McSpadden Mountain Dulcimer Kit Project - Page 2

Finishing an item that is viewed on all surfaces always presents a challenge. In this case there was no clear way to finish the top then the bottom, so I used a 1/4" carriage bolt suspended from a wire to hold the dulcimer. I used one of the tuning peg holes making it possible to spray the entire instrument at once. I have read many sites that discuss construction of ducimers and every one of them discuss the perfect finish for their dulcimers based on their knowledge, equipment, and personal preferences. I selected Minwax spray polyurethane for a couple reasons. The first is that it is very durable and the spray mist provides very good coverage. I have had a lot of experience with wood finish and even though this is my first musical instrument I can't imagine a finish better suited to this sort of project.

Finishing Rig

I applied about 7-coats of polyurethane to the dulcimer with multiple wet sandings with 400-grit paper. I say about because many applications involved double coverage at a single application so an exact number of coats is less important as the final finish. The final finish had a silky smooth feel with all surfaces covered adequately without resulting in a plastic look to the finish. The next step was to begin installing the hardware that came with the kit.

Hardware to be installed

The mechanical enclosed gear tuning pegs were the first to be installed. They are held on the back with a screw to keep them from turning in the hole and from the front there is a washer and threaded bushing to hold it firmly in the peg head. I am very pleased with the quality of the tuning pegs.

Tuning pegs in place

If I had taken the time to read the instructions all the way through before beginning assembly I would have pre-drilled the string pin holes in the end block. With a loose block I could have marked the holes and drilled them far more accurately in the drill press. Since I did not think ahead I used a piece of tape to mark out the holes and drilled them with a 1/16" bit.

String pin marking

The string pins fit perfectly and I left them out a little more than needed to insure that I did not get them in too far. Once I knew exactly how much room was needed by the stirngs I tapped them in further.

Pins in place

The final step of stringing the dulcimer was time consuming and a bit ticklish. The first string is installed on the pin, over the bridge and held in the nut and tunning pin. Then using a nickle on the 7th fret I was instructed that the string needed to barely clear the underside of the string. The string is removed loosened, removed from the bridge and some of the top of the bridge sanded off keeping the bridge parallel with the surface of the fretboard. This took a lot of very careful shaping of the bridge and with each sanding the string is replaced and checked again for height. Because the finished fret board could be easily damaged near the bridge I took extra care not to get against it with the sandpaper. The other touchy detail is that if the bridge was sanded too low the strings would hit the frets and make the instrument unplayable.

NOTSF - Nickle Over The Seventh Fret

After removing enough of the bridge I polished it with 220 grit paper and then installed the rest of the strings. This left two things to complete, the first was tuning it to DAA (Base string at D above Middle C on the piano and the remaining strings at A). The strings tuned up perfectly with all of them clearing the frets so there was no string buzz. I was pleased at the pressure needed to contact the frets, much easier than a guitar. And the final step may take a while, learning to play it!

The kit came with a book that promises to be a guide to learning to play it and I will work my way through it and see if I can learn to make Sweet Music, which is the name of this instrument.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to send e-mail.

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