musical project for a (very) non-musical guy

Frank Fusco

Mountain Home, Arkansas
My father built this dulcimer for my wife about 50 years ago. She never picked it up or tried to use it. He was a very skilled craftsman and woodworker if not much of a father. (but that's a story for another time and place) I once was told the frets were incorrect but I never fretted over it. (I made a punny :rofl: ) Now that she is gone I'm getting rid of 'stuff' in the house and decided to sell this. I took it to a dulcimer expert that has a shop about 50 miles from me. He said the rear fret is too high and the front (below the sound holes) is too low. So, I'm going to lower the rear and make the front one high. He said to use a hard wood. I'll be using some Osage Orange that has been in dry storage for about 20 years. Here is where I'm looking for advice. The frets look like they are made from something like a rose wood. I believe I'll chisel down the top one but doing that to the lower might be problematic. Would it be OK to just glue a piece of wood on top to raise it? No chiseling here until I hear back from the musical jury here. Wat say ye?


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This looks like a well made instrument that's held up nicely over the years. I only have cigar box guitar making experience, but for my 2¢ it looks like you could just make the rear groves deeper to adjust string height and then take the strings off and see if the front bridge is loose. If it is, then just add an appropriately sized piece of contrasting veneer underneath to raise it up.
I see that Youtube has a lot videos of setting the action on dulcimer's, explaining the hows and whys for the action settings, my be worth a look. Great looking dulcimer buy the way, quite the treasure in my book:thumb:
One of my fondest memories from John C. Campbell Folk School is the concert that was given by members of the class who built dulcimers during their week at school. I loved to hear that music and enjoyed seeing people who worked so hard to build something that brings joy to others.

I have not one lick of musical talent. I can barely listen to music. I did enjoy the dulcimer concert.

Another fond memory I have is the opening and closing music for the Woodwright's Shop. The song is called Kildare's Fantasy and it is performed on a dulcimer.

One reason that I have such a fond memory of that song is that my little Cairn terrier who almost never watched TV would come running into the room whenever The Woodwright's Shop was coming on. She would sit at attention watching the TV while that song was playing which began and ended the show. She loved that show and I loved my little shop dog.

I miss her.
That looks like a nice dulcimer, Frank. :thumb: For clarity sake, what you're calling the front fret is actually called the bridge. The piece at the other end (near the tuners) is called the nut. The frets are the little strips of metal that go across the neck.

The first thing I'd do is loosen the strings and see if the bridge and nut pieces come out with a gentle sideways tap. These pieces are usually not glued in place, because it's not uncommon to need to remove them for adjustments. If they are glued in, chances are it's just a tiny dab of glue holding it. Once you have the pieces out they should be easy to remake or shorten. I agree that osage orange would be a good wood for either piece.

Lastly, it looks like this dulcimer was made with what's called a zero fret. That's the metal fret that's right next to the nut (in your photo titled rear fret.jpg). If it is an actual, functioning zero fret, then that fret will be taller than the other frets. If so, then the slots in the nut need to be low enough for the strings to be resting on the top of that zero fret. If the zero fret is not taller than the others, then you don't want the strings resting on it. There's a good chance your dad built it with a zero fret without understanding its purpose or how it should be set up.
Ted said, "just make the rear groves deeper to adjust string height"

That is one of those ideas that make me feel really stupid. It is a simple 'why didn't I think of that?' solution for that one. Knowing how my father made things, I am sure the bridge is well glued in, possibly with hot horse glue. I might just put a piece on top of it. Simple and more goof proof than chopping it out with hammer and chisel. Thanks all for the feedback. This sort of thing is what makes this forum great.