Make a Mountain Dulcimer

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Music sounds better on a handmade instrument.

The earliest mountain dulcimers were made by Scotch-Irish immigrants who began to settle in Appalachia as early as 1680. It’s no accident that the drone strings of the mountain dulcimer are reminiscent of the resonating drone of bagpipes.
Part of this instrument’s appeal is that it can be built from locally available materials, using basic hand tools. A mountain dulcimer is also one of the easiest stringed instruments to learn to play. It doesn’t take long to master different strumming techniques and bar chords. Before you know it, you’re a folk singer.

The simplest traditional designs feature a rectangular sound box and frets made from bailing wire. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can find intricately curved dulcimers with carved and inlaid details like you’d see on an expensive guitar. The dulcimer I’m building here—and the one shown above—occupy the middle ground. Just ahead, I’ll show you how to make an heirloom-quality dulcimer that’s fun to play on your own or to give as a gift to any aspiring musician. Let’s play.

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