The 3-String Dulcijo and Other Diatonically Scaled Banjos with Re-Entrant Tuning

Hi All.

The "dulcijo" is a unique 3-string banjo-like instrument that features diatonically spaced frets, a short re-entrantly tuned third string, and a small drum resonator. It was originally developed in the late 1980s by Michael Fox of Hickory, North Carolina - and you can still buy them from him thru this link. As the story goes, he once saw and played with a strum-stick (aka stick dulcimer) and he decided he liked the concept of a diatonic scale, but he preferred a re-entrantly tuned instrument so he could play claw-hammer style, as how he normally played his banjo. With the banjo and strum-stick in mind, he developed the dulcijo - a cross of the strum-stick (a derivation of the mountain dulcimer) and the banjo.

The original dulcijo (as build by Michael Fox and company) has a 25.5" scale length. But my advice is to find a scale length that you are happy playing with and then build the instrument around that spec. This is especially true for chord players as some of the frets are spaced widely apart. With my rather average sized hands, I prefer a scale length of 50cm (about 20 inches), and so that's why I designed my ducijo to have a short 50 cm scale.

Besides the diatonically spaced frets and the small drum resonator, the really unique thing about the dulcijo is the short third string. This string is about 3/4 the scale length of the other two strings, and terminates at fret number 4. The three strings are tuned A'AD as follows:

String 1: D (a whole step above middle C)
String 2: A (below middle C)
String 3: A' (an octave higher than String 2)


Here's how the tuning relates to the notes on the grand staff:

And here is a close up of the fingerboard of a dulcijo with the frets numbers and the notes produced.

The dulcijo also uses three identically sized strings, usually gauge 0.009.  The D-string (string 1) is usually used to play the melody of the song while frailing (claw hammer style) during the "dit" part of the "bum-ditty".  For more information on frailing the dulcijo, check out this link.  For information about melody and chords, check out this link.  And here is the link to the dulcijo pages on

Besides clawhammer (aka 'frailing'), another style of playing you can use on the Dulcijo is to play your tune on the second string, and use the first and third strings as drone strings. This style of playing make some songs sound great, and others, not so great. Try it with 'Old Joe Clark', which sounds pretty good played this way.


 Note:  The 'Dulcijo' name is sometimes also applied to the "banjo dulcimer", which is a kind of mountain (or Appalachian) dulcimer modified by adding a vibrating membrane to the body of the instrument and operates in the same manner as a banjo. Some builders market these instruments using the same name: "dulcijo". Here's a photo of one. Perhaps we should be calling our kind a "stick-dulcijo" to prevent miscommunication and this one (picture right) could be called "lap-dulcijo " (in the same way mountain dulcimers are sometimes called "lap dulcimers").


 To hear the Dulcijo played, check out these videos on Youtube (videos arranged in no special order).


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Replies to This Discussion

I plan to make a new dulcijo soon. But I am going to the fretless neck. This gives me more options for notes. Also since there are many chord forms that use no more than 2 fingers I figure it will still allow me to make partial chords. Anyone else doing anything like this?

Hi Mathew.

In researching the material for this new banjo group, I found the dulcijo to be an interesting instrument, so I have decided to build one using a cookie tin as the resonator, but with a 2mm ply soundboard instead of a tin soundboard. Maybe I'll be done in a week and we can begin to compare notes about playing it. I have come across some videos and other articles on frailing, so I thought this instrument might be just the thing to get started playing with claw hammer style. I'm out of fret wire, but I will fret it, probably with cut nails and 2-part epoxy glue. I'll put some photos up as I build it. Instead of having a tuner half way up the neck, I plan to route the 3rd string from the 4th fret under the fingerboard (in a channel) up to the nut and down to the tuner on the headstock. This will allow me to use a 1x3 set of tuners, which is what my slotted headstock was designed to use.


Somebody say dulcijo?




man that is beautiful!! How does it sound. I have a 3 stringed one made by Diane in Chicago and it sounds incredible. I have so far only made cookie tin banjos. Did you do anything special with the lid to make it ring out like a banjo does? Let me know I need any tips I can get before I start building.

One way to do the high pitch top string w/out doing a mid neck tuner ( or the string tunnel - doesn't sound like a fun trip to me) is to use a "railroad spike". You can play like a banjo or slip out the string and play it like a dulcimer.

Google is your friend, but HERE is a start.


That being said, to me, the banjo just has to have a stepped neck and mid neck tuner.




Thanks for the photo and info, AFKAM. That's a good looking dulcijo. I have already dug the grove for the channel (not too straight, but straight enough and it will be covered by the fretboard, so won't show.) I want to see if this method will work. I am concerned that when I glue on the fretboard, the channel will fill up with glue, so I'm thinking of getting some kite string (from my daughter's kite) and put it into the grove, then glue and clamp it. Then after 10 minutes, pull the string out. Any other ideas on keeping the channel free from glue (question is open to all readers)?


You are right about banjo necks. Ultimately, I want to build an accurate reproduction of a banjo, but I thought I'd get some experience in that direction by playing with a dulcijo first. Even a dulcijo should have the banjo style neck. I'll probably have a few dulcijo builds before I attempt a banjo. Next one will likely have a banjo like neck and a drum of some sort.


Well, Thanks again.



Artist Formerly Known as Matt said:

One way to do the high pitch top string w/out doing a mid neck tuner ( or the string tunnel - doesn't sound like a fun trip to me) is to use a "railroad spike". You can play like a banjo or slip out the string and play it like a dulcimer.

Google is your friend, but HERE is a start.


That being said, to me, the banjo just has to have a stepped neck and mid neck tuner.




Boy it sure pays to read around on CBN!  This is probably the answer was looking for:


The fretboard is screwed on rather than glued on - and the screws are my fret markers.


That should keep the glue from filling my 3rd string's under the fretboard channel. Now to see which fret positions on a dulcijo need a fret marker. Looks like frets 4, 7 & 11 have a fret marker from the close-up photo of the dulcimer neck and fretting above.


Hi All.

I have completed my first Dulcijo, one built around a cake tin resonator with the bottom cut out and replaced with 2mm ply veneer for a sound board. The instrument is pretty interesting to play. I still can't frail well, but playing melodies on the second string gives some of my songs an interesting sound.

While reading up on the dulcijo, I noticed that the chord possibilities are quite limited. They talk about 3 easy chords you can do, but they are partial chords, with an odd note thrown in to boot. So, I was thinking for my next dulcijo/banjo like instrument, I could add a 4th string... giving me basically a 3-string strummer (stick-dulcimer) with a 4th short string tuned re-entrantly. This would give me 3 strings to find my chords, but I wonder how I would tune the beast. Any ideas / suggestions? I was thinking A'-D-A-D, but the 3rd strings D would have to be an octave below the first string's D. Does that make any sense?

Maybe I'll just bite the bullet and build a 5-string banjo instead. 

I am also planning to write-up how I built my cookie-tin dulcijo with photos. Will do so when I find time.






Okay, I have uploaded most my Dulcijo photos. Here they are in a slide show.

I was low on fret wire, so the first time around, I fretted only the first octave, and even then I only had enough fret wire scraps to do 2/3s length frets for fret numbers 1, 2 and 3. Later I found some more fret wire scraps from another project and used them to give me 2/3s length frets for fret numbers 9-13 (here I am calling fret 6½ "fret 7"). Maybe when I get more fret wire I'll re-fret it using full length frets. My fret wire shortage problem is really what slowed this project down. Lots of fret wire is the #1 item on my list of things to buy while I'm in the States this Summer.


Hi All.

I was visiting the official Dulcijo web site ( and saw that they have a new model of Dulcijo that uses a "disappearing 3rd string", a 1x3 in-line tuner and a slotted headstock. It sells for $299  plus $20 shipping & handling.

And between yesterday and today they have sold out! 


I was thinking to buy one as a reference model for what I want to build.  I am thinking of building more Dulcijos. They are an interesting instrument to me. Next one will likely used a drum as a sound box.


Looks to have a scrolled headstock decoration. I wonder if their 3rd string is as troublesome as mine is to tune. They still have the 'deluxe' model with all the inlays for maybe $100 more as I recall.


Notice frets 1-4 are  100% across the neck, but 5 and up are 2/3 or 3/4 length.





I need to look at the fretting a bit closer , as something does not look right...


New Dulcijo: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .Old Dulcijo:









Oh, I see it...  In addition to the 6.5 fret they are using a 1.5 fret!  That's new, too!




I finally got around to following that link (HERE). An HO scale miniature railroad spike does appear to be a quick and easy way to turn a stick dulcimer into a dulcijo, once you have changed the 3rd string out to a thinner one. And of course once the third string is tuned and spiked, the instrument will need to be re-tuned to A'AD. Here's the photo on those tiny railroad spikes:

I think, though, my next Dulcijo will have a drum as the sound box.


From the article at the link, it seems some banjo players essentially capo the 5th string to different fret positions. I wonder how that affects their music? Why do they do it? Is it commonly done?


Artist Formerly Known as Matt said:

One way to do the high pitch top string w/out doing a mid neck tuner ( or the string tunnel - doesn't sound like a fun trip to me) is to use a "railroad spike". You can play like a banjo or slip out the string and play it like a dulcimer.




Google is your friend, but HERE is a start.


That being said, to me, the banjo just has to have a stepped neck and mid neck tuner.





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