale a few years ago.

Of I went hippity hop to the local big supermarket that sells everything one needs to live, depending on your life style.

And behold, I found this little crock-pot for $5.00. It takes a while to warm up but holds the water stable at about 135°. This is a little cooler than what I prefer but I haven’t noticed any significant difference when working with hide glue.

My new cool & groovy $5 glue pot!

It is also heavier than my old glue pot and sits more securely on the bench so it is less likely to get knocked over.


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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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