Cigar Box Mountain Dulcimer Blog

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Instruments

Clementine Box

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

This was my first mountain dulcimer. The frets are plastic knives that are hot glued to the fret board. The frets were placed using a tape measure that was only accurate to about 1/8". So you many of the notes are quite sharp/flat. Playing chords is not this instrument strong suite. The tuning mechanism are eye bolts. The other end of the strings are screwed on with wood screws. The nut and bridge are just flat pieces of wood that I cut from scrap. The sound box is a Clementine box that I found in the back room in the basement. The fret board was just a random piece of wood from the basement as well. Not sure of its origin.

The melody string sounds pretty good and the Clementine box has a nice sound to it. The other two strings are rather buzzy, due to the large flat nut and bridge. But it is good for playing single note songs played against the two drone strings.

Total cost was about $5.00.
Fret Calculator: CB Frets

Audio Clip

 

"The Ark"

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

This is my second attempt. The strings are still attached and tuned in the same manor as the T-1. However, the fret placement is much more accurate and I used a measuring device with 1/64" increments. The frets are HO scale model train rails that I had laying around. They are hot glued into place. The bridge and nut are wooden dowels. They are also hot glued into place. The box itself is constructed from a scrap of paneling that was left over from redoing the bathroom floor. The panels are all hot glued together. The fret board is a piece of "craft board" that I bought at a local home improvement store.

The sound from this instrument is rich and full. The upper frets are slightly less accurate than the lower frets because I was forced to measure fret-to-fret, so there are accumulated errors by the time I reached the upper frets. But chording sounds good.

Total cost was about $7.00.

 

KT-1

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

My young daughter took a liking to playing daddy's dulcimers. So I whipped this together for her one evening. It is more of a Diddley Bow, than it is a dulcimer. But she didn't mind. She plays it by running a wooden dowel under the string and plucking the string with a pick. I marked the frets with a black marker so that I could play "Mary Little Lamb" on the instrument when requested.

It is made completely from scraps laying around. The sound box is made from some wainscoting hot glued together.

Total cost: Maybe a $1, if you count the wooden dowel, which used to be a foam brush. The brush was new, so it was probably still worth something.

 

T-3

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

I found that I enjoyed playing the guitar styled dulcimer more than playing the lap style dulcimer. So I made this one in the guitar style.

The fret board is the same wood as used on the T-2. The tuning mechanism are real guitar tuners. The strings are attached with little copper pegs. The nut is a pre-cut dulcimer nut that I bought. But since I only used two strings, I had to re-cut it anyway. The bridge is a machine bolt that I cut the head off of. The frets are made with real fret wire and are cut into the fret board. The frets were placed using a fret board printout printed using CB Frets. The printout was done on a plotter that was able to print the entire fret board on a single sheet of paper. I then taped the paper to the neck board and marked the locations to cut. The sound box is a cigar box that I got at a local cigar shop. The sound holes are brass grommets used for repairing tarps. You cannot see it from this picture, but I also added an electric pickup with a 1/4" jack. The only hot glue used on this instrument was to hold the piezo to the bottom of the fret board inside of the cigar box.

This instrument lacks the low end sounds of the previous two, but other than that, it sounds great and is the easiest and most fun to play.

Total cost was about $20.

Update: I added a pair of official brass Gibson replacement part strap buttons (not pictured) for about $4.50.

Audio Clip (Amplified)

 

KT-2

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

After building the T-3, I let the kids play with the T-1 a lot more. It eventually lived up to its construction level. The eye bolts quit holding a tune, a string broke, etc. My young daughter waited patiently for daddy to "fix blue one". But I decided to upgrade her instrument instead of reworking the T-1. The KT-1 was quite large and heavy for her to lug around. So I built a smaller, lighter version for her.

The image above isn't the final product. I ended up putting on a 22.5% angle for the tuner head because I couldn't get the nut to stop the string vibrations properly. The angle didn't really fix the issue either, but it did make it look more like a real guitar. So at least the effort wasn't for nothing. A penny "string tree" eventually fixed the problem. The sound box is a wooden craft box from a local craft store.

Total cost was about $18. The craft box was the most expensive part. And it turns out that high quality stickers of a licensed property are expensive.

 

Punch Box
(T-4)

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

The purpose of the T-4 was to test creating a 4-string dulcimer along with using a fret board veneer. The neck is poplar and the fret board is an 1/8" rosewood veneer. The frets, tuners, strap buttons and pickup are the same as on the T-3. The rosewood veneer added about $12 to the construction costs.

 

 

MJ-1

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

Shortly after I built the KT-2, my 7 year old daughter started asking when she was going to get her own guitar. She asked if I would help her build one. She loves crafts. I warned her that it would be a long project. She said that she liked long art projects. This is purely her design. She picked out the finger board veneer. Painted the cigar box. She wanted the string to be strung so that she could hold it like a real guitar and not like daddy who plays his "lap dulcimer" on his lap. She did over 50% of the construction as well. Dad did most of the drilling and some of the final nut/bolt adjustments, but the rest was all her work. Dad just walked her through the steps. She cut the wood, cut and filed the frets, cut the fret slots, sanded, painted, etc. The project took about 6 months from start to finish (Dad isn't that great of a hand-man, as this blog can attest too, and there is only so much time after homework gets done). But she definitely has an instrument that she can be proud of.

The fret board is purple-heart with just a little Tung Oil and some UV protection sprayed on to help the wood keep its natural purple color.

 

 

T-8

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

A little 2-stringer that I built for my mother. She thought it looked easy enough that even she could play one. Her words, not mine. Nothing fancy. No pickup. Sound is similar to the T-3 above. This one has better intonation than the T-3, since I didn't even know what that word meant when I built the T-3.

 

License Plate
(T-9)

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer

A chromatic 3-string. Uses a flat license plate for the top sound board. The bottom is another license plate with raised letters. The frame was made from a 1 1/2" x 1/4" x 4' board held together with corner brackets. The fret markers are 3/8" wooden flat head plugs, painted white. The fret markers show the diatonic frets. Includes a Piezo pickup. All chrome tuners.

 

Diddley Bow-3
(T-10)

Cigar Box Mountian Dulcimer Diddley Bow

A 1-String, fret-less, Diddley Bow. Made from a 7/8" dowel, some hose clamps and a cigar box. Diatonic fret marks. Includes a Piezo pickup.

 

T-11

Mountian Dulcimer

Not counting "the ark" above, this is my first attempt at making a more traditional looking mountain dulcimer. Curved side panels are outside of my skill set, so rectangle shaped it is. The top and bottom are made out of 1/8" birch plywood from a local craft store. The sides are 1/4" poplar from a local big box hardware store. The finger board is a strip of wenge. Though difficult to see in this photo, there are four large sound holes. Each of the larger sound holes are surrounded by four smaller sound holes. Lining up all of those holes by hand would have been outside my skill set as well. So I used a piece of land mapping software to layout the holes. That way I could use math to lineup all of the little holes. I entered everything into the software as feet instead of inches. Then I printed the layout with a scale of 1" = 1'. Then all I had to do was lay the printed piece of paper unto the wood and drill the holes with the proper sized drill bits. The instrument also includes two pickups. A four pole, single coil pickup with a volume control and a piezo pickup without a volume control. Each pickup has its own jack. The fret markers are 6mm abalone.

 

WJ-1

My son was 6 when he started this dulcimer. He picked out all the colors and basic design. We wanted to paint the fingerboard red, but it was a nice piece of American Sycamore, with beautiful grain, so thankfully I was able to talk him into staining it instead. He wanted a license plate like the Texas plate above. The front panel is a piece of 1/8" birch plywood from a local craft store. Conveniently it is the same size as the license plate. Of course it had to have an electric pickup, so that it could "sound like an electric guitar". So it includes a little piezo. The instrument is surprisingly loud, even without amplification and probably has the second best sound of any of the instruments currently on this page.

 

Banjimer

This is a dulcimer-banjo hybrid. I was looking for a different sounding instrument that still let me use my existing playing skill set. This instrument fits that bill. This was my first attempt at doing a pearl inlay. The T at the top is a single piece of peril. The fret dots are off the shelf pre-cut pearl. I added the 1+ fret as a bridge between a full chromatic and the typical diatonic dulcimer layout. The fingerboard and bridge are made from Padauk. Includes a piezo pickup.

 

T-14

Very similar in design to the T-11 except this is a full chromatic instrument while the T-11 is diatonic. Same birch plywood top as the T-11. The sides are 1/4" red oak. The neck and tail piece are mahogany. The fret board is African Blackwood. The fret markers are pearl and laid out in the diatonic fret pattern. Same pickups as the T-11.

 

Ukulele-1

Built from a Ukulele kit by C.B. Gitty. This was my first attempt at using hand rub wood dye.

 

 

Strummer-1

This was my first, non-rectangle shaped build. It is also the first build that was largely made of "scraps". The tuners are from left over sets from prior builds. The single pearl dot was left ever from the T-14 Chromatic build. The finger board is from a piece of Bubinga that has been laying around for years.

 

T-17

This is my first 3-String Guitar. Built for a friend at work. Primarily made from scrapes from prior builds. Includes a piezo disc pickup.

 

Amp 1

What good is having a pickup in the T-3 without having a good amp to go with it? This amp was built using an amp kit sold by C.B. Gitty. The kit included most of the parts, with just a little soldering need to connect everything together. I used a cigar box that matched the cigar box used to make the T-3. It would have been nice to have a circular hole cutter for making the speaker hole, but I don't own one. This box had an oval shaped logo in the center. The logo was just about the size of the speaker. So I cut around the oval shaped logo instead. The oval hole looks a little out of place with the round speaker, but it works.

 

Pre Amp 1

A cigar box pre amp. Based on a design by Shane Speal.

 

Kalimba 1

After seeing one of these on the C.B. Gitty website, I figured it looked like something that I could make. I started by looking at a lot of photos of homemade kalimbas on the internet. The board is a spruce board that I bought at a local craft store. I cut it in half and glued the two halves together. The metal bars are from a local hardware store. The tines are cut from a roll of fish tape. The ends of the tines were pretty rough on the thumbs, even after filing and sanding them. So I had a friend who owns a forge flatten and widen them for me. Probably overkill, but it worked. The tines are much nicer to play now.

I tuned it the same as a dulcimer. My thought was that I could then easily play dulcimer music with it. Its close, but what I didn't take into account was that there is no 0 or open strum on a Kalimba. So I still have to add 1 to every dulcimer note, or learn to count starting at 0 instead of 1.

 

Modern Sheet Music for Mountain Dulcimer
 

  1. Standard Notation: One way that I found to acquire modern music for the mountain dulcimer was by using a digital music site. None of the sites that I found officially support the mountain dulcimer, but many of them did offer a feature that I could use to get one step closer to having modern mountain dulcimer sheet music. Many of the digital music sites offer transposition. So even if a piece of music is not published in a typical mountain dulcimer friendly key, such as D (Bm), the digital music sites can convert the music to a more friendly key. I usually look for the Easy Piano sheet music to transpose. While not as convenient as real mountain dulcimer tablature, at least it produces standard notation sheet music that is mountain dulcimer friendly.
     
  2. Mountain Dulcimer Tab: Another good source for modern mountain dulcimer sheet music: Karaoke. Yes, you read that right. Here is how it works. A lot of karaoke music is available in MIDI format. So why not just say "MIDI Files"? Because, while many MIDI files will work for this, MIDI files produced for karaoke systems work the best. Karaoke MIDI files usually contain a properly labeled lyrics track and melody track. Both of these are required for producing good mountain dulcimer sheet music. The next piece of the puzzle is a piece of computer software called TablEdit. TablEdit offers support for creating mountain dulcimer tablature. It also has the ability to import MIDI files. The combination of these two features means that you can import the lyrics and melody tracks from a MIDI file directly into mountain dulcimer tablature. The software also features easy transposition, so with a few simple clicks, you can transpose the imported MIDI file into a mountain dulcimer friendly key. The end result: Professional looking modern music in mountain dulcimer tablature.


 

Mountain Dulcimer Chord Charts

Name Tuning File
DAD Diatonic Chord Chart

Most chord charts only show the "standard" mountain dulcimer chords. But just because the mountain dulcimer may not have a full chromatic range of keys, doesn't mean that you can't play along in those other keys. Tunings such as DAD and DAA don't contain an F-Natural, but they still contain the other two notes in an F-chord, so why not play them? This chord chart includes chord variations from A to G#, and from Major/Minor chords to Dim7's, Sus and more.
 
DAD
Diatonic

DAD Diatonic with 1+ Fret Chord Chart

Same chord chart as above, but with chord variants using the 1+ fret when available.
 

DAD
Diatonic w/ 1+

DAD Chromatic Chord Chart DAD
Chromatic

DAC Diatonic Chord Chart DAC
Diatonic

 

Mountain Dulcimer Tablature Sheet Music

Name Tuning File
Turkey In The Straw DAD

O Worship The King DAD

 

Mountain Dulcimer Sunday School Songs

Name Tuning File
The B-I-B-L-E DAD
Our God is so Big DAD
Deep and Wide DAD
DAD
Chromatic
Jesus Loves the Little Children DAD
DAD
Chromatic
I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy DAD
DAD
Chromatic
Only A Boy Named David DAD
DAD
Chromatic
The Wise Man and the Foolish Man DAD
DAD
Chromatic - D
DAD
Chromatic - G
This Little Light of Mine DAD - D
DAD - A
DAD
Chromatic - A
DAD
Chromatic - C
Zacchaeus DAD
If You're Happy And You Know It
(Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See)
DAD
Oh Come Let Us Adore Him DAD
Gospel Bells DAD

 

Modern Sheet Music for Mountain Dulcimer:
  1. Standard Notation: One way that I found to acquire modern music for the mountain dulcimer was by using a digital music site. None of the sites that I found officially support the mountain dulcimer, but many of them did offer a feature that I could use to get one step closer to having modern mountain dulcimer sheet music. Many of the digital music sites offer transposition. So even if a piece of music is not published in a typical mountain dulcimer friendly key, such as D (Bm), the digital music sites can convert the music to a more friendly key. I usually look for the Easy Piano sheet music to transpose. While not as convenient as real mountain dulcimer tablature, at least it produces standard notation sheet music that is mountain dulcimer friendly.
     
  2. Mountain Dulcimer Tab: Another good source for modern mountain dulcimer sheet music: Karaoke. Yes, you read that right. Here is how it works. A lot of karaoke music is available in MIDI format. So why not just say "MIDI Files"? Because, while many MIDI files will work for this, MIDI files produced for karaoke systems work the best. Karaoke MIDI files usually contain a properly labeled lyrics track and melody track. Both of these are required for producing good mountain dulcimer sheet music. The next piece of the puzzle is a piece of computer software called TablEdit. TablEdit offers support for creating mountain dulcimer tablature. It also has the ability to import MIDI files. The combination of these two features means that you can import the lyrics and melody tracks from a MIDI file directly into mountain dulcimer tablature. The software also features easy transposition, so with a few simple clicks, you can transpose the imported MIDI file into a mountain dulcimer friendly key. The end result: Professional looking modern music in mountain dulcimer tablature.

 

Links:

Fret Positions and String Size Calculator:


CB Frets: Software for creating fret positions and calculating string size. Available for both Mac and Windows.

 

String Height:
mountaindulcimer.ning.com/forum/topics/string-height

 

Parts:
www.folkcraft.com
www.cbgitty.com

Questions or comments about this page can be sent to the main support email address found here: www.sandyknollsw.com/support

Grand Traverse Mountain Dulcimer Society

 

 

Page last updated on 7/5/2018