Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

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Month: August 2013 Page 1 of 2

Music I’d Like To Hear #62


Music I'd Like To Hear #62

What’s On The Bench – 8/23/2013

Today I was preparing wood that will become dulcimer necks and fingerboards. I am also preparing stock for the frame of a contemporary style of begena I am making for my friend and fellow musician Temesgen. You should check out Temesgen’s page and listen to his music!

A piece of wood can only be hand-planed as flat as the surface beneath it. Even a slight warp in the top of the bench will create a concave or convex surface on the final work.

Part of my regular shop maintenance is planing the top of my bench flat once or twice a year. I am currently unable to do this as it would put too much stress on my back and legs. In a few months I should be able to level the bench top but I have work to do until then!

The stock I needed to plane was long and narrow.  It came to me that all I needed was a flat surface long and wide enough to plane the work at hand.

My solution was to take a long 2 X 4 of quartersawn oak I had lying around the shop and turn it into a planing surface. I trued up the surface and drilled a hole for a dowel that serves as a bench stop. I clamped the oak beam to the bench top using bench dogs and the end vise.

Dulcimer builder creates a long, thin planing support. What will he think of next?Bench stop made from a dowel

This setup worked so well that I will probably keep using it even after I level the bench top!

The plane is my old #7 retrofitted with a thick blade and cap iron.

I love hand planning!

Music I’d Like To Hear #61

African recorder quartet


Music I’d Like To Hear #61


What’s On The Bench – 8/14/2013

I had a very good time at The Gateway Dulcimer Festival this past weekend. I taught eight classes on playing mountain dulcimer and performed as part of the Saturday night concert. There were also some late-night conversations with old friends and some new friendships formed. This is the stuff that makes this all worthwhile.

My back and legs are doing much better. I was concerned about driving eight hours each way but my body held up well. I stopped and took breaks, stretched, and enjoyed the ride. Though there is still a way to go the difference in my ability to walk, stand and work has improved significantly during the past month or so. Joy!

This afternoon I am fretting a Claro walnut dulcimer. In the photograph are the three tools I use when hammering frets: a brass hammer, fret cutters, and a small saw for cleaning and checking the depth of the fret slots.

dulcimer and the tools used for hammering frets

I install the frets on a dulcimer towards the end of the building process. After applying the first two coats of finish I hang the dulcimer up for several days or more so the finish can cure During this time the wood can make any movement it may make as it adjusts to wearing new clothes. Applying finish to the thin and light wood of a dulcimer changes the equilibrium of the wood’s response to the environment.

Though subtle, any slight movement of the wood during this time can alter the flatness of the fingerboard. I can now check and correct any fluctuations that may have occurred in the fretboard before installing the frets.

Many dulcimer makers install the frets before the fretboard gets glued to the body. There is a good reason for this; it is much easier to hammer or press the frets into the fingerboard when one is not concerned about smashing the top of the dulcimer!

I have never been happy with the results I have had when fretting the fingerboard before gluing it to the soundboard. I have tried this and though the results were acceptable I knew I could do better.

Many people comment that my dulcimers are very easy to play.  Getting the fingerboard exactly the way I want it to be lays the foundation for making a dulcimer as comfortable to play as possible. If the fingerboard is leveled correctly and the frets are properly installed and leveled I can set up the dulcimer with very low action if that is what the player desires.

I have developed a variety of techniques for fretting without damaging the dulcimer. It is a slow, time-consuming process but in the end I have a dulcimer that plays the way I want it to play.

After installing, leveling, shaping, and polishing the frets I continue with applying the rest of the finish to the dulcimer.


Music I’d Like To Hear #60

Music I'd Like To Hear #60

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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