Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

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Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Mark Wybierala » Tue Jul 09, 2019 9:56 pm

I'm about ready to attach the sides to the back. I have a tailblock and a headstock that also incorporates the other endblock. My understanding is that the fingerboard/soundboard/fretboard is only glued to the headstock right at the nut and that it is common to hollow out the underside to make it lighter and more responsive to vibration so it can transfer string vibration to the top. Am I correct that the two halves of the top are glued to the fingerboard -- probably about a 1/4" glue joint? My fretted fingerboard is going to be one piece curly maple. I have a concern about the stability of the maple and was thinking I could make the sides of the fingerboard taller and employ a tongue and groove as the means to connect the top to the fingerboard. What is a typical elevation of the fingerboard from the top?

Rambling thoughts are appreciated.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Dale Penrose » Wed Jul 10, 2019 5:31 am

Normally the two halves of the top are glued together. The fretboard is glued on to that. Many hollow out the bottom of the fretboard to reduce weight, claiming it makes for better sound. While I usually hollow out my fretboards, I'm not going to make claims about it improving the sound, there are too many other variables between two instruments to prove it one way or the other. There should be no issues with using curly maple for the fretboard, if it is properly seasoned, curly grain shows up best on quartersawn lumber, and that is ideal for your fretboard.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Wed Jul 10, 2019 8:40 am

. "What is a typical elevation of the fingerboard from the top?"

Typically the height of the fretboard is between 1/2 to 1 inch. The taller you make it, the stiffer it will be. I generally make them between 5/8ths and 3/4 inch high. When it is glued to the soundboard it forms a hollow "box beam" construction. Hollowing the fretboard does reduce the weight on the soundboard and tends to make the instrument louder and a bit more responsive.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Mark Wybierala » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:27 am

I really want to thank you folks for putting up with my ignorance. Things are looking good and I may have a noise making instrument in a few days.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Jim McConkey » Wed Jul 10, 2019 2:22 pm

I hollow my fretboards first, glue to the already-joined top, then remove the portion of the top under the hollow after everything has dried. I agree with Clay's suggestion of 5/8" to 3/4". I wouldn't want it any higher myself.

I also relieve the underside of my fretboads over the tail block. That is, there is a cutout gap about 2" long and just under 1/8" high on the bottom of the fretboard just over top of the tail block. Not firmly attaching the fretboard to the tailblock alllows the top to vibrate more freely and really opens up the sound significantly.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Mark Wybierala » Fri Jul 12, 2019 9:17 pm

I got the neck fretted. Building from the seat of my pants I ended up with a 24 5/8" scale. The neck is clamped to the top and tomorrow I glue the top to the sides.

I ended up with a 9/16" thick neck and it is hollowed out quite considerably. There is a 3/8" wide section on each side of the neck that provides the glue joint. I can only hope that the fretboard wood is stable and doesn't twist over time because it is really light. I added a long brace down the center of the back for a little more structure. I was thinking that a carbon fiber reinforcement would have been good but we will see how the instrument deals with string tension over time. I'm quite happy with how its going and my second instrument is going to certainly employ a few things that I learned here.

Does anyone have any technical advice for the sound holes? I guess hearts are traditional.

I'll post a few pictures soon. This has been an adventure and a lot of fun.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Jim McConkey » Fri Jul 12, 2019 11:49 pm

Soundholes are entirely up to your taste. Hearts are traditional, but any sort of shape can work, as long as the area is about the same. If you plan on making intricate designs, I would strongly recommend gluing a thin patch with the grain perpendicular to the top inside the soundboard. One of my dulcimers has horses for the soundholes, and this reinforcement was critical for the thin parts between the legs. Most designs can be cut out with a scroll saw. Handheld is fine. You can screw things up faster, though, with an electric.

String tension is pretty low. I have never found the need for reinforcement.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Mark Wybierala » Tue Jul 16, 2019 10:04 am

We have a success. Initially, I was disappointed in the level of volume I was getting from this instrument. That was until I let someone else play with it. Its good. It has a unique tone. Understand that my exposure to dulcimers is minimal. In this picture it has only one coat of wipe-on Formbys Tung Oil finish. I think I incorporated something from everyone's comments to my questions. It has a 24 5/8" scale w/ 24 frets. The tuners are a set of adjustable tension violin pegs. I used ebony for both the nut and the saddle. The strings are anchored at the tail on angled 5/64" drill bit shafts. Strings are 10/10, 16, 24W. I may go heavier to get a more focused tone. There's no indication of being stressed. I'm going to buy more wood and make a few more to hang on the wall at the shop. If I hadn't botched my first set of sides, I'd have enough wood to make a second instrument for less than $40 total spent at the mill.

I've acquired another more powerful bending iron. There were lesson learned about bending wood. There's a point that if the wood is too thick, it ain't gonna bend -- kind of a tipping point for the thickness when the wood will behave and cooperate. Using a thickness planer, it becomes more forgiving if you determined the direction the plank prefers going through where one direction yield tear-out and the other yields less tear-out.

I want to employ violin friction pegs for the sake of trending toward an "old school" construction without any modern mechanical things -- what you'd see from an instrument made in the hills without the aid of the internet. But tuning is finicky. I've been searching for a style of violin fine tuner that I can discretely employ but not having any luck due to the geometry of the saddle.

Thank you to everyone for your mentorship
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue Jul 16, 2019 10:43 am

They make some violin pegs that include mechanical assistance. Nice looking dulcimer, by the way.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Bryan Bear » Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:39 am

Nice!
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Jim McConkey » Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:31 pm

The tuners Barry mentioned are made by Wittner, Knilling, and Pegheds. I have used Wittners on several instruments, and they are great!
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Charlie Schultz » Fri Jul 19, 2019 6:36 am

The viol I'm working on had Pegheds installed. They worked well but were hard to remove without damage. They have a fine thread (left or right) on the barrel.
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Re: Dulcimer top and fingerboard/soundboard

Postby Mark Wybierala » Fri Jul 19, 2019 10:47 am

I've had these adjustable friction pegs in a drawer for years and figured this would be a good time to use them. They really aren't any improvement over a standard good quality well fit ebony peg and I'm disappointed. I actually believe a quality ukulele peg would work better with its very small shaft diameter. But it is what it is -- my first dulcimer and it works. Less than $20 worth of lumber from the mill yielded a fairly decent noise maker and I got to employ a few techniques of luthery that I never exercised before. Lots of things learned.

The neck developed a slight back bow when I cut the inner channel in its back. On a guitar, this would be totally unacceptable but it really doesn't matter with this dulcimer for what my musical skills are going to do with it. I fretted the neck prior to hollowing it out and I'm sure that fret compression is behind the backbow. I may have removed more wood from the interior of neck than I should have. The fact that the fretboard is part of the soundboard is so cool. If the backbow gets worse, I'll just replace the fretboard. Only time will tell. There are so many things I didn't realize about a dulcimer.

I've made a larger purchase of lumber from the mill and am thinking I might actually draw out some plans. Unfortunately we got this heatwave hear in NJ for a few days so I don't know how much sawdust I can manage until it cools off.
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