Painted Dulci-can Dulci-can bridge Dulci-can with painted coffee can. Dave Whitacre’s modified bridge design creates a louder sound.

Dulcimer, a word that comes from the Latin dulce melos, means “sweet sound.” A lap dulcimer is a traditional Appalachian folk instrument played in the Southern Highlands. Brought into the mountain wilderness by European settlers who migrated west from eastern seaboard cities, the dulcimer carried their Scots, Irish, and English tunes from Celtic homelands to America’s interior. The mountain dulcimer has ancient roots that probably reach back to Scandinavian origins. It is mentioned in the Book of Daniel 3:5 with other instruments of the time making “…the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick.” It is interesting to note that, according to Sara Johnson, the Kitchen Musician®, “the word in the original Hebrew text is now known to mean something other than ‘dulcimer’; and it is believed the King James translators were doing the best they could with knowledge available to them at the time.”

The dulci-can shown here is a straight-ahead utilitarian version of its more graceful hand-carved wooden ancestor of hourglass or teardrop shape. Made from a fretted fingerboard, three geared tuners, three guitar strings, and a recycled coffee can for a resonator, it can be played on a lap or a table top for even greater resonation. This particular design comes from the fertile imagination of David Ball of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Materials needed to complete this project are listed below. This project is intended as an on-site, guided activity taught by the artist. Expect to pay $20.00 to cover materials for each student.

  • Fret wire
  • 3 geared tuners
  • Wooden bridge
  • 2-012 and 1-022 ball end strings
  • Large coffee can
  • Board (pre-cut, pre-drilled, pre-slotted)

Note: If you want to try and cut the fret slots, go to Stewart McDonald’s Fret Calculator for fret spacing measurements.