Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: November 2012

Bending Linings For Dulcimers

Linings are strips or blocks of wood glued around the inside-edges of the sides of a stringed instrument.  The linings add width to the edge of the sides and provide a broader gluing surface for attaching the soundboard and back.

Some dulcimer makers use linings and some don’t. If the sides are relatively thick no linings are necessary.

I make my sides fairly thin so linings are essential to my design. I also put binding around the soundboard and extra thickness is required so I can cut the rabbets for the binding.

(Please note the word I used is rabbets, not rabbits! No rabbits are harmed in the making of my dulcimers!)

Rabbet, not rabbit!

Wood for the lining strips usually comes from scraps accumulated while making soundboards, backs and sides.

I bend linings on a hot-pipe in the same manner as bending sides and find the process centering and relaxing. I am also continuously amazed that wood can be bent into curves using just a little heat and water.

A dulcimer maker's workbench is always neat and tidy!

Speaking of water, you may notice the yogurt container on my bench. It is filled with distilled water and I occasionally dip my fingers into the water and rub a little on the sides or linings while bending them. It doesn’t take much, just enough to create some steam when the moist wood comes in contact with the hot-pipe.

I use distilled water because it is free of minerals and chemicals that can stain the wood during the bending process. It took me a while to figure that one out!

The yogurt container used to contain organic yogurt. This is important! If the container had contained non-organic yogurt the water would be tainted. When the wood started to steam a toxic cloud would rise and transform me from a mild-mannered dulcimer player into a clawhammer banjo player.

Wait, I do play clawhammer banjo.

I’ll stop now.


Music I’d Like To Hear #43

Two hammered dulcimer players and percussionists playing a variety of instruments


Music I’d Like To Hear #43


Dulcimers, Action And Playability


Dulcimer makers and dulcimer players build and play an instrument that has little standardization of design and playing technique. Opinions as to what constitutes a good sounding and playable dulcimer vary from builder to builder and player to player.

The final stage of preparing a dulcimer (or any fretted instrument) for the player is referred to as “the setup.” For most luthiers the final setup consists of leveling and dressing the frets, adjusting the height of the strings at the nut and bridge, compensating the bridge for accurate intonation, making sure the strings are seated properly at the nut and bridge, etc.

What constitutes a dulcimer being easy to play depends on the taste and technique of the player. Here are some general guidelines of setups for different playing styles but these are by no means definitive.

For fingerpicking many players prefer to play with lighter gauge strings with slightly high action. The lighter gauge strings will be more responsive to a delicate touch.

If a player is an aggressive strummer heavier strings are often preferred. Heavier strings produce more volume when strummed and are more taught than light strings so the action can be set lower without buzzes and rattles.

Flatpickers usually prefer heavier strings because they produce more volume and the higher string tension is more responsive to the attack of the pick.

Here is an interesting example of personal preferences for setup. Stephen Seifert recently played and taught in town and we had some time to visit and play together. He mentioned that when he had tried my dulcimers at festivals he found the action too low for the way he plays.

I had a dulcimer I had just finished but had not yet given a final setup. I had planned on significantly lowering the action and in its current state I found it uncomfortable to play.

Stephen tried the dulcimer and said, “This is perfect!.”

The setup can be easily changed. Think of it as similar to putting different tires on a car.

I am always happy to adjust the setup of my dulcimers to meet a players needs. If a dulcimer player plays in a variety of styles or is unsure of what will suit them I offer a standard setup that is quite versatile.

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!