by Roger Frood
Roger was a dulcimer maker, formerly running Dove Dulcimers in Somerset, who died in January 2023.
This article first appeared in the Nonsuch Newsletter in the 1990s.
If you are going to work on replacing strings on your dulcimer, it is a good idea to wash your hands first to remove any sweat, and then to dust your hands with talcum powder.
WARNING: Treat music wire with great respect. Cut ends are very sharp, and they will fight to escape you and fly off whenever they can!
If a string has broken, first look carefully to see exactly where it broke and try to find out why. The main cause of broken strings is when they get bent too much at one point, a tight bend will weaken the string and that is where it will snap first. The usual trouble spots are either where the strings cross a bridge or at one of the end pins.
Are there grooves in the bridges where the strings cut into them? Can they be smoothed out? Use very fine emery paper (no.400 or more, or grade 0000 steel wool).
All the instructions below for replacing individual strings apply to restringing an instrument. It is best to replace strings by removing no more than three strings at any one time, this reduces the stress and strain on the dulcimer frame.
If it is necessary to remove all the strings, perhaps to clean, repair or refinish the body, then remove the tension evenly by slackening each pin a quarter of a turn, then half a turn, then completely. Be sure to catch all the bridge caps or rods before they fly off.
Check that you replace the old strings with the correct gauges of wire.
Step-by-step stringing guide
You will need: wire cutting pliers, flat-jaw pliers (for double strings also round-nosed pliers), a small screwdriver.
If you haven’t done so, look at Roger’s article on handling strings.
When you are ready to begin, remove all trace of the old string, and make sure that you are replacing with the correct gauge.
Make sure that the hole in the tuning pin is about 7mm above the surface of the wood (fig 1).
Make a loop exactly the same type as the others on your dulcimer. For double strings, unwind the coil so that the free end is 5cm (2″) beyond the tuning pin, hold the wire across the instrument, and make a loop where it reaches the hitch pin. Use round-nose pliers to do this (fig 2).
Cut off the second string level with the end of the first.
For single strings, first bend a loop about 5cm (2″) from the end of the string (fig 3).
Hold both ends of the loop with flat-jaw pliers, put a small round bar (electrical screwdriver or similar) into the eye of the bend and twist the two parts tightly together (fig 4).
Now remove the pliers, and by hand coil the short free end tightly around the other part of the wire 3 or 4 times (fig 5).
Cut off the end leaving a tail of about 1 cm.
Fix the loop end onto the hitch pin, On single strings the tail should lie under the string (fig 6).
Run the length of the string across the instrument, taking it through or under bridges, as appropriate, and cut the end(s) off 5 cm (2″) beyond the tuning pin (6.5cm or 2.5″ for dulcimers with piano pins .25″ diameter).
Push the end of the wire through the hole in the tuning pin so that it sticks through about 3-5mm (fig 7).
With the tuning lever wind the pin clockwise about 3 complete turns, until the string just begins to tighten. (fig 8).
On a double string, repeat with the other length of the string.
Check that all bridge pieces are in place and that the strings run straight and parallel.
Make sure that the hitch pin end is flush down to the wood.
Now ensure that the coils on the tuning pin finish just above the surface of the wood (about 2mm) and gently tighten the string.
Fold back anti-clockwise the short end of the wire sticking out of the tuning pin, use flat-jaw pliers to press it hard down out of harm’s way (fig 9). Don’t fold the end of the string under the coils on the pin.
Tune up. This completes the replacement of one string.
Copyright © Roger Frood, 1996. All Rights reserved.