I just took a commission to build a "CBDulcitar" for a coworker. I want it to be simple to play and sound great. I'm thinking a longer scale length, like 25.5" will help it have a loud and clear voice. Also since it is dulci and will be played mostly in a strum style only fretting the melody string, the fret spacing wont be uncomfortable, even for smaller hands. But, I also know Diane builds a lot of shorter scale dulcis and I'm sure they must sound great too or she would not keep making them. So what do you good folks think, does scale length make a big difference or is it more a matter of using proper string gauges for the scale you are using?
Thank you for your input, Bluesheart

Views: 2205

Replies to This Discussion

I think you should try. You'll see by yourself how it sound and I would be happy to hear some of your sound. I had never heard a dulci and made one, I was amazed about how good it sounded so I think yours will sound nice.

Since stick dulcimers seem to be my "bread & butter", I can give you some answers from experience.

1) The scale length doesn't have much to do with volume. What it does determine is you tone and key that it will comfortably play. The longer the scale, the lower the general key, or pitch.

2) I highly recommend balancing the string gauge with the scale length and tuning. There is a handy calculator online to help you. As you tune the string, it pulls on the neck. If done haphazardly, you can easily find yourself in a scenario where the bottom string is pulling @ 18 lbs, and the top string is only pulling @ 5 lbs. When this happens, your neck starts to warp towards the ground. Balancing all the strings to roughly equal tension in tune gives your instrument a much longer life span. Also, by keeping the total accumulated tension rather low, you can avoid messing with torsion bars in the neck.

3) My standard Scale Length for my stick dulcimers is 22.5 inches. Any longer than that, and the dulcimer frets begin to get too wide apart for my hand to span the major chords.

4) "short frets" are nice if you want to include non-standard half frets on the melody string, but I highly recommend using full frets across the finger board and all 3 strings, at least with the upper 3 or 4... makes using a capo less of a nighmare.

Here is the link for a handy string gauge/scale length/tuning chart to help you determine the correct setup


I have made CBDs with a 25.5 scale and they worked out fine. Not quite the volume of a "real" dulcimer, but adequate. When I went to a really short scale, for my grandsons, the sound suffered appreciably. The interesting thing was that by running the fretboard on top of the box the resulting sound was definitely dulcimer like. I normally make acoustic CBGs with the neck terminating at the upper end of the box (and an x brace on the top) and the tone is much more guitar like.
Go for it. I think you will be pleased with the result.

Hi Bluesheart,

To my experience, short scale lengths tend to end up as high pitched instruments, and long scale instruments tend to be a bit more lower pitched -- all other things held constant (string sizes, sound box size). I like the longer scale lengths, but I'm constrained by rather short fingers that makes chordal playing difficult on long scale (a problem you seem to know about). So, most of my instruments are 50cm (20") long, but my best sounding instrument has a longer scale length of 60cm (24") and it had a (very) hardwood neck (harder than cherry or sapelli). They (the Chinese sales folks) call it "red beech" but I couldn't swear to it. So, now all my new instruments have solid hardwood core necks and scales that range from 50 to 60cm (20-24"). Another constraint I have is the length of guitar strings here in China. I built a mountain dulcimer and found I couldn't find long enough strings to cover the 28" scale length. I also have a theory that somehow guitar strings are designed for a particular scale length in mind and "ring" better at those lengths.

As far as using thicker strings on short scaled instruments --  I have not tried it since I don't really like the sound of wound strings when played with sloppy fingering which characterizes my playing style. Theoretically, a short scale used with thicker strings should sound more bass-y. But if string 1 (the melody string) is also a wound string, it won't sound so great, So, if you can find a solid wire guitar string #3 for the melody string, and then wound strings for the two drone strings, then you might get something playable. Restricting the wound string use to drones minimizes the "bad" scratchy sound you might get when your try to finger (stop) the strings as you might do when you play chordallly.

Just my 2 cents worth.


Thank you all for the great input. I've been building my fully fretted CBGs at 24" scale to make it a bit easier to finger chords, but they just do not seem to "sing out" like my longer scale (24 3/4") CBG. I know part of it is the box, that one is on a Punch Chateau box that I love and don't seem to be able to find any more of, but I can't help wondering if it is also the slightly shorter scale. The person I'm making it for is a beginning player and will likely not be doing any chording. So, I think I will go with 25.5" and see how it sounds. If she finds it too hard to play for some reason, I'll just keep it for myself and build her another one! That is one of the things I love about this, you really never know how it will sound until you get it strung up . Then you find out how much magic there is in the combination of materials and design you have chosen. I'll let you know how it turns out.

I recently built a 25.5 scale dulcimer-strummer and have taken it apart and rebuilt it several times now to make playability and tonal improvements. I used an all wood Padron box because paper is a volume and overtone killer. I have also thinned the soundboard slightly to improve the tone. Originally I wanted to keep the charm of having functional cigar box with an operable lid but found that the sustain was dreadful. Once I glued it shut it rang like a bell. It is not as loud as a lap dulcimer, I believe that is due to the increased soundboard surface area on a lap dulcimer, compared to the smaller area of the cigar box in a strummer set up. Also, if you are planning on making a strummer style dulcimer I highly recommend giving a radius to the fretboard, similar to any standard dreadnought guitar as this makes bar chording much easier. Best of luck.

I`ve made alot over the years my favorite scale lengths are 25", 23 1/2" , 22" and 18". The 25" scale length works great for the 6 stringer in the 3 pair set up. 23 1/2" is an Old Lowe favorite. The 22" and 18" work great for those mando like riffs and short scale lengths for travel dulci`s. Any thing longer then your getting into the more Mountain Dulcimer scale lengths.  

When I choose a scale length for dulci-strummers, I consider the piece of wood I am using for the neck/sides. I've made them anywhere from 22 inch on up to this one, a 26" scale baritone using standard strings, tuned GDg.

For all previous ducli's, I made sound hole(s) and installed dual piezos for the electric mojo.

This one I decided to buck the conventional, and omitted the sound hole and installed my own hand wound single coil (under the rosewood plate in front of the bridge.

I like the slightly lower tone with the extra 1/2" string length too.

That is a beautiful thing!! LOve the clean design and how you did the pickup!


The Essential Pages

New to Cigar Box Nation? How to Play Cigar Box GuitarsFree Plans & How to Build Cigar Box GuitarsCigar Box Guitar Building BasicsCigar Box Guitar Parts Store

Site Sponsor

Recommended Links & Resources

Discussion Forum

making my first dulcimer/strumstick/ kind of thing,

Started by GARAGE HERMIT. Last reply by GARAGE HERMIT Mar 30. 2 Replies

Miniature dulci-tar for young child

Started by Richey Kay. Last reply by James Conder Jan 14, 2018. 11 Replies

Mountain dulcimer phaser type sound?

Started by Slow Blues Dani & Ol' Grey Bear. Last reply by QGolden Sep 15, 2016. 17 Replies

Need sources to buy dulcimer soundboard wood

Started by Dano Schultz. Last reply by Dano Schultz Sep 10, 2016. 5 Replies

New to all of this.

Started by Kirk Bolas. Last reply by Gordon Cooper Aug 3, 2016. 3 Replies

Newest Dulcitar

Started by Greg Thompson Jul 19, 2016. 0 Replies

"Evolving" dulcimer fret patterns?

Started by Habanera Hal. Last reply by Greg Thompson Jul 7, 2016. 12 Replies

Completed my first strummer/Dulcitar

Started by Greg Thompson. Last reply by Paul Craig Sep 7, 2015. 6 Replies

playing question

Started by Truth Instruments. Last reply by Truth Instruments Aug 30, 2015. 6 Replies

Strum stick

Started by Bobby Fields. Last reply by Seth Tabberer Aug 21, 2015. 5 Replies

newbie help

Started by stav. Last reply by Ellwood T. Bear Apr 6, 2015. 3 Replies

Mountain Dulcimer Necks

Started by Bluesheart. Last reply by Bluesheart Apr 1, 2015. 10 Replies

What about a blues-cimer?

Started by Diane in Chicago. Last reply by Brown Water Jerry (Rice) Nov 10, 2014. 21 Replies

Fret Spacing - standard and not

Started by Diane in Chicago. Last reply by Jesse Halter Jul 2, 2014. 57 Replies

Dulci scale length

Started by Bluesheart. Last reply by Bluesheart Nov 24, 2013. 9 Replies

my first strummer

Started by Bad Wolf. Last reply by Battmann Aug 31, 2013. 6 Replies

just finished this little stick strummer

Started by jeff burgoyne. Last reply by Scott aka Farmer Ted Jun 17, 2013. 1 Reply

Latest Activity

Doug Thorsvik commented on T-Gripped's photo

Yellow Monte Cristo

"I like those yellow boxes too! They stand out in a crowd. Another fine build T-Gripped."
2 hours ago
Doug Thorsvik commented on A.D.EKER's video

New Born Dream A D Eker 2022

"Going to town on the pickin’ A.D.! A delight to listen to. You have a serious skill set!!!"
2 hours ago
Uncle John commented on T-Gripped's photo

Yellow Monte Cristo

"Nice one, Tee.  The weather and plants there look nicer than here.  14 degrees this AM,…"
4 hours ago
Jerry Jordan commented on T-Gripped's photo
5 hours ago
Jerry Jordan commented on Rich's photo
5 hours ago
Jerry Jordan commented on T-Gripped's photo

Tuna can reso

"Looks plenty sturdy to me,.nice build"
5 hours ago
Randy S. Bretz commented on Randy S. Bretz's photo

Fret lines in the works

"All done with the fret lines..dulcimer blues scale"
6 hours ago
Ian liked Slowpaw Steve T's discussion CIGAR BOX NATION CHRISTMAS ALBUM 2022
9 hours ago
Bernie Edwards commented on Randy S. Bretz's photo

Fret lines in the works

"This will be a really great instrument when its finished.  Your use of 'thick' ivory…"
9 hours ago
BrianQ. liked T-Gripped's photo
16 hours ago
BrianQ. posted a status
"First time builders don’t overthink it, just build it, then build some more, you’re bound to learn something in the process? Click & see?"
16 hours ago
Doug Thorsvik commented on Poorness Studios's video

2X4 DIY Guitar Cab | Latest Mods & Sound Clips

"You definitely made it better Kale! Nice Chops on the demo too!!!"
16 hours ago


© 2022   Created by Ben "C. B. Gitty" Baker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

\uastyle>\ud/** Scrollup **/\ud.scrollup {\ud background: url("https://storage.ning.com/topology/rest/1.0/file/get/963882636?profile=original") no-repeat scroll 0 0 transparent;\ud bottom: 25px;\ud display: inline !important;\ud height: 40px;\ud opacity: 0.3 !important;\ud position: fixed;\ud right: 30px;\ud text-indent: -9999px;\ud width: 40px;\ud z-index: 999;\ud}\ud.scrollup:hover {\ud opacity:0.99!important;\ud}\ud \uascript type="text/javascript">\ud x$(document).ready(function(){\ud x$(window).scroll(function(){\ud if (x$(this).scrollTop() > 100) {\ud x$('.scrollup').fadeIn();\ud } else {\ud x$('.scrollup').fadeOut();\ud }\ud });\ud x$('.scrollup').click(function(){\ud x$("html, body").animate({ scrollTop: 0 }, 600);\ud return false;\ud });\ud });\ud \ua!-- End Scroll Up -->