Preparing A Dulcimer Fingerboard For Receiving The Frets

Custom dulcimer with ebony fingerboard by Doug Berch

On the bench today is a custom chromatic dulcimer with an ebony fingerboard. The spruce soundboard has been stained and lightly distressed to add some character. I’m a character and so are my dulcimers. So it goes.

Many dulcimer makers fret the fingerboard early in the construction process. It is much easier to install the frets when the fingerboard is separate from the dulcimer; one can hammer or press the frets in without any thought of possibly crushing the dulcimer beneath them!

I know several dulcimer makers who get good results fretting the fingerboard before gluing it to the dulcimer but I prefer fretting the fingerboard after assembling the dulcimer and applying the finish.

Experience has shown me that applying the finish to a dulcimer sometimes results in slight movement of the soundboard and fingerboard. By fretting after applying the finish I can level and/or add relief to the fingerboard and have it come out exactly as I prefer it to be.

I use a scraper and a few sanding blocks to prepare the fingerboard for fretting. The scraps of wood lying on the dulcimer prevent bad, scary things from happening to the soundboard while working on the fingerboard.

The movement of the fingerboard and the correction I am talking about is measured in thousandths of an inch. As a player I find these small increments can make a surprising difference in how much I enjoy playing a dulcimer.

Fretting towards the end of a build requires more work but I am often told my dulcimers are very comfortable and easy to play and this is a part of how I make them that way.

What’s On The Bench – August 5th, 2018

Fingerboards for two custom dulcimers.

On the bench are two dulcimer fretboards in cherry.

The one on the left has had the strum hollow cut and refined and the location of the position markers laid out. It also has an ebony end cap in place.  An inset of Spanish cedar is inlaid in the fingerboard just ahead of where a bridge/pickup will go. I find using a softer wood or shim ahead of this type of pickup makes the amplified sound more natural. This fretboard is chromatic up to the 7th fret/first octave and diatonic the rest of the way.

The other fingerboard is fully chromatic. The layout lines for the strum hollow are in place and this one will also have position markers and an ebony end cap

On the right is the glue pot that keeps hide glue warm and happy. The Erlenmeyer flask holds water for adding to the glue as necessary. I picked up the Erlenmeyer flask at a salvage sale because I thought it would be more difficult to knock over than the glass jar I previously used. This has indeed been the case but I still manage to knock it over now and then.

What’s On The Bench – May 25th, 2018

Future dulcimers in curly cherry, walnut, and spalted maple

On the bench is some of the wood going into the next run of dulcimers. Two dulcimers will be all cherry, one will have walnut for the back and sides and a spruce soundboard, and another will have spalted maple for the back and sides and a spruce soundboard.

If you look closely at the photograph you will see a triangle with numbers drawn in pencil on some of the cherry. This is an old trick to mark bookmatched wood so the edges line up as intended. After matching the pieces the way I think they look best I draw the triangle and number. The triangle will only look like a triangle if I put the wood back together in the same orientation.  When working with multiple sets sawn from the same stock the number assures the sets are two pieces sawn sequentially. This simple trick has saved me from many headaches!

Speaking of headaches, the General Data Protection Regulations went into effect today. I was confused about how this new law would affect my website so I did some research so I could become more confused. I believe these regulations do not apply to my website or business. People from the EU do come to this site so just to be sure I was being compliant I added the little thing that lets you know this site uses cookies.

Yes, I live a fascinating life.

Back To Work, Slowly But Surely!

Dulcimer sides

My back has healed enough from surgery that I can now work on dulcimers in short spurts several times a day. I’m taking things easy and slow and avoiding the temptation to do more work than I know I should! Slow and steady wins the race!

I can already tell that when fully healed I will be able to work many more hours than I have been able during the past six years. More dulcimers, more fun!

In the photograph are cherry and walnut dulcimer sides bent and ready for the next three dulcimers I will be making.

That’s all for now!

The Adventure Continues

Curly walnut dulcimer - Doug Berch

It has been six weeks since having a bi-level lumbar fusion and this morning I entered the shop for the first time since then. The bench was as I had left it with a curly walnut dulcimer awaiting a nut, bridge, tuners, and setup. Also on the bench are some sets of tonewood I resawed before having surgery. These will become the back, sides, and for some, the soundboards for some of the next run of bespoke dulcimers I will be making when the time comes.

It will probably be another 6 weeks before my body is ready for light work. Healing is going well. The surgeon said if I worked for someone else he would have me take three months off but since I am self-employed and can take all the breaks I want I may possibly start a little sooner. I’ll find out for sure in early April.

One large obstacle is getting into the shop itself. My shop is a small room at the top of a steep staircase built before ergonomics were strongly considered when designing houses. At the moment stairs are difficult for me and these stairs are more difficult than others.
My workout for the day.

Here’s the view one sees while climbing the stairs:

Where does the shop begin and end?

Almost to the top of the stairs.

I am thankful for the patience of those waiting for me to make their dulcimers. The good news is that when fully recovered I should be able to spend a lot more time working in the shop than I have been able since this adventure began.

I love my job.