CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > 'British' dulcimers 1800-1945

Paul Hasluck, How to make and play a dulcimer: 1 of 2

A rather less detailed set of instructions is contained in the dulcimer chapter of Violins and Other Stringed Instruments: How to Make Them, by an anonymous author, edited in the Collins "Work" series by Paul Hasluck in 1906 and 1914. Although he gives no plans, he does give a tuning scale and bridging diagram and some of his remarks are well worth quoting:

"The bridges are made of beech or other hard wood, turned to the pattern shown ... On the edge ... a groove is filed, in which rests a piece of brass wire over which the strings pass. The bottoms of the bridges should be turned rather hollow. They may be varnished ... or ... bronzed or gilded ...

"The stand is made of 3/8" stuff veneered on both sides diagonally, so that the grain of one side crosses that of the other, to give additional strength. It is 9" long and 5" high, and may be of any fancy pattern.

(music wire gauge)




2 oz.


1 oz.

2 oz.


1 oz.

"If the pins are not drilled,

[i.e. with a hole through which the end of the string may be threaded]

the strings may be fastened in the following manner: Take a piece of strong black thread and knot the ends together so as to form a loop 2" long; pass this round the pin, thread the knotted end through the loop, and, when the pin is turned to the right, it will draw up right and gather round it. Make a small hook at the end of the wire and insert it in the free end of the loop, and it will be found sufficiently strong for the purpose.

"The best method of tuning is to take a stout piece of quill in the left hand and chip each string as it is tuned.

The beaters are made of cane or whalebone, generally the former. Take a piece of stoutish cane 15 in. in length, about 1/2 in. in diameter, free from joints if possible, and split it in four, lengthwise ; or take two pieces of the same length and about 3/16 in. diameter (these make by far the best beaters), and taper them along their whole length by planing or otherwise till the thin ends will easily curl. Form these into oval rings 1 1/2 in. long. Fasten them with thread that has been well waxed with cobbler's wax, smooth the shanks up with glass-paper, and then bind the lower and front parts of the bows with two or three layers of Berlin wool. Continue it for about an inch along the shanks, fasten off with thread, and cut each to a length of 11 in. from bow to butt.

When playing the dulcimer it should be placed on a table without a cover, and raised at the back by means of the stand provided for that purpose ; the performer should then take his place opposite the centre, and on a seat which is just high enough to bring his elbows on a level with the front edge of the sound-board, and at such a distance from it that he can easily reach the top notes without bending the body forward. The arms should be kept close to but not touching the sides, and the beaters should be held firmly but lightly between the thumbs and first and second fingers of each hand. The blow should be given from the wrist, not the fore-arm, and should partake more of the character of a " flick" than a downright blow. This lightness and flexibility of wrist is only to be acquired by practice, and for this purpose the best of all exercises are the scales, which should be persevered in till they can be run up and down with the greatest facility. The correct way of playing the scale is to strike two succeeding notes with each hand as often as it is found possible to do so. Thus the scale of G would be played G A left, B C right, D E left, F G right, and so on to the top, returning in the same order.

"When the scales can be played without making a mistake, or striking two notes at once, simple airs may be attempted, but on no account should 'scraps' be indulged in.

"A dulcimer should be carefully protected from damp, which would quickly ruin it. For this purpose a wood case is best, and it also makes a most excellent resonator to stand the instrument on when playing.

"Always keep an old silk handkerchief or soft duster in the case, and never put the dulcimer away after using without first wiping the strings and taking the dust off the soundboard. Above all never let it go out of tune or allow the pitch to drop. Constant tuning is necessary to keep the dulcimer perfectly in order."