Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: December 2011

Music I’d Like To Hear #23


Music I'd Like To Hear #23


Music I’d Like To Hear #23


You Too Can Make Dozens Of Dollars Making Musical Instruments!


I found this chart in “The Home Library Of Useful Knowledge” circa 1891.

Average Yearly Wages Of The Artisan Classes Circa 1892

The chart lists the average income of various trades in ascending order.

Musical instrument makers are listed at the very bottom of the chart.

In 1891 (according to the chart) 6,575 people were making musical instruments in the United States.

The average annual wage for making musical instruments in 1891 was $692.

In 1891 musical instrument makers were the highest paid artisans in the United States!

Musical instrument makers are no longer the highest paid artisans in the United States but at least the average annual wage has remained stable for 120 years.

There Is No Bad Wood, Only Misunderstood Wood

Most stringed instruments are made of wood that has been quarter sawn.  Quarter sawing is a method of sawing a log that yields boards with vertical grain.

Quarter  sawing a log yields boards with vertical grain

Quartered or vertical grain boards are stronger and more stable than wood sawn off quarter. These are important concerns when making stringed instruments. The soundboards, backs and sides of stringed instruments are very thin. When making dulcimers I regularly work wood down to 2mm or so. Using quarter sawn for the fingerboard helps it stay stiff, straight and stable.

Like any luthier or woodworker I spend a lot of time (and money) finding the best wood I can. “Best” is a relative term here; the best wood for what I do may be very different from what would be best for what someone else is making.

I look through the stacks at the saw mill for wood that is quarter sawn, has little or no run-out, good structural integrity,  a mass, stiffness and resonance I find appealing and good color or figure. Usually there is a certain amount of balance and compromise among these various qualities when selecting wood. Trees do not produce wood to order and wood is rarely “perfect.”

I often use wood with “character flaws” as long as they will not interfere with strength, stability and sound. Some of this wood has produced very pretty dulcimers and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make this kind of wood work well.

I save some of the wild and interesting pieces of wood to use as pegheads. I have made some beautiful pegheads using wood with burl, wild grain patterns, voids and knots.

After milling wood for dulcimers I end up with a lot of scrap. I have some friends who go through my scrap pile because they can use these pieces for marquetry, jewelery making and other projects.

Anything left gets slated for firewood.

Off-cuts and rejected wood that sometimes gets saved from the fireplace and becomes part of a dulcimer

On the other hand I regularly go through the firewood pile. I recently dug out a cedar soundboard and a cherry fretboard that were rejects. The cedar became lining strips and the cherry produced some fine brace wood after some selective cutting and trimming.

Wood is sacred. I never want to waste any.


Music I’d Like To Hear #22


Music I'd Like To Hear #22


Music I’d Like To Hear #22

The Seven Yellow Gypsies – Live At Dulci-more 2011


Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker, Dulcimer Player

Dulci-more is a wonderful festival put on by Bill Schilling. It is a festival that is large enough to be interesting and small enough to be intimate. Go there if such things interest you!

Marge Diamond shot this video of me playing “The Seven Yellow Gypsies” at Dulci-more 2011. I remember feeling very “on” during that performance.


 Marge makes beautiful hand painted shirts, jackets, and hats. She’ll also paint your dulcimer case for you and she makes cool jewelry too. Marge shows up at many dulcimer festivals in the Midwest and South. After all, she is a Dulcimer Goddess!

Dulcimer Case hand painted by Marge Diamond

Marge Diamond at work.



Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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