"Two Hour" Hammer Dulcimer plans by Sam Rizzetta
"Even a crude dulcimer can have an attractive tone and be as easy to play as more sophisticated ones."
PDF Scan from Mugwumps Magazine, Vol 2. No. 4, July 1973
A classic set of plans for simple hammered dulcimer. Parts needed:
A CALL TO IMPROVE THESE PLANS: These original plans from 1973 give us a rough outline for making a simple hammered dulcimer. However, they contain some vagueness when it comes to design and parts. For example, the author suggests using "sturdy nails" as hitch pins. What exact nails would you use? Also, he recommends a 2x4 as the frame, but wouldn't the softness of the pine wood eventually release the zither pins and cause tuning problems?
About these plans: In researching various obscure musical instruments, I have discovered the treasure trove of information from Mugwumps, a now defunct magazine originally published by Michael Holmes of Silver Spring, MD. The bi-monthly journal celebrated old time music, unusual folk instruments and served as a classifieds for the emerging bluegrass community of the 1970's.
What I really dig about this post and this set of plans --
On the fourth page, first paragraph, the plans read,
"With so little invested in it you needn't worry about knocking it about. Just make music!"
That seems a fine way to approach folk-style instruments such as the "Two Hour" hammer dulcimer and cigar box guitars, in general.
All around good stuff here and I sincerely hope to see some builders' diaries come out of this creative exercise.
Nice post, Shane, and thank you.
Also, love the mahagony monochord!
Thank you for this! Shame the plans doesn't give the measurements for the spacing of the tuning pegs
Thank you for the plans. Shame it doesn't give the spacing measurements to the tuning and hitch pegs
Let's try this: here is a photo of my zither/aeolian harp, as described in my post this a.m.. BTW, you can use chalk on the zither pins to help keep them slipping. Powder chalk specifically for pins is available, I just used strait-line chalk, you know, like for snapping a line. Drop some in the hole and shake out the excess.
The text specifies piano pins. They are considerably larger than zither pins and will probably work OK in a pin block made from a two by four, at least for a little while. With the smaller zither pins (a better choice, in my opinion) it will be necessary to use a harder wood. Maple is a good choice. Use a sharp drill bit, clean holes will hold tuning better. Don't make the holes too small, the block will split when all the pins are turned in. The pins should be just tight enough to hold the string tension. It will help to set up a test jig made of the same material as the pin blocks you will use. Stretch a string over three bridges between a hitch pin and tuning pin and see what happens with different hole sizes when tuned to pitch.
I use a jig to drill the pin holes. Lay out the pin pattern on a 1-1/2 or 2 inch thick piece of hardwood and use a drill press to drill the jig. It can then be clamped to the dulcimer body and used as a guide for a handheld drill. If desired, bevel the bottom of the jig to create angled pin holes, a better design.
I prefer to use desk pins as hitch pins, but nails will work. Be sure to drill pilot holes for the nails. Don't just pound them in with a hammer, that will encourage splitting. The string tension on a hammered dulcimer is formidable. Hitch pins should definitely be set at an angle. Use the test jig to determine the best size of nail to use. A six or eight penny finish nail might be a good place to start. Nails are soft, don't let them stick up too far or they will bend. Keep the string wrap close to the block.
Good luck. It's been a while since I made one of these, but I remember that the hardest, most tedious part is stringing it up.
I though I’d share this info to contribute to improving the plans. Mileage may vary!
The article from the Smithsonian talks about using hardwood in the side rails and zither or piano pins.
As for the stout nails I had a thought: https://www.modeltrainstuff.com/micro-engineering-g-30-102-large-sp...
These are ½” long model rail spikes. I’m not sure but these may be the same Stewart MacDonald banjo 5th string capo: https://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Accessories/Capos_an...
Of course 15 vs 500 is the rub it would be nice if 250 was an option!
I made a similar lap harp and did an instructable for it
I home made flat ended zither pins from nails using a highly technical cold forging process dating back to the earliest recording of blokes in sheds. I hit it with a hammer to flatten the end. Then I used the smallest drill bit in my set (1.6 mm) to make holes I could feed the string through. Pre drill the mounting hole just a tad smaller like you do with regular zither pins and hammer it home. More details in the instructable and also plans for a tuning tool. Steps 7 and 8 respectively.