What makes Jam Court dulcimers different from other dulcimers?  Primarily, because you can have one crafted to your own complete custom design.  To own a dulcimer that expresses your unique personality and playing style, you need more than two or three walnut/spruce models from which to choose.  "What if I want Bolivian rosewood back/sides, Honduras mahogany top, and a curly maple fretboard with ebony overlay?"  At Jam Court, we let you select the wood type for every piece that goes into your dulcimer.  You can even give us your dimensions for side depth, fretboard width and fretscale!  We do custom inlay using pearl and wood marquetry.  We have a few unique soundhole themes from which to choose or we can work with you to incorporate your own hole shapes.  We also offer side binding (to enhance beauty) and a double back (to enhance resonance).

Need some help designing the perfect dulcimer?  We can give you advice on how your dulcimer's sound and playability will vary based on wood selections and dimensions.  While each instrument has a uniquely distinct voice, certain wood types and dimensions yield certain expectations.

The following describes how we optimize tone, projection, beauty, playability and structural stability.

Tone

Many design aspects affect the tone of a dulcimer.  The most dramatic are the resonating abilities of the soundboard and (to a lesser degree) the back, and the volume of air between them.  Resonance is affected by thickness and density of the wood.  Softer woods, such as poplar and spruce, are more free to vibrate, and therefore produce a louder, brighter tone than more dense woods.  Air volume in the sound box is affected by the overall size of the instrument, including side depth and body length.  Dulcimers with deep sides produce a full sound with more rounded bass tones.  Shallower sides produce a more plaintive, "old-timey" sound.  At 37 inches in overall length and a standard 2 inch side depth, our dulcimers have a big sound that stands out in a crowd. 

Projection

Compared to some larger instruments (such as the guitar or banjo), the diminutive size of the dulcimer can cause its voice to be lost when played in a mixed ensemble.  Beyond the wood types selected, other design aspects can optimize how a dulcimer projects its sound.  An arched fretboard allows a greater surface of the soundboard to resonate.  By reducing the amount of contact the fretboard makes with the center of the soundboard, it is more free to vibrate.  Our solid bracing allows the instrument to resonate as a unit.  Another resonance enhancer is the double back.  This is a second back that sits about a 1/4" away from the actual back, separated by spacer blocks.  With the "false" back sitting on your lap, the actual back is free to vibrate without the dampening effect of your legs.

Beauty

Various selections of hardwood can be used to overlay the fretboard and head.  This allows for a softer wood to be used for the fretboard, for increased resonance, while protecting the playing surfaces with a more durable, dense wood.  Also, using a contrasting overlay color enhances the beauty of the strum hollow and the curved relief carved into the head.  Our sound hole themes are non-traditional in that the holes are offset at an angle from one side of the soundboard to the other.  The shapes themselves vary in size and orientation to give a more natural look.  Our unique bridge pin cover hides the pins while providing a surface for decorative inlay.  The hardware (tuners and strap buttons) can enhance the beauty of your dulcimer, choosing between chrome, black or gold.  Specialized tuners can also be ordered, such as gold with brown pearl buttons or black with white pearl buttons.  Side binding, a decorative wood trim along the edges of the sides, can dress up a dulcimer and make it extraordinary.  To personalize your dulcimer, we will inscribe under one of the sound holes with something (e.g., bible verse, poetic phrase, person's name, etc.) that is personal and meaningful to you.

Playability

Our Concert dulcimers are fretted all the way up to the eighteenth fret, giving you the fifth note in the third octave of each open string.  Great attention to accuracy and trueness is given when building the fretboard.  Allowing you to specify your fretboard width will give you just the right amount of space for your fingers.  Fretscale (the distance between the nut and bridge) affects the amount of stretch needed to chord your dulcimer, as well as its sustain.  While longer fretscales provide more sustain, they require a greater reach for small hands to play chords.  Our standard fretscale is 27" which offers a balance between sustain and chord stretch.  Quality tuners are used to maintain consistent tuning and provide fine adjustment.  Our nuts are slotted to accept both the standard four-string spacing and four-equidistant string spacing.  Our floating bridge design allows you adjust the intonation to accommodate strings of various gauges.  Either loop or ball-end strings may be used on our dulcimers.

Structural Stability

Jam Court dulcimers are fully braced to protect from the bumps and knocks of everyday life.  We install the following braces in the interior of every Concert dulcimer:

Center-seam brace:  increases strength where the two halves of the book-matched back are joined.
Cross braces:  give lateral support to the back and soundboard when downward pressure is applied.
Side linings:  following the top and bottom lengths of both sides, these braces provide more surface area for gluing the back and soundboard to the sides, thus strengthening the joints.
Soundhole braces:  increase hole edge thickness from (approx.) 1/8" to 1/4".  This allows for more intricate angles in the hole shape without the fear of breakage.

Additionally, eight small screws are used to firmly secure the fretboard to the soundboard.  A hidden large screw holds the head down to the endblock.

One of the biggest enemies of acoustic wooden instruments is humidity.  Dry air can draw moisture out of the wood and risk cracking.  Humid air can cause wood to swell and make tuning difficult.  To protect from these changes in humidity, we also apply finish to the interior of the dulcimer.  This extra step may not be visible, but it seals in the wood's natural moisture content making it more stable.

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