A grand 36 inch VSL

I.D. Stamper was a dulcimer maker from Letcher County Kentucky. He sold his first dulcimer while working in Louisville at the children’s hospital. Sometime later after moving back to Letcher County he lengthened the dulcimer to “as long as he could get strings for”. He found that long neck banjo strings were just the thing and from there it’s history. He developed a style all his own, and many have tried to duplicate the sound but fall short. I believe I.D. understood the concept of optimizing the variables, as in the length to optimize the slack on the strings to get that wonderful swoosh sound that he created. You see there are builders that believe that simply changing the string size can accommodate the tone change, as in using a shorter VSL to make a baritone dulcimer. I suppose for the modern dulcimer that will suffice, but for the full range of dynamics in the traditional dulcimore, optimizing the string length is critical.
I have enjoyed I.D.’s songs immensely for some time now. I have both his film and sound tract from the seventies at hand and watch and listen to them frequently. The guys in the Hindman Studio have a long Stamper dulcimer on display that they have strung up, and Don Pedi got to play! That was enough inspiration for me to consider making a 36 inch. I did not have stock long enough to do anything that long. My rough cut material is just 36 inches long, so I’d have to buy something for the sound box. The width was a challenge too. I wanted a solid top and bottom for this, and it was going to be wide. I.D. used plywood in some of his dulcimers but I couldn’t see myself doing that. The alternative was store bought kiln dried poplar. Width cut on the table saw and finished with the hand saw. I left it very heavy, about 5/32 inch thick. I was concerned with any flex on a panel that wide. I, for the first time, included two cross braces in the bottom. I had to go to my stock for a 1 inch by 1 inch fret board. There are checks at both ends. I noticed when finishing the peg head there was a check in that as well but decided to go with it after investing that much time in carving and filing.
Once I got it together I gave it six coats of oil. I had several maple pegs lying around and decided to use them here because there would be very little tension on them tuned that low. The nut and bridge are hickory and I got a supply of nickel plated desk pins for string anchors. A set of John Pearse long neck banjo strings are tuned to the sweet spot that falls about F or F#. The action can be best described as a pillow case and a sheet! Now I have to learn to play it…….

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