Print a Dulcimer?
Updated: Aug 7, 2021
Setting up my shop has taken so long that I couldn't wait any longer to start building dulcimers again. So what do you do when you have limited woodworking capability? You 3D print a dulcimer! For some time I have been monitoring developments in printed stringed instruments and there have been some very promising outcomes lately. For over a year I have owned a large format printer that is big enough to print the body of a dulcimer in one piece. Prior to moving my shop I had limited time to learn how to use the printer. Printing a dulcimer would require being able to exploit the printer to its full capability as well as far more solid modeling knowledge than had been needed for the cnc router. The lull in building conventional (if you can call any of my instruments conventional) dulcimers provided time to gain the skills I needed to make a run at a printed dulcimer. As I am writing this, the first body is about 4 1/2 hours into a 32 hour print.
I don't expect the first print to be an overwhelming success, but I do hope that it will be a learning experience that shows some promise. So why would I want to make 3D printed dulcimers in the first place? I think there are several fairly compelling reasons. First, a 3D printed body is the perfect research tool for testing, The printed body has a double bottom but does not have a soundboard, so I can compare various wood soundboards and bracing options without the variability of the body impacting the tests. With a half dozen printed bodies, I can make much faster progress in dulcimer development. Second, the printed instrument with a wood top might have acceptable sound. That would open up the possibility of providing more dulcimer players with the unique sound of my instruments. Making an all wood dulcimer takes in excess of 40 hours (more if the design is constantly being improved) and printing a body might be able to reduce this substantially. This is all speculation at this point, but I find the prospects compelling and worth the investment in time and money. Besides, new technology is just fun.
As the project progresses, I will continue my policy of posting information about what I do and how I do it. The end goal is to expand the knowledge base and improve the dulcimer. I am always happy to answer questions from other luthiers about my work and welcome their ideas and comments.