Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Music I’d Like To Hear #173

Two zampogna players.

Two zampogna players.

Still Life In A Dulcimer Maker’s Shop #6

A dulcimer makers view of the workbench.

I stepped back for a moment while using a spokeshave to trim a soundboard flush with the body of a dulcimer and thought I’d snap a photo and share what I stare at and work with most days.

Almost every step in making a dulcimer happens on the work board clamped in the front vise of the bench. I know the work board is a flat reference surface, it is shaped like a dulcimer which makes it easy to get clamps where they need to go, and it serves as a platform to raise the work to a height I find comfortable.

I remove the work board when I need full use of the bench to plane wood to dimension and saw long pieces of wood so they become shorter pieces of wood.

I regularly use most of the tools in the photo though the racks do get a bit cluttered. The shop is usually cluttered. The floor is often covered with shavings. I thrive in a comfortable and pleasant level of mild chaos. Well, most of the time.

Thanks for stopping by.

Music I’d Like To Hear #172

Concert harp and concertina duet.
Concert harp and concertina duet.

Maintenance On A Dulcimer That Gets Played A Lot!

A dulcimer I built a few years was shipped back to me to have a new pickup installed. When I unpacked the dulcimer and took a first look at it I was filled with joy; this dulcimer showed signs it has been played a lot!

I chose to do some maintenance on the frets and fingerboard while the dulcimer was on the bench for the pickup installation.

Worn frets on a dulcimer.

In the photo above you can see extensive wear on the frets. After several years of being played regularly the frets have worn under the strings in the places most used. On dulcimers this is most often seen on the lower frets up to the 5th or 6th fret but can vary depending on the style and technique of the player.

Frets are like tires on a car; they are an important interface that require occasional maintenance as they wear and at times, replacement.

Here’s what the fret looked like after leveling, reshaping, and polishing.

Happy frets after leveling reshaping and polishing.

The owner of this dulcimer plays with a pick and plays hard so there was wear around the strum hollow and in the higher end of the fingerboard. Most players pick or strum in the “sweet spot” that falls over the fingerboard. This area produces what most people consider the most pleasing blend of harmonics and tone. Playing over the fingerboard is also more comfortable for many players because they don’t have to jut their right elbow far to the right to keep their hand over the strum hollow.

Wear on the fretboard. This dulcimer has been played

Many serious players of stringed instruments think of this kind of wear as scars that show where they have been. Some people are horrified when they see wear on their dulcimer but others see it as a badge of honor!

If I make a dulcimer for someone who lets me know they play hard and are concerned about wear I recommend a harder, more wear-resistant wood for the fingerboard. They will still get some wear but it will be milder and less obvious.

Cherry dulcimer after fretwork and some oil on the fingerboard.

After sealing the fingerboard with oil the dulcimer is ready for more adventure!

You can see photos of my work in progress by following me on Instagram.

Music I’d Like To Hear #171

Trio with hammered dulcimer, zither banjo, mandolin, and two dapper dudes just hanging out.
Trio with hammered dulcimer, zither banjo, mandolin, and two dapper dudes just hanging out.

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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