Designing Dulcimers By Touch

Passion motivated me to learn to play music and make instruments. Learning to draw was something I wanted to do but the passion never kicked in so it never went anywhere; a few false starts and then on to the next adventure.

I recognize a shape that is pleasing to my eye when I see it. Certain proportions and lines seem pleasant and harmonious and though I can’t draw them accurately I learned that I can sculpt them.

When designing an instrument or a part of an instrument I’ll begin by making a rough sketch to get a basic idea of the shape. Next comes laying out critical and/or preferred measurements such as scale length, the positions of the tuners, the angle of the peghead, the width of the bouts, depth, bridge location, etc.

From there I use French curves, flexible rulers, pieces of string, jar lids and other devices to create smooth transitions while using the critical measurements as a skeleton for the design.

French Curves

At this point I’ll have patterns that are close to what I am shooting for but they are often still not quite right. This is when I transfer the patterns to thin wood, plexiglass or MDF and begin the process of sculpting the final shape. I’ll carve the patterns until the curves look pleasing and feel good to the touch. If all goes well I end up with a template and get to work making a dulcimer from it. If not I start over.

Pegheads for a combinatin standard and baritone dulcimer in process.

I tend to make my pegheads with only a basic pattern and create the final shape during assembly. This way I can sculpt the peghead to suit each particular dulcimer.

There are faster ways to get there from here but what would be the fun in that!


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