Rand Moore
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Link to my Stick Dulcimer User's Guide stored up on MediaFire

Posted on June 20, 2015 at 7:38am 1 Comment

I have finally uploaded the current version of my Stick Dulcimer User's Guide up to a new account on MediaFire. I have the file set up to be shared via the following URL:


Here's the link you should be able to just click on to…


New User's Guide for my "Paddle-Box Dulcimers" (and stick dulcimers in general)

Posted on June 8, 2015 at 6:30pm 5 Comments

Hi All,

I have created a WordPad (.rtf) file that documents how to use the 4-string red oak "paddle box" stick dulcimers that I primarily make and sell these days. The file has been compressed using WinRAR to about 4.5 Mbs, expanding to about 24 Mb on disk. There are lots of useful photos and info, makes for a good read (IMHO). Would like to hear back from readers as to improvements that could be made, and any errors you find. Consider it public domain, free download,…


"Cripple Creek" - A popular Old Timey & Bluegrass Tune with Lots of Verses.

Posted on October 6, 2014 at 7:45pm 1 Comment

The following song is in ABC music format and it should be cut-and-pasted into an ABC converter program like the "abcConverter" on Mandolintab.net. Once you submit your ABC file, the converter will produce a quick and dirty image of your musical score which is then displayed on screen. Above the music, in the center of the screen, you should…


"Mairi's Wedding" - A popular Scottish wedding march that sounds good on a dulcimer.

Posted on March 1, 2014 at 12:30pm 1 Comment

The following song is in ABC music format and it should be cut-and-pasted into an ABC converter program like the "abcConverter" on Mandolintab.net. Once you submit your ABC file, the converter will produce a quick and dirty image of your musical score which is then displayed on screen. Above the music, in the center of the screen, you should…


"Mo Li Hua" ("Jasmine Flower") - a popular Chinese folk song arranged for dulcimer.

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 6:00pm 0 Comments

Hi All,

Just in time for Chinese New Years, a popular Chinese tune called "Mo Li Hua" ("Jasmine Flower"). This song is presented in ABC music format and it should be cut-and-pasted into an ABC converter program like the "abcConverter" on Mandolintab.net. Once you submit your ABC file, the converter will produce a quick and dirty…


"Navvy Boots" - An old folk song from the UK with a bit of useful advice for young folks everywhere. Arranged for dulcimer.

Posted on January 1, 2014 at 7:00pm 3 Comments

The following song is in ABC music format and it should be cut-and-pasted into an ABC converter program like the "abcConverter" on Mandolintab.net. Once you submit your ABC file, the converter will produce a quick and dirty image of your musical score which is then displayed on screen. Above the music, in the center of the screen, you should be able to see these three…


Uke (GCEA) Tabs for "Over the River and Through the Woods" (Based on the Poem by Lydia Marie Child)

Posted on December 14, 2013 at 4:08pm 0 Comments

Well, I found this tune on my Uke fretboard as well (it's another stick dulcimer tune I play). Enjoy...

Uke (GCEA) Tabs for Hard Times (Come Again No More) by Stephen C. Foster

Posted on December 14, 2013 at 12:30pm 0 Comments

I was noodling around with my ukulele yesterday and discovered I could find most of the song Hard Times on the uke fretboard. Hard Times is one of my favorite songs and I play it regularly on my stick dulcimers. So, I decided to create a set of Tabs for it so I can practice it some more and pass the song on as part of my Uke tabs collection. The arrangement is mainly the melody (I'm not a chords kind of player). Here's the tabs...…


"Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" - A popular fiddle and dance tune from southern Appalachia (aka "Blue-Eyed Girl"). Arranged for dulcimer.

Posted on November 23, 2012 at 12:30pm 0 Comments

The following song is in ABC music format and it should be cut and pasted into an ABC converter program like the "abcConverter" on Mandolintab.net. Once you submit your ABC file, the converter will produce a quick and dirty image of your musical score which is then displayed on screen. Above the music, in the center of the…


"Waltzing Matilda" - Banjo Patterson's famous song/story of frontier justice in Australia. Arranged for dulcimer.

Posted on October 12, 2012 at 11:30am 7 Comments

The following song is in ABC music format and it should be cut and pasted into an ABC converter program like the "abcConverter" on Mandolintab.net. Once you submit your ABC file, the converter will produce a quick and dirty image of your musical score which is then displayed on screen. Above the music, in the center of the screen, you should be able to see these three links:…


What I have been up to lately... CBG & Other Instrument Building-wise...

March 20, 2014

Here's a photo of my latest (and most favorite) instrument...

It's a 4-string Reso-Box Banjo where the 4th string is a short drone string instead of a full length string like on tenor banjos. The 5th String tuner you see is actually the 4th string tuner on this instrument. With a re-entrantly tuned drone string, I can practice playing claw-hammer banjo on this light weight instrument. And with the color coded frets (gold frets for naturals, silver frets for accidentals), I can still easily play my old dulcimer songs. So, it's kind of a cross between by 3-string stick dulcimers and a 5-string banjo.

It's a fun and loud instrument.


March 6, 2014

I really like my 3.67 string Reso-CBB (see my previous post). It really is loud compared to the instruments I normally build. So, I've decided to build another one. I have already built the box, including the sound board. I was able to cut a 5.75" diameter hole using a special home-made cutting tool. When I get my  camera working, I'll take a photo of it and upload it, and explain how it works. I am also working on documenting how I've been making my Reso-Box Guitars. When I write it up I'll post it under my discussion group "Home Made Resonator Boxes 101, v.2.0". The new Reso-Box "guitar" will be just a 3-string stick dulcimer, though I really want to do a 5-string Reso-Box Banjo. I did put together (glued up) a neck blank for the 5-sting banjo, but discovered I have no easy access to wood the right dimensions to make a fretboard. So, I need to check with my wood supplier to see if they have maybe 7cm x 0.5cm hard wood I can use for a fretboard. In the mean time I can build a 3-stringer (or maybe a 4-stringer with dual melody strings) using wood I already have "in stock". I'm also drawing what I have built. Those drawings will be part of the write up I mentioned above.

March 4, 2014

Well, I completed my headless 3-string dulcimer/CBG. Had to build a new neck and fretboard, but I got the fretting right this time and it now sounds pretty good, but it feels a bit "too tight" when playing. Maybe I need to do longer VSLs so they don't feel so tight, or maybe just tune it down to a lower 1-5-8 tuning. I'll try that first.

Today I also finished my Reso-Cigar Box Banjo. The resonator works pretty good and the instrument is my loudest yet. However, I made the neck and fretboard 1.75" wide, which wasn't really wide enough to do a 5-string instrument. So, I made it a 3 & 2/3s string banjo (with the 2/3s string a short drone string terminating at the 5th fret). It's really a 3-string chromatically fretted Reso-CBG with a 4th short drone string ala a 5-string Banjo. My next attempt will start with a 2 & 1/4" wide neck so I will have plenty of room for 5 strings. I have 1" x 1" lengths of hard wood, which I plan to glue together side by side with a thin strip of wood down the middle to provide a neck blank wide enough for a 5-stringer. I expect to get started on that project pretty soon. It will also have a resonator box like my just completed "Reso-CBB". I'll try to post the photos I took, but I need to buy a new charger for my digital camera as one of our cats chewed thru the wires of the charger and I can't charge it up anymore. Damn cats!

February 18, 2014

Between last night and this morning I have been beating my brains out trying to figure out my intonation problem with a headless 3-string dulcimer I've been working on. After screwing around late last night, and starting afresh this morning I finally discovered the problem. I had used an old wFret printout to tell me where the frets should be located and I built the fretboard, but then messed up fret 0, so I decided to cut it (fret 0) off and use a bolt for a nut (instead of using the bolt as a string tee). That made me believe my intonation problem was with the nut, or the nut and the bridge, but it was neither. The problem is that the wFret printout I used was for a 50cm VSL and not 45cm VSL as I had believed. So, the moral to this story is to always measure your wFret printout (or your list of fret positions) before you use them. To do this, measure the distance between the nut (or fret 0) and the octave (fret 12 on a chromatically fretted instrument, or fret 7 on a diatonically fretted instrument). Then double this distance, and that is where the bridge should go. Had I done this I would have noticed this problem and would not have messed up my neck and fretboard. But, fortunately, I can remove this neck with the 50cm VSL fretboard and use it for another build sometime down the road using a longer box that can support the 50cm VSL. Then for current short box, I can build a new neck and fretboard. Well, the lucky thing about headless designs is I didn't waste any time and effort on building the headstock!


July 10th, 2013


I completed the octagonal sound box and much of it's neck and headstock, but I'm still waiting on parts to complete the instrument. Anyway, the sound box went together real well. I cut the pieces on the bandsaw. They fit pretty tight. A string tourniquet "clamp" worked real well in gluing together the 8 sides. The 8 little "triangles" that stick out (one from each joint) were easily reduced to saw dust using a stationary belt sander. The result was a near perfect octagonal frame. I then bought a couple pieces of 1/8" plywood (unable to locate better wood), and used them to make the sound board and the back board. I cut two 7/8" sound holes in the soundboard on either side of the neck-thru. I haven't glued on the sound board yet as I was thinking of adding a piezo pickup. This project is kind on on holed awaiting more guitar hardware. Also, I need to find a fretboard of the suitable width, as the neck is a bit wider than standard. Will likely have to buy the next size up and cut it to size. I need to dig out my digital camera and take some photos.



July 5th, 2013


While I'm in the States this Summer, I joined a wood-workers club that has a pretty well equipped woodworking shop with tools like tables saws, band saws, routers, planners and the like. So, I'm playing around with the machine tools to see how they can be used to build CBGs and the like. I've already built a simple 4-string cigarbox ukulele, but haven't completed it. I still need stain and finish the head/neck assembly, fret the fretboard, mount the tuners and string it up. It has a scarf joined headstock widened with two side "wings". These were cut on the band saw. I shaped the neck using a router table and a 1/2" roundover bit. I also used a band saw to cut some small pieces of wood to help seat the head/neck assembly into the box. And finally, I cut two 1" wide sound holes on either side of where the neck passes through the box using a drill press with a 1" forstner bit. It has a 17" (tenor sized) neck and the string spacing will be 3/8".

As my main focus is learning to use these machine tools, I have gone onto another project. Originally, the second project was going to be a box guitar with a 22" inch VSL and 4 strings with 1/2" string separation.  However, I found that the shop wasn't really set up to do box joints. So, I made my own simple box joint jig assuming I could change out the saw blades. When I asked about changing the saw blades, I got a lot of resistance from the shop supervisor, so I gave up on that idea. I then tried to cut them without a jig on the bandsaw. I marked the boards where they should be cut, and cut them out. Unfortunately the cuts did not turn out so well (mainly too loose fitting), so I gave up on that idea.

So, today I decided to build an octagonal shaped sound box using the "Bird Mouth Mast" approach, which I had documented earlier on CBN, but never got around to doing. So, now I'll try it out and as I do, take photos and notes of how I did it  and will add that to my write-up I did on the Bird Mouth Mast method of making octagonal boxes. So, stay tuned for that.



January 9, 2013


The day before yesterday I glued together the parts which make up my Flying V frame. I found clamping the V was a bit difficult to do, and ended up using a thin rag as a kind of tourniquet to act as a odd shaped clamp to get the V-Shaped tail-block glued to the two sides of what will become the sound box. Here's a photo of the finished Flying V frame:


Yesterday I rough cut the backboard (i.e. the side opposite the sound board), glued it onto my Flying V frame, clamped it down, let it dried and then filed down the rough edges. Here's a series of photos related to those steps:

Prepping the plywood veneer: First I cut a piece of plywood veneer large enough to for the soundboard and the backboard, without wasting too much wood. In this case, two pieces approximately 7.5" by 20". I used the frame as a template and drew with a pencil an outline of the frame, then I turned the frame around and used it again as a template to draw the outline for the second piece. Then I cut the board into two pieces at a slight angle, allowing me to minimize wastage a bit more.

Next, I clamped the frame over the first piece of plywood veneer as close as possible to where I drew the outline. The frame would serve as a cookie cutter.  I then used a thick-handled utility knife (like a box cutter but with a big comfortably sized handle, as you can see in the photo) and cut the plywood veneer to the approximate size of the frame (a little bigger, the excess will be filed off later). I then applied wood glue to the frame and positioned the frame over the plywood veneer cut-out and I clamped it down, making sure the frame stayed in position over the cut-out. With clamping complete, I wiped up excess glue using wet-wipes. I let it dry for about 90 minutes. Here's a photo of the frame clamped to the cut-out made while waiting for the glue to dry:

The white plastic bag under my work piece is just to keep any excess glue I miss from drying and sticking the work piece to my work surface. The following two photos show the frame with backboard glued on:

I also thought it might be interesting to see how this Flying V body is shaping up compared to my standard 50cm VSL paddle-box dulcimer. So here's that photo:

So, my Flying "V" is longer and narrower than my standard paddle-box. The "V" shaped tail-block would have cut too far into the sound box if I tried to make them both the same length, so instead, I elongated the sound box so that the tip of the "V" would begin where the standard straight tail-block of the paddle-box would normally end.


Today I went to work on the sound board, rough cutting the piece of plywood veneer into the approximate shape of the frame using the frame as a template and the utility knife. It takes about 4 passes of the utility knife to cut all the way through the plywood veneer. I then drew a center-line down the middle of the rough cut piece of veneer and marked where I wanted the bridge to go and where I wanted the sound hole to go. I then drilled out the sound hole using a hole cutting bit. I think it was 7/8" if I recall right. I then applied glue to the frame, put the sound board into place and clamped it down as shown in this next photo:

After clamping things down and wiping up excess glue, I waited 90 minutes and then release the clamps. I then took a wood file and filed off all the excess wood from the edges of the sound board. The I wiped down the Flying V "corpse" with a wet wipe to remove excess saw dust and to add a bit of color to the wood. Then I took the following photos:

The plywood veneer looks a bit "two-toned" because I had wiped it down with a wet wipe and it partly dried before I could shoot my photo.

You also might notice that the sound hole is located about 1/8" to 1/4" too far to the right. I'm not sure how this error crept in, but it did. My best working hypothesis is that I used the "tip" of the "V" cut in my rough cutout as one of two points to draw my center-line. But this point was off because of how I rough cut the "V" in the sound board. On these box-cutter like utility knives, the blade is not mounted in the middle of the handle, but to one side. When I made the rough "V" cut, I cut from the center of the "V" out, then I reversed the direction of the knife to cut the other side of the "V". So, one side was cut close, and the other side was cut maybe an extra 1/8" to 1/4" inch too wide, and this mistake messed up my assumption that the second center-point would be the middle "tip" of the "V". Live and learn...

Anyway, that's where I'm at. Tomorrow, I'll start on the headstock. First I'll cut down the front face of the head stock by maybe 1/8" to 3/16", then I will cut a slot in the middle using my method of drilling series of holes 1/4" apart, then use wider and wider drill bits to enlarge the holes until the holes almost join, and then use a chisel to rough cut the slot, then wood rasps, wood files and sandpaper to clean up the slot. If I can do all that in the next day or two, I'll be doing real good.




January 7, 2013

Today I drew and uploaded my detailed drawing of my Flying "V" tail-block with length and angle measurements. Here is that drawing...

Later today I will glue the frame together and let it dry.




January 5, 2013

I have built the pieces that will form the frame of my first Flying V Dulcimer. Here are a few photos to whet your appetite:

Photo 1: Dry fit of frame pieces in my jig/form thingy. My form was designed originally for a 45cm VSL paddle box, but I modified it for use on this project. It will help holding the pieces together when I go to glue it up.


Photo 2: A dry fit of my Flying V frame without the jig/form thingy. I originally cut the two sapelli sides to 90cm, but plan to cut off 4cm from both sides, making them 86cm long, as documented in my drawing. My regular 50cm VSL dulcimers end with a flat bottom about where the tip of the "V" tail-block is seen in this photo, so the sound box is a little larger than my standard box length- and width-wise, but it will only be 2.5cm deep (what I call a narrow profile model).


Photo 3: Two photos showing the "V" shaped tail block from two different angles. The lower shot shows the brass metal angle bracket that re-enforces the joint. I managed to twist off one of the brass screw heads when tightening it down, so I drilled out a second hole and put in a larger steel wood screw.


Photo 4: My my updated drawings made using measurements of this first set of frame parts. This dulcimer will have a 50cm VSL, The sound box will be 36cm long at the shortest point and 45 cm at the two longest points. The sound box will also be 18cm wide at the widest point. The neck is a 40cm x 2.5cm x 2.5cm length of beech with two strips of sapelli trim wood measuring 86cm x 2.5cm x 0.5cm. The "V" shaped tail-block is made of two 6" lengths of 2.5cm x 2.5cm beech wood. The two pieces were cut at 45 degrees and butt joined, then reinforced with a brass angle bracket. I'll be doing the glue-up of the frame next, followed by the construction of a slotted headstock.



January 1, 2013

The first instrument that I'm planning to build this year is a "Flying V" stick dulcimer. The instrument design will begin with my now fairly standard 50cm VSL Paddle Box, but will include a "V" shaped tail-block as opposed to the simple "flat bottom" one used on my current design. Here is a diagram showing you what I'm thinking...
Because the "V" shaped tail-block cuts so much into the sound box, I will likely extend the length of the sound box before adding the "V" shaped tail block. The angles to cut the ends of the "V" so that it fits the two side slats remain a mystery. Will likely make the cuts after building has begun and I get to the step where I need to fit the tail-block. I'll try eyeballing it and if the cut doesn't work, I can try again till it more or less fits. After making the first one I should know what the angles should be.



November 19, 2012

A few weeks ago I found my digital camera, but then I couldn't find the charger to charge up the battery. Last week I found the battery charger, charged up the camera battery, and took a bunch of photos, including a trip to HK Disneyland. But then I couldn't find the cable to connect the camera to my computer so I couldn't upload the photos. Well I found the cable a couple of days ago, so now I can finally take and upload photos again. I need to get in the habit of storing all my camera things in the same place after I use them to avoid this problem in the future.

So, yesterday, I uploaded a series of 8 photos of my second "mountain dulcimer" build that I did back in May of 2012. Those photos were among several series of guitar build photos that were still on the camera after all these months. Here's what the instrument looks like:

The rest of the photos can be seen at this link. I've been calling it a "Music Box" as opposed to a "mountain dulcimer" because of the different neck-to-box attachment method used. What I did was to use my standard stick dulcimer head and neck assembly method to build the neck and headstock assembly -- from gluing together six long slats of 3cm x 0.5 cm cherry trim wood -- and then attached this neck to the box using the CBG attachment method commonly referred to as "neck-almost-thru", where one side of the box is slotted to accept the neck, and the tail end of the neck is fitted up against the opposite (tail) side of the sound box. Then I glued on the sound board, and then I laminated together three long slats of 3cm x 0.5cm cherry trim wood and glued that to the fretboard, and then glued this assemblage to the soundboard, carefully aligning it to fit over the neck. The result is a mountain dulcimer-like raised fretboard that sits about 2cm (0.75") above the sound board. If you view the photos and then re-read this paragraph, it probably be easier to understand.




August 26, 2012

Well, we made it back to our home in Shenzhen, China okay. Now to get over jet lag. I did finish my PDR1878 Cigar Box Guitar. At this point I have only started to learn to play it. My first task was to map the diatonic notes of the first string to the yard-stick "fretboard". As you may recall I bought one of these Lowe's wooden yard sticks and cut off a 19" length and glued it to the neck where the fretboard should go, orienting it so I could read the numbers on the yard stick from 1 thru 19 from left to right. Here's the mapping I got with the instrument tuned G-D-G' (a familiar tuning to me).


Note:   Location on Yardstick/Fretboard:

G = Open string

A = 2.5"

B = 5"

C = 6 & 1/8"

D = 8 & 1/8"

E = 10"

F# = 11 & 3/4"

G = 12.5"

So, once I can remember the scale, I can start to practice my dulcimer songs on string 1, and maybe begin to learn slide guitar. I did put a Piezo-pup on it, making sure to glob a bunch of hot glue into a bottle cap, inserted the piezo transducer, then globed on more hot glue so it's covered on both sides. Once that dried, I glue the bottle cap with hot glue to the bottom side of my sound board. Still have to test it out.





August 20, 2012

Well, regretfully, I have to wind things up for the 2012 summer season and fly back to China in a couple of days. This means I won't be able to attend the Sacramento CBG Get-To-Gether, something I really wanted to attend. But my wife wants me to fly back with her and our kid as scheduled, rather than my postponing my flight "just" to attend a CBG festival.  Maybe I can do it next year. I hope everyone else can go and that they have a good time. Maybe next year it can be scheduled earlier in August.

Well, I almost all packed. Will leave 3 instruments with relatives in the States. I have packed the parts for my new PDR 1878 CBG with the idea of finishing it up in China. Seems a few details are holding up its completion (need a smaller hex screw driver, and a smaller drill bit for the tuner mounting screws, both which I have in China.  Well, I have other things to do. Got to go...




August 17, 2012

I have a preliminary headstock design for my 3-string PDR 1878 Cigar Box. It's a simple design. Here's the drawing

The side view (I'm too lazy to draw it) has the neck/fretboard rising suddenly a quarter inch up from the face of the head stock, immediately after the bolt nut. The fretboard was a (seems like poplar wood) wooden yard stick that was cut down to 19" (the length of the neck above the cigar box, not counting the headstock). I glued it so I could read the yardstick as I play with the 1" side closest to the nut. I figure this might help me learn how to play a fretless instrument easier.
On the PDR-1878 CBG, I drilled the 3 holes for the tuners in the headstock, and the 3 holes in the tail end of the neck (in place of a real tail piece. I have a long thin bolt I cut down and will lay across the neck just above the 3 string holes to prevent the steel strings from cutting into the wood. I also have a machine bolt and nut to use as the bridge, and I purchased a medium set of acoustic guitar strings. So, as soon as I get my tuners from CB Gitty, and a piezo pickup, I should be able to finish my project pretty quickly. The other thing I did today is to stain the neck & headstock assembly, then painted on 2 coats of polyurethane. Tomorrow, I'll paint on a 3rd coat of poly.


I guess I need to drill a hole for the piezo pup's audio jack.  I also need to find something to dampen the piezo, like maybe hot glue. This time I'll try gobs and gobs of glue all over the piezo and place the piezo on the neck instead of under the sound board to try to isolate the finger noise that piezo pups are infamous for.

Well, I guess that's all for now.




August 14, 2012

Today my Lanikai Baritone Ukulele came. I bought it on an eBay auction a couple of weeks ago for $33 plus $13.20 for S&H, so for less than $50. This was a "second" with a problem with the bridge and/or nut having a "too high action". But, now that the instrument is in my hands, I don't think the action is too high, but I do notice the bridge is a tad high on the string 1 side, less than a half mm, so if that's the problem, it's ever so slight. I don't think it will affect playing significantly. So, I'm going to keep it like it is (I was prepared to de-string it, file down the bridge and nut as needed, but now I don't think the fix is worth the effort.)

I do have a problem with the tuning. It should be tuned like the 4 highest pitched strings on a guitar (D-G-B-e), but as I don't have any guitar experience, I'm hunting for a more friendly tuning. Right now I have it tuned C-F-C'-F', which is a 4 string 1-5-8 tuning (as popular on dulcimers). I picked this tuning around F-C-F' as it was close to the original baritone uke's tuning. So, I wouldn't be over-stressing the strings too much. Now I'm trying to learn how to play my favorite stick dulcimer songs on my new CFCF tuned baritone uke. This is a challenge not because of the 4th string, but because I'm coming from a diatonic fretboard background. The chromatic fretboard has a lot more frets to confuse me. I've figured out 'Old Joe Clark'. Next, learn a dozen more dulcimer songs and then maybe 'Spanish Romance' which uses sharps and flats.

Retuning from D-G-B-E  to C-F-C'-F':

  • D String was tuned down to C (down 2 semitones)
  • G String was tuned down to F (down 2 semitones)
  • B String was tuned up to C' (up 1 semitone)
  • E String was tuned up to F' (up 1 semitone)


Another tuning I'm thinking of playing with is D-F#-A-D' (1-3-5-8) which includes the 1, 3 and 5 notes required to form full chords, and the first string is tuned to D', an octave above the bass string. The first string tuned to D' should also feel familiar as I used D-A-D' tuning on my 3 stringers most of the time.

Retuning from D-G-B-E  to D-F#-A-D':

  • D String will require no change
  • G String tuned down to F# (tune down 1 semitone)
  • B String tuned down to A (tune down 2 semitones)
  • E String tuned down to D (tune down 2 semitones)

I'll let you know what I think when I've tried it out for a while. I like the idea of being able to easily form full chords and have a D string for my melody string (old habits die hard).


On my PDR 1878 CBG project: yesterday, I filed and sanded the neck to shape it nicely. Pretty much just waiting for parts from CBGitty. When I get the tuners I'll plan out and fashion the headstock. I did notice that the 3/4" deep headstock should be just fine for the tuners (having compared it to the headstock of my stick dulcimer; so I won't have to remove an extra 1/4" of wood after all. Will just need to drill the holes for the 3 tuners.

After the head stock is done, I'll do a bit of sanding with finer grained sand paper, maybe a coat or two of wood stain (I don't like poplar white), and a few more coats of polyurethane. Then, string it up and play with it using a slide. I have a set of Keni-Lee Burgess CDs on the way. So, with any luck maybe I can learn to play a song or two on it by the time the First Sacramento Cigar Box Get-To-Gether comes along (Sunday, August 26, 2012, 1 to 4 pm at The Strum Shop in Roseville, CA)

Well, that's all for now.




August 11, 2012


With the First Sacramento CBG Get-To-Gether coming up, and no real CBG in hand, I decided I should build one. Have located a black PDR 1878 cigar box with the dimensions of 10" x 7" x 2.25" and purchased a 6 foot length of 1.5" x 0.75" poplar from Lowes. I've ordered tuners, fret wire and a piezo pup cable set from C.B. Gitty. I can get strings locally, and other misc. hardware. I have a prelimonary drawing. And I've begun work this morning.


Here's my design so far...


Well, today I got several things done.

First, I cut and glued a 9 & 5/8" piece of poplar to the underside of the neck where it will go thru the cigar box. This piece is indicated in the drawing above by the orange piece.

Then I cut the slots in the cigar box for the neck to fit into the box.

Then, this evening, I used a hack saw and cut and pried out a lot (almost 9" worth) of 1/4" x 1/4" x 3/4"  chunks of wood to form the "hollow" in the neck where the neck might otherwise contact the soundboard. I also cut two "lid lips" at either end of this hollow so the lid of the cigarbox will close nicely over the neck. A "bastard file" was used to file the rough cutouts rather smooth. I will work on this some more when I get around to shaping and sanding the rest of the neck.

I also glued on 19" worth of a wooden yard-stick to use as a "fretboard" on my (initially fretless) instrument. This length will limit me to about 22 chromatic frets, but that should be enough. Had I tried to extend the fretboard over the lid, then I probably wouldn't be able to open the lid (as to access the piezo and wiring inside). There is plenty of room beyond the top end of the fretboard for a nut and a 6" headstock (as per my plans).

After this dries, I'll file and shape the neck and cut maybe1/4" from the face of the fretboard. Between the nut and this reduction in the depth of the headstock, I should have 1/2" drop of the strings over the nut to realize a good break angle over the nut.

I still haven't decided how to shape the headstock to accept 3 single open geared tuners. The kind I bought have the string hole near the end of the shaft. As I recall, this kind of tuner pretty much dictates that the hole fore the shafts be drilled vertically down thru the headstock, and the tuner knobs have to stick out from either side of the headstock (kind of like ears). But, I will know for sure when I get the tuners and can orient them next to the headstock. Until then I can't drill holes for the tuner or determine how I'll shape the headstock.

Well, that's all for now.





July 21, 2012


Back in the U.S.A.


I'm loving the music videos on Youtube (a treat for me as I don't get any western videos in China, the government blocks all the video server sites).


--- Notes to myself ---


I like the Russian balalaka videos. They sure play with a lot of flair. Maybe I should try to pick up on some of their playing techniques.

But most of my necks seem too thick to fret the bass string with the thumb. Will have to try it on my low profile neck I did a while back. Maybe that one can support a fretting thumb. If not, then I should experiment with making even thinner necks.

I should try building a chromatic 3-stringer and string/tune it like a balalaika. I'm not yet skilled enough to build a real balalaika. I'm thinking secunda or alto balalaika, as they approximate the size of instrument I build. Here' that info:


Prima balalaika . . . . . . . . 43.0cm VSL. . . . . Tuned E-E-A

Secunda balalaika. . . . . .  47.5cm VSL. . . . . Tuned A-A-D

Alto balalaika. . . . . . . . . . 53.5cm VSL. . . . . Tuned E-E-A*

(* an octave lower than the prima)


The recommended strings for a prima balalaika are: two nylon (classical guitar) G (3d) strings and one 0.011" plain steel string for the melody string. The two nylon strings will sound a bit muted as compared to the melody string, but this is a plus, as it will make the melody ring out above the bass (or drone) strings. Will need to try this trick on my stick dulcimer.

I'm not sure what strings to try on a secunda or alto balalaika (or balalaika-crossbreed). Any suggestions are welcome.

I might need to build a wider sound board and maybe a deeper sound box, though. Should try to at least approximate the shape of the balalaika's sound board. The rounded back board and associated transom are still beyond my woodworkings skills. So, that's not going to happen.


June 23, 2012

Hmm... I still can't find the battery charger for my digital camera. Seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth. My wife hasn't been able to find it either. Without a camera I haven't been able to document my last several builds.


Anyways, I have been concentrating on perfecting my 50 cm VSL paddle-box stick dulcimer designs looking for ease of building vs. the best sound vs.various design options. Design options now include 3 or 4 string versions, with a wider fretboard for 4 stringers, low profile instruments vs deeper sound boxes, solid core neck & head verses those built up from laminating 6 or 7 slats of 3cm by 0.5cm cherry trim wood. I am also trying to improve my build techniques toward eliminating mistakes. I am always screwing up something. It makes me wonder if I will ever be able to do a perfect build. Maybe if I build the same basic instrument a thousand times I can at least build a few near perfect instruments.

Well, I going to quit making instruments for a couple of months. Instead will be returning to the States for the summer. My wife won't allow me to bring any tools, so instrument building is not an option. She will allow me to take one "guitar", so I guess I'll be focusing on refining my playing technique. Now let's see, which of my 30-odd guitars should I take. Let me see...



February 17, 2012

Haven't been building, but have been playing -- mostly picking melodies and adding the drone strings after I get the melody down. Lately i have been experimenting with chords and chordal music, mainly in D-A-D. Here's the "L-shaped" chord chart I did for D-A-D:

And here are the "L-shaped" chords for G-D-G, my main alternate tuning.

Notice that the actual fingerings for these chords are the same for D-A-D, G-D-G, and other tunings of the 1-5-8 tuning family. Because of this, we should get into the habit of referring to the chords by their interval number (roman numerals) so we can think of these chords across tunings in a more generalized way. This is something I'm also working on. For instance, instead of specifying the exact chord for a given tuning (or key) in a chordal song arrangement, if you specify the chords by their roman numeral names, a musician can more easily figure out which chords should be used for a different tuning/key, and I'm beginning to think that the musician needn't bother with figuring it out at all, since the chordal fingerigs are all the same for the various 1-5-8 tunings.

Also, I've played with "power chords", but prefer the richer sounds of these L-shaped chords. So, I will play the i, iv and v chords (D, G & A) using the fingerings "002", "335" and "446+" on simple lyric with chords arrangements like I find here: 101 Easy Cigar Box Guitar Songs. 'Old Black Joe' by Stephan Foster is a good starter song... I can just about hear the song when I strum the chords and read the lyrics. I guess I need to practice while singing aloud to better hear the melody. Also have to perfect my strum and timing.  Well, that's all for now.



January 13, 2012


Happy New Years.This past month I ran out of fret wire, so I'm out of business until I can score some more. Despite this, I have built 2 more 3-stringer stick dulcimers with home-made sound boxes. The two sound boxes are pretty much identical, as are the neck and head stock. The only real difference will be the scale length (and neck lengths). One will have a 50 cm VSL and the other has a 60 cm VSL. Will have to wait for fret wire to see how they'll turn out. Hoping to prove or disprove my notion that long VSLs produce sweeter sounding notes than shorter VSL instruments.

Also working on building a doll house for my daughter.

I'm also exploring chords on 1-5-8 tuned stick dulcimers. I have average sized fingers on 2 aged and rather inflexible hands, so chord playing with skill is a long way off,  and may never happen. But the puzzle should prove challenging to my mind. I have already discovered that if I set my stick dulcimer on a table or in my lap, and play it like a mountain dulcimer, that I can accomplish a longer reach and can finger more difficult chords than is possible when "cupping" the neck between my thumb and forefinger. So, maybe for old folks and others with limited hand reach and fingering ability, a mountain dulcimer might be a better instrument to try playing. I am working on my own chord table which I'll publish here when that gets done.

I have re-tuned my previously "odd" sounding 3-string walking stick to G-B-D, one member of the "1-3-5 family" of tunings, and have decided I like it. Not only is this guitar sound better, the 1-3-5 tuning makes finding chord easier, and I can play my old familiar D-A-D one string arrangements on it. The two drone string (open G & B) sound different, but not bad. Hopefully I can find a way to incorporate chords into my arrangements to improve the sound. Will likely need to find a good guitar teacher.


December 09, 2011
Also, over the past month, I built 3 other stick dulcimers.
1.} My New3-String "Paddle Box" Stick Dulcimer

This instrument has a overall length (LOA) of 85cm (about 33.5") and a 60cm (about 23.7") scale length. It also features a slotted head with a 3x1 set of open geared guitar tuners. The diatonic fretboard includes frets 1-14 plus frets 6.5 and 13.5. So, from open string 3 thru string 1, fret 14 we have a full 3 octaves of notes to play with.


Size-wise, the new paddle shaped sound box falls about half-way between the McNally Strumstick and my first paddle box stick dulcimer. My first paddle box was twice as deep as this new one, and it sounds deeper (more bass) than the new one. Also, this new instrument sounds a bit lower (and better - IMHO) than the McNally Strumstick. Also, my first ("bass") stick dulcimer has guitar strings 2, 3 and 4; whereas this new instrument is using guitar strings 1, 2 and 3. The McNally Strumstick looks to be using banjo strings. The bass and treble characteristics of a stringed  instrument seems to be primarily a function of the sound box size and the length and thickness of the strings used.

The long scale length also seems to produce sweeter sounding notes compared to my medium and short scale instruments. The only real problem is that the distance between frets is longer, so it's a bit more difficult to play.

2.} My New 2-String "Mini" Stick Dulcimer

The second instrument is a "mini" stick dulcimer with a LOA of 46cm (about 18") and a 38cm (about 15.7") scale length. This one also features 2 ukulele friction tuners mounted close together on a 4.5cm long headstock. The sound box is an attractive green and gold Chinese throat lozenges tin with two pretty girls pictured on the lid. The diatonic fretboard feature frets 1-12, plus fret 6.5. The two black strings are the first two from a set of 4 nylon ukulele strings. The tone is a bit "plunky" and quiet. It makes a nice portable practice instrument, especially if played in doors in a relatively quiet environment. I'm thinking of replacing the small tin with a tuna can for a bit more volume.



3.} My New 3-String "Mini" Stick Dulcimer

The third new instrument is a "mini" stick dulcimer with a LOA of 57cm (about 22.5") and a 40cm (about 15") scale length. It also features a slotted headstock with 3 open geared tuners, a small (12cm x 9cm x 5cm) wooden sound box, a full 3-octave diatonic fretboard (frets 1-14 plus 6.5 an 13.5") and nylon ukulele stings. With the larger sound box, the instrument is somewhat louder than my mini 2-stringer with the pretty lozenger tin. But next time I'll build with a larger box for more volume. Also, this one was built as a gift for my Chinese mother-in-law after she expressed a lot of interest in my mini 2-stringer.


Well, that's all for now.






December 07, 2011


Also in November I built a walking stick (cane) cigar box stick dulcimer (3-string, diatonic fretboard). This was also my first "headless" design, which is to say I swapped around the location of the headstock and the tailpiece. So, I guess you could say it has a "tail-stock" instead of a headstock. This was done to keep the tuners out of the way of the walking stick's handle. Here's a couple of photos:
The cigar box is a Oliva Connecticut Reserve box with a rather thick lid (sound board). That, coupled with a solid oak neck, resulted in an instrument with a rather strange tone. However the tone "grows on you" after a while, so I can't say it sounds bad, just different from my usual builds. I guess it gives the instrument a unique personality or voice.

As a walking stick, it's not so great.  It's rather heavy, and because the "tail-stock" and the bottom foot are glued on using dowels (instead of being a single length of hardwood), the stick creaks a lot when I put weight on it. So, I'm afraid that if I put too much weight on it, the foot or tail-stock parts might break. And perhaps worse, when I walk with it, each time the walking stick hits the ground you can hear the strings and sound box go "boing,   boing,   boing...", announcing my approach.  This walking stick seems most useful for helping me stand up from a sitting position (from a chair or couch).

[After a week of acupuncture, massage and "flaming hot Chinese medicine towels", I'm now able to walk much better; their treatment for swollen feet and poor lower body circulation worked very well... I was surprised.]

The lowest "foot part" was made using a length of 5/16" diameter poplar wood dowel and the cap to an empty "tube" of white carpenter's glue which I use when I don't have Tightbond wood glue on hand. I also used a hot gun and hot glue to fill the cap to make a rubber like non-skid foot and again to glue the foot to the end of the length of poplar wood dowel. Maybe not as good as a real rubber non-skid foot, but with my limited mobility, I often have to make do with what's on hand.

For a better walking stick, use a single length of hardwood and to that add a smaller resonator, like maybe a tuna can, and one string is probably enough.

November 28, 2011


About a week ago, I re-worked the 2-string diatonic "banjo" that I slapped together about 6 weeks earlier to explore how to mount a rectangular neck to a circular hand drum. Turns out that a "neck almost thru" mounting technique is probably the easiest since all you have to do is cut a single squarish hole through the wooden drum hoop, and you don't have to worry about how to cut and shape a con-caved recessed area in the heel of the neck to allow it to fit snugly up to the drum as you would on a bolt-on neck. I was pleased with how well the neck almost thru method worked. I also had to shape the tail end of the neck to fit the opposite side of the drum, but this is a convex curve, easier to shape by filing down the corners.


There was one problem area -- the "hollow" under the drum head was cut to 1/4" deep, which I do with all my (cigar) box guitars. However, on a drum head, especially those made of animal hide, there is a lot more stretchiness, especially during hot humid weather. The result, with 1/4", was an instrument I could play only on dry, cool days (or in an always air conditioned room). So, to fix this problem, I reworked the neck by cutting the hollow an extra 1/4" deep (now 1/2" deep). With this depth I can play the instrument pretty well no matter the humidity (but I do keep a tuner and an under-the-bridge shim on hand just in case the weather turns).


View of 1/2" deep "hollow" cut into the neck to insure no contact between the drum head and the neck, which would mute the sound produced by the instrument considerably. The red pick points to one of the two feet of the bridge.


In fact, due to the sensitivity of the animal hide drum head, I find I need to re-tune the instrument whenever I play it; so next time I'll likely go with a synthetic drum head. Also when not playing the instrument, I collapse the bridge, and move it a couple frets down the neck, then put my shim and pick on so they are held in place via string pressure. Collapsing the bridge helps keep the drum head in good shape around where the bridge stands. I have also marked the drum head in pencil as to where the bridge should go for easy re-placement. My fear is that the feet of my bridge (which is a cut down violin bridge) will either permanently impress its footprint into the skin head, or maybe tear through it, ruining the head.

In addition, I put a new "full width" fretboard on, as the earlier fretboard actually belongs to another 2-string CBG for which I keep several different "subset" or "special application" fret boards (diatonic, blues scale, Middle Eastern Oriental Scale, and pentatonic). The new fretboard is also a bit longer and overlaps about 1" of the drum, so I fretted it with a full two octaves of diatonic frets, including frets 6.5 and 13.5.

When I strung up the instrument, I initially used strings 1 and 2 from a set of banjo strings. However, the second string always sounded "dead", so I replaced it with the 5th string (same diameter and material as the first string),and it sounds a lot better. I tune it to "A-D" (the 2-string version of "D-A-D" tuning which is commonly used on 3-string dulcimers). The instrument sounds pretty banjo-y, but in a kind of mellow, plunky sort of way. It does not have much sustain, so I have problem sliding from say fret 1 thru to fret 4. So, I'm not to happy about that. Any ideas on how to improve the sustain on a drum based instrument? Maybe start with a better drum next time.

Well that's the story thus far about my 2-string diatonic banjo.




November 14, 2011


Well,  October was pretty much a bust.  Most of the month was spent in the hospital to have a bone spur removed from the heel of my right foot. I did take along one of my stick dulcimer box guitars (the triangular on), so I got some play practice and music-to-tabs practice done.  Just before going to the hospital, I did two quick builds.

The first build was a paper mached cardboard box 3-string stick dulcimer I made using a recycled neck & head assembly. That worked okay, better than I thought it would. I then used cloth (actually dried out "wet-wipes") soaked in water-based polyurethane and coated the paper mache cardboard box with that to make the box a bit more solid and to see if there would be any improvement to the acoustics of the box. Any improvements to the acoustics were minimal. I was then going to build a similar box using recycled disposable chop sticks glued together to form the frame, then cover the sides with the same cloth and polyurethane. I tried building it up a layer at a time,  allowing each layer to dry before adding next. But the weight of the polyurethane caused the sides to sag, and trying to add layers never helped the box look any better.  So I gave up on it.  Seems a lot easier to build boxes from trim wood. May try again, but with more framework to prevent the soaked clothe from sagging.


The second build was a 2-stringer  (my 2-string diatonic "banjo") that used a plain and cheap 9" hand drum instead of a box for the resonating chamber. I built it in my air conditioned room and found that outside the room, the high heat and humidity would cause the skin head to sag to such a degree that the 1/4" neck hollow was no longer adequate to separate then neck from the drum head when trying to use a taller bridge to counteract the sagging of the head due to heat and humidity. I think I can modify the instrument to work by making the neck hollow deeper.






September 15, 2011


Note:As this instrument does not sound so great, I'm planning to re-work it by cutting out the sound and back boards and replacing them with 2mm thick plywood veneer. If it improves the sound quality, I'll let you know in a new posting. And if it works, I'll likely try it on a couple more CBGs l've built that just don't sound good. -Rand  12/10/2011.



I completed my Oliva Tenor CBG yesterday. This time, with closer attention to the neck angle and lowering the holes in the tail piece, I was able to build a good sounding instrument with fairly low action. In fact, I think I over did the angle on the neck and the strings actually touched the frets close to where the neck attaches to the box. So, I raised the bridge height and this set the string height (string action) to be acceptable and clear all the frets. I then measure the scale length, positioning the bridge in the right location. I found a problem with the nut in that it was too high and the strings weren't quite touching fret 0, so I added what amounts to a home made capo between the nut and fret 0 to fix this problem. Later, when I have to re-string the instrument, I might try filing the slot down deeper so the nut (a bolt) will sit lower in relation to fret 0. I also have some small screws which were left over from my failed PDR Tenor CBG build (where my neck and head assembly came from).  So, my nut/fret 0 implementation looks rather ugly as you will see in the following photos. I'll have to pay closer attention to this problem in future builds. I think I also need to stock more variety in terms of bolts so I have more options to play with. Well, here are 3 photos of my Oliva Tenor CBG:

This shot shows the whole instrument. Notice that I "painted" the neck in alternating black and brown colors. This was done to mimic the colors of a piano keyboard. The black fret positions correspond to the black keys on the piano (the accidental notes), and the brown fret positions correspond to the white keys on the piano (natural notes). Of course, on the piano this is only true for the Key of C, so I tuned my tenor CBG to the Key of C (at least the melody string). The 4 strings are actually tuned G-C-G'-C'.

The main purpose of this fretboard color scheme and the G-C-G'-C' tuning is to help me make the transition from diatonically fretted instruments to chromatically fretted ones. On a CBG with the fret board colored in this way, I can still play all my favorite diatonic tunes by focusing on the brown fret positions, and I can focus on pentatonic tunes (noodelings) by playing just the black fret positions, and some day I might be able to play some chromatic tunes arranged for this G-C-G'-C' tuning.

I suspect this color scheme may not work with other tunings (keys), but I haven't done any kind of analysis to prove or disprove this possibility.


Here's a close-up of the Olivacigar box I used. The bridge sits pretty high because the "slight downward angle" of the neck turned out to be a little too much of an angle and the strings would touch the last few frets until I raised the bridge. The tail piece is red oak, which I hope will be strong enough not to break. I have a history of building excessively weak wooden tail pieces and they tend to break, or pop off, or the string ends up cutting through them. So I need to find a better solution to building tail pieces. That's a small arm rest on the upper left, to avoid the uncomfortable upper edge of the box on the soft underside of my forearm as I pick or strum the instrument.

Here is a shot of the headstock. I used a scarf joint to angle the head down by about 15 degrees, and then I slotted the head so I could use a 1x4 matrix of Mandolin tuners.

You can see I have messed up around the nut and fret 0. The home-made capo forces the strings down onto fret 0. Next time I change strings, I'll lower the nut by filing down some more on its slot in the neck. I also need to do a better job on the string tree screws. Pretty sloppy work.


Well, that's all for now.







September 12, 2011


Yesterday I tried to disassemble my PDR tenor CBG, but it proved quite difficult to do, so in that process I essentially destroyed the box. However, I was able to recycle most of the parts into a new instrument that I'm building around a 8.5" x 6.75" x 2" Oliva Connecticut Reserve cigar box. The 4-string chromatically fretted neck is now mounted to the box using a heal and some additional internal bracing. This time, however, I mounted the neck higher so it protrudes above the sound board my maybe 1/8" (as a neck with a fretboard might do) and I built the internal framework of the box to receive the neck at a sight downward angle so I should have a fairly low action on this instrument. I also recycle the tail piece and re-drilled the string holes so the bridge won't have to be raised so high to achieve a good break angle to prevent the strings from buzzing like last time.


I have also been playing around with home made stains on both the PDR build and it's replacement. On the PDR CBG, I had used a pigment (Umber & Sienna) mixed with cooking oil as the stain, which I applied lightly with paper towel and after drying applied a few coats of water-based polyurethane. That seemed to work pretty well. However, when I destructed the PDR CBG, I found that the stain and polyurethane would peel off in a single layer like house paint. I could scrape it off rather easily using a scraper, leaving the underlying wood intact and white (poplar wood). So, I'm not sure how real commercially available stains react when used with a water-based polyurethane, but I would have thought the stain would have penetrated the wood more, and not be so easily removed when peeling off the polyurethane layer. I have been trying home made stains and water-based poly-urethane in an effort to avoid the highly volatile (and smelly) commercial stuff.


My latest experiment is to mix the Umber & Sienna pigment directly into the water-based polyurethane. I found when I did this I had to stir it a lot to get an even consistency, and the result looked purple in color. I applied it to the wood (poplar) and the color looked reddish with a purple tint. It also went on like paint, with a lot of streaks caused by the paint brush. I'm hoping that when it dries, the urple tint will vanish, but I have to wait and see (it's still drying). I also hope that with a bit of light sanding and a second coat, the streaking caused by brushing on this "paint" will disappear. We'll see.






September 10, 2011


My black PDR 1878 Cubano Especial Tenor CBG didn't turn out very good. The main problem is that the strings are too high over the frets (high action) due to a couple of factors. The first factor was that I didn't use a fretboard as has become my norm, and so the frets, which where mounted directly on the neck sit lower than I realized, so I may have to modify how the neck is mounted to the box for necks that don't have fretboards. The next problem is the neck does not tilt a few degrees downward, a technique I guess that slipped my mind as I was building it which also lowers the action. The third problem is that I had to raise the bolt I use as the bridge because the holes on the tail piece were too high and caused some horrible sounding buzz because there was an insufficient break angle over the bridge. Raising the bridge eliminated the buzz, but also raised the action. To fix this problem, I actually need to re-drill the holes in the tail piece so they sit closer to the sound board or edge of the cigar box. As I have time, I'll try to fix these problems, but for now, it has been put on the back burner while I decide how to open it up to access the bolt (& glued) on neck. Will likely have to trash the sound board and replace it with more 2mm plywood veneer. I guess taking off this summer and not building anything has gotten me a bit rusty at this art.

I have also started another project using the first box I built, but put aside because I ruined the neck trying to fret it directly. My new neck is built out of the same kind of wood which in Chinese is called "Pomello wood" and which I understand also can mean "teak". It looks a bit like teak (as I remember from my sailboat days), but I couldn't swear to it. Anyway, it is fairly easy to work with and I have the neck coming along pretty well. I also added springs (for a bit of reverb), and I am thinking of adding a resonator, probably a tuna fish can. I plan to have a bolt-on sound board until I figure out what kind of things work best in/on the sound box. I need to review my neck design in light of my PDR project to make sure I avoid those problems. I'd say I'm about half way done.




August 16, 2011


My current project is a 4-Stringer Tenor CBG. I'm using a black PDR 1878 Cubano Especial cigar box with the dimenstions of 8.75" x 6.0" x 2". I was originally going to add a home-made resonator, but I screwed up when I cut the nearly 6" hole out for the resonator, destroying the bottom side of the box. I was planning to use the bottom side as the soundboard as the top lid is too thick. So, I removed the bottom side of the box and replaced it with 2mm plywood veneer, like what I have used on many of my previous builds. This time, however, I turned the "pretty" side of the veneer outward as it better matches the white poplar wood I'm using for the neck (purchased in the States, cut into 2 foot lengths and smuggled in in my suitcase). The neck will be fretted with a 22" scale length. The head stock tilts back at a 15 degree angle thanks to a scarf joint I was able to successfully cut by hand. The headstock also is slotted and sports a 1 x 4 set of mandolin tuners (also bought in the States). The neck is a "bolt on" with a bit extra bracing so hopefully the neck won't bend upward after I add and try to tune my strings (like my last one before I added a makeshift heel). As none of my metric wood works out as a fretboard, I will fret the neck directly. But before I do that, I am planning to stain the white wood of the neck and the sound board. Yesterday, I found package of "Decorating Pigment" described as "Iron Oxide Yellow". They also had "Iron Oxide Red" and "Iron Oxide Black", but I didn't buy the other two (wish I had). The Iron Oxide yellow I mixed with cooking oiland wiped on the head, neck and sound board. The resulting yellow looks a bit putrid, so I think I'll experiment with the other colors when I get a chance to go to B&Q again (maybe tommorrow). Once I get a nice color on the wood, I plan to put a couple coats of water based polyurethane on it. Then fret it and string it up. Hopefully will finish by the end of the week.



June 6, 2011


Here are a couple photos of my "finished" mountain dulcimer. I'm sure there will be some additional modifications to it as time goes on, but for now at least, it's finished and (best of all) playable!

Notice I have only 3 of the 4 strings strung up. I broke one of the melody strings trying to tune up to G-D-gg.  So, right now, it's tuned to D-A-d. It sounds a bit tinny due to the banjo strings.  Will likely try guitar strings next.  See my home made noter stick and pick?  I have never played with a noter before, so my left had seems really clumsy when trying to fret notes with the stick.  I guess that after some practice, it should get easier.


Here's the left side view, tilted up slightly to show off the "scalloping" of the fingerboard. As you can see, I got sloppy with the four sound holes and they don't line up right. I also kept them rather small, thinking I could always enlarge them later.


Here's a right side view, tilted up slightly to show off the "scalloping" of the fingerboard. This body style is known as an "elliptical" body. It is fairly simple to construct as compared to the more common hourglass and tear-drop body styles.






May 25, 2011


This past week or so I have been taking a break from my mountain dulcimer project. So, I have used some of my extra time to work on my dulcijo project that's been on hold due to a lack of fret wire. I did have some fret wire left over from the MD project, so I used that to fret the first octave of the dulcijo scale. I then tie-wrapped the fretboard to the neck and strung the instrument up to give her a test run. Here is a photo of the result, so far:

With the plywood veneer sound board in place of the cookie tin's own tin sound board, the sound of this instrument is a lot mellower than other cookie tin instruments I've built; at least with my initial D-D-G' tuning.


The standard Dulcijo tuning is A'-A-D, but when I try this on my Dulcijo with its tie-wrapped fretboard, the fretboard warps under string tension and buzzes a lot.  So, I guess I'll have to finish fretting the fretboard, and glue the fretboard permanently to the neck before I can play it in standard tuning.


The short 3rd string (as a drone string) makes the instrument sound a bit different too, more like a banjo.  It's currently tuned D-D-G (would have been G-D-G, but the short 3rd string is stopped at fret 4 which makes it an open D).


I also need to review the notes and links I have on the clawhammer style of playing for which this instrument was designed.


Next time around, I'll need to make the tail piece stringer. For this tail piece, I took two pieces of tin left from cutting out the tin bottom of the cookie tin, cut the square, and bent them over and formed them around the rim of the soundbox and crimped them into place. I then drilled three holes thru them for the stings, but as you can see, the string tension is bending the tail piece & rim toward the bridge. Not so cool.


The other thing I have to design for this dulcijo is an arm rest, as the rim of the cookie tin around the sound board leaves uncomfortable marks on my arms if I play it for very long. Will need to give this consideration, because I don't really want the arm rest to dampen the vibrations of the soundboard of tin very much.


As far as my mountain dulcimer project goes, I still have to find a nicer plywood for the sound and back boards. If I can't find something better, I'll go with the plywood I have been using. In the mean time, I want to figure out a way of using scrap ply wood to form kerfing (lining) to give the joints for the sound and back boards a bit more surface for the glue to bond to.  Was thinking of cutting long narrow strips and then gluing two of them together to form the kerfing material (with a bit of sanding). However, preliminary attempts at cutting long thin strips haven't bee too successful. Maybe I need to build some kind of jig to better guide my cutting knife. Wish jig making came natural to me. Well, here's a photo of where I'm at with my mountain dulcimer:

The above is just a dry fit.  I have also fretted the neck, but have yet to take a photo of that. Heres a photo showing the headstock with tuners in place:

Time is ticking away before I have to fly to the States, so I need to finish up my MD project. My wife has already limited me to carrying just one instrument, and forbid me to carry over a bunch of tools (like I did last year) to build CBGs in the States. Guess I'll have to start another collection to keep in the States. Not likely I can go 3 months w/o a build!






April 21, 2011


I have begun a new project.  I want to build a dulcijo so I can practice clawhammer style playing. I have an octagonal cookie tin which I plan to use as the body, a piece of 2mm ply (veneer) cut in an octagonal shape for the sound board, and a new laminated neck which I will still need to modify to support a 3/4 length 3rd string. Or, maybe it will be my 4th string - I have yet to decide.

The question is should I build it as a 3-stringer like the original dulcijo, or as a 4-stringer, where the 3/4 length string is the 4th string?  I was planning to use a 1x3 set of tuners. If I go with 3 strings, then the cleanest design will route the string up and over the 4th fret, down a diagonal hole to the reverse side of the neck and down a channel to come out at the tuner. It I go with 4 strings, I will have to add a couple more layers of trim wood to the left side of the neck so support the 4th string, and then find a way to mount a open geared tuner somewhere between the 3rd and 4th frets.

So, I guess the question is whether or not having a full length 3rd string and a 3/4 length 4th string buys me anything when I play (or does it make playing harder?).  Clawhammer (frailing) is the style of play I want to practice. Here's a photo of where I'm at...





April 14, 2011


Today I completed my boat paddle shaped stick dulcimer. Here's a photo of the whole instrument:

I plan to do a write-up of the construction as part of my "Home Made Resonator Boxes 101" discussion group here on CBN. This is the third in a series of stick dulcimers build with home made (wooden) resonator boxes. Here is a photo of my first two:

All three were build out of cherry trim wood that comes in 2.2 meter long strips that are 3cm wide and 0.5cm thick.  So, there's a lot of gluing together of wood pieces involved. To make the necks I have to glue six strips together to form a strong laminated neck. The sound boxes are all 6cm deep, so I have to glue together two short strips to form each side using a butt joint. The fretboards are also made of the same cherry wood. The soundboards and back boards of all three boxes is 2mm thick veneer. The resulting instruments all sound good, but a little different form each other. At this point I don't know which I like best, but the easiest to build was the square box guitar. Two of them are tuned G-D-G'  and the triangular box guitar is tuned D-A-D'.


Well that's all for now.





Comment Wall (10 comments)

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At 3:54am on October 12, 2014, Jim Morris said…

Thanks Rand.


At 7:58am on April 22, 2014, flatfoot johnny said…

Hi Rand, Yes i know how to play it but i dont have any tabs. i learnt it by ear Heres my video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WastTrAkstw

My youtube friend Mandy has done a nice little instructional video... makes it nice and easy - tell her i said hi ;-). Good luck with it its a corking tune :-)


At 3:40am on April 10, 2014, Michael Fred Johnson said…

The bowl is 5 7/8" diameter.See if you can get one locally first,I suspect they are of Chinese manufacture

At 3:37am on April 10, 2014, Michael Fred Johnson said…

At 3:25am on April 10, 2014, Michael Fred Johnson said…

Maybe we could do a trade? I have a cat bowl waiting to be used I'll send you a photo

At 11:47pm on April 8, 2014, Michael Fred Johnson said…

Thank you for the invitation Rand.Also thank you for the offer of a lid.

Newcastle upon Tyne has a thriving Chinese community centred around Stowell Street in the centre of town right next to what remains of the old medieval city wall.I thought I'd try there first,even if it means having to eat all those cookies and to hell with the expanding waist line !

Regards Michael 

At 4:16pm on January 5, 2013, Will King said…

Hi Rand,  We started a list at the 1st meeting, but it was a choice of tending the list or getting things going and almost nobody signed the list and those were illegible.  Using the CBN as a connection doesn't give any feedback and we don't know if anyone is checking the site.  Are you coming back to CA this summer?  Let me know and we can try to plan our meeting while you are here.  Thanks,  Will

At 3:45pm on December 14, 2012, Low Budget Luthier said…

hey ran,

thank you for your comment. the instrument is a tahitian ukelele. i hollowed it

with a special tool, similar to a chainsaw but is round and attaches to a 4" grinder.

At 4:57am on October 3, 2012, frank tennyson said…

Lived in TN all my life and never heard of a wild banana tree, or possum tree, or cucumber tree. They may have them somewhere in the south but not in West or Middle Tennessee, I can't vouch for East Tennessee as that is a whole 'nother state. Personally I like Blossoming Dogwood. 

At 4:25pm on October 25, 2010, HENRY LOWMAN said…

...Here is a microtonal neck from my double neck build and, yes, your eyes are not fooling you, the OTHER neck is fanned fretted...lol!

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