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This purports to describe the construction of a sort of hammered-dulcimer utilizing pieces of metal conduit pipe in place of more conventional strings.

Such an instrument is very pleasing to the ear, plays the same as a stringed hammered-dulcimer, can be built in a few hours for a few dollars and is most forgiving in its construction -- the only critical element being tube length. It is pitched same as a conventional instrument, playing in the keys of D, G and C.

One look at the beast would impart enough info to build it, but failing that here, will do my best to twist words to accomplish the same end.


  • Two ten-foot lengths of regular electrical conduit tubing (just under 3/4" outside-diameter)
  • Six birch sticks, 20" long or so. Two should be about 2" to 2 1/2" in diameter and the remainder about 1 1/2" diameter. You may note that absolutely nothing is critical as pertains the log "frame". I left the rather handsome birch-bark intact -- makes for a pleasingly rustic appearance. 2 1/2" long "drywall" type screws were used to build the log frame. Logs can be a bit twisty, so long as they are reasonably straight in one plane. Obviously woods other than birch will work nicely -- birch just looks prettier.
  • Several large rubber-bands for mounting pipes


Cut one of the thicker logs to about 15", the other to about 22".

Lay them parallel, about 14" apart, the shorter one behind the other. Turn each till they sit the flattest. These two logs are the "base".

                            /       \
                          -------------  <-- thick log
                          /           \
                         /             \  <-- thin logs
                        /               \
                       /                 \
                     -----------------------  <-- thick log
                     /                     \

(hi tech eh!)

Lay one of the thinner logs across the left side of the "base" and another across the right side. Position their centerlines 15 1/2" apart in front (directly over "base" log) and 9" in back. Where the thinner logs cross the "base" saw/chisel notches (make half the thinner log's thickness). Precision is obviously not important here. Try to adjust depth of notches so that the top "plane" that the thinner logs describe is somewhat flat. When notched and satisfied, secure with 2 1/2" screws. Best to build this on a flat surface so that the instrument will not rock.

In like manner notch and secure the remaining two thinner logs.

                     /  /  \  \
                   /   /    \   \
                  /    /     \   \     <-- note position of two remaining
                 /    /       \   \        logs between outer logs
                /    /        \    \
              /  a  /    b     \   c \
 Distance "a" (centerline to centerline) = 4 1/2" 
    "     "b"        "    "      "       = 6" 
    "     "c"        "    "      "       = 5" 


Draw a dot 1/8" in front of the right and left front securing screws (assuming these screws were installed through each top log's centerline and into base log's centerline). Lay a yardstick along the leftmost log's centerline and proceed to mark a dot every 1 1/8", starting at the front and working back. Repeat process on rightmost log's top. Make 13 dots per log. At each dot, pound in a 2 1/2" nail leaving 1 1/4" exposed. If nails don't pound-in straight, use pliers afterwards to straighten.

Now lay a yardstick alongside front two nails and while making sure the yardstick is still touching the nails, pound nails similarly into the two middle, top logs. Repeat this process for each of the 13 "courses". 54 nails in all should be installed.


                     5 1/4"   D - --- G  7 13/64"
                    6 1/32"  C -- ---- F  7 5/32"
                   6 1/4"   B --- ----- E  7 53/64"
                  6 11/16" A ---- ------ D  8 1/4"
                 7 13/64" G ----- ------- C  8 11/32"
                7 5/32" F# ------ -------- B  9 1/32"
               7 53/64" E ------- --------- A  9 5/8"
              8 1/4"   D -------- ---------- G  10 9/64"
             8 5/8"  C# --------- ----------- F# 10 1/2"
            9 1/32"  B ---------- ------------ E  11 1/8"
           9 5/8"   A ----------- ------------- D  11 45/64"
          9 59/64"G# ------------ -------------- C# 12 3/32"



5 or 6" diameter (relaxed) rubber-bands are ideal, requiring only four. If you are unable to obtain these, several smaller ones can be used. Bands that are not too wide (ideally square in cross section) seem to dampen vibration least.

Loop one end of band around an end nail then twist band 180 degrees (or if possible, 360 degrees). The twists keep pipes from hitting the nails). Insert pipe then twist band another 180 (or 360) degree before positioning it around next nail and proceeding to mount the next pipe. Once one half of the course of pipes is thus mounted, secure the other half with another long rubber-band. Do likewise for other course of pipes. When all pipes are mounted, even them out by repositioning where band mounts on nails till they are in same plane as much as possible and ends more or less describe a line. It's best if similar lengths of each pipe extends to right and to left of the rubber bands (make pipe/rubber-band affair as symmetrical as you can).

Well that's about it! If pipes are cut closely to the above dimensions, the instrument should be in close tune -- if you do note that a note or two is off pitch, it's a simple matter to either shorten the pipe a tad (proceed slowly) or to make a new, longer pipe if it's too sharp. I pounded four 2 1/2" long nails into a scrap of wood (two spaced 1 1/8" apart and 5" or so between sets) to act as a "testing cradle" to use while pitching a pipe.

Also found that the ideal "taper" to use while pitching pipes is the blunt end of a bic pen -- seems to make sharps/flats stand-out much more than when whacked with a regular dulcimer-hammer. Incidentally, I find that regular dulcimer-hammers work better than the lollipop style whappers usually associated with marimba/xylophones etc.

Please let me know if you build one of these things. The price surely recommends them and they sound great! I like em. Bye...

Dennis Havlena - W8UR
Piper and Fiddler (amongst many other duties) for the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, Straits of Mackinac, northern Michigan
e-mail: am854@freenet.carleton.ca
U.S Mail: 3305 Tryban Rd., Cheboygan, Michigan 49721

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