Carbon & Ultra Light Dulcimers

Carbon COMPACT hammer dulcimer

On this page:

carbon fiber flex-shaft hammers
carbon fiber hammer dulcimers
arch back hammer dulcimer
tuning charts for carbon hammer dulcimers
carbon fiber mountain dulcimers

Carbon fiber reinforced with resin is a wonderful material with many space age uses that require strength with light weight. I’ve used it in boats and airplanes, and over the years I have explored the potential of its surprisingly good acoustic properties. My carbon fiber dulcimers are now my favorites due to their wonderful tone, light weight, and tuning stability. Carbon plays an important roll in my current hammers also.


Carbon Flex-Shaft hammers are the result of many years experimenting to achieve the best tone and playability. Carbon fiber has the best physical properties for making the flexible shafts. An optional ergonomic hand grip is available to ease wrist, finger, and joint problems. See the Hammers page for photos and details.


Nicholas Blanton and I make hammer dulcimers with optional carbon fiber backs and resin-sealed interiors. These features improve tone, strength, and tuning stability while reducing weight. See the Dulcimer page for models and prices.

Currently, the majority of my personal dulcimers use mostly carbon fiber components, including the soundboards. The carbon instruments are very light weight, strong, and resistant to humidity. Tone is so pleasing that I rarely play my other dulcimers. Carbon fiber EXTENDED RANGE and COMPACT dulcimers are used exclusively on my recent CD Dulcimer Fandango. See the Recordings page or: Hear sound clips; buy at: Rizzetta at CD Baby.  

The first carbon dulcimer to be completed was a RIZZETTA COMPACT model. It is several pounds lighter than all-wood COMPACTS or COMPACTS with carbon backs and redwood soundboards, making it easier to carry. The carbon soundboard is an important feature for tone and tuning stability. Carbon soundboards typically impart a rather “glassy” and attractive bell-like tone. My prototype carbon COMPACT is made to be ultra light weight and is therefore strung with very light gauge strings. The tone is sweet, rich, articulate, delicate, and musical with a lush warmth and balance throughout the entire range. Sustain is controlled to a pleasing level and individual notes are well-defined with great clarity and very good projection. Tone is slightly reminiscent of a mahogany soundboard dulcimer but with an especially nice and strong tone for its small size and light strings. Dulcimers with carbon soundboards tend to sound great with all hammers from soft to hard, making them especially versatile.

The soundboard, back, and frame, are carbon fiber. Wood is still used for bridges, pin blocks, and internal braces. The exceptional properties of carbon allow me to save a lot of weight while still making a professional, high quality dulcimer that stays in tune. Weight is 9 lbs., about 60% the weight of an all-wood COMPACT. Since the carbon structure is impervious to moisture, humidity has no effect on tuning. This greatly reduces the risks of traveling or performing outdoors.

The twill weave pattern of the carbon cloth shows through on the frame rails.

On the first carbon COMPACT I made the soundboard purple just for fun! Later carbon dulcimers have natural carbon black soundboards. My usual decorative soundholes are absent. Soundholes would weaken critical areas of the top and add weight by requiring heavier bracing, so soundholes are in the back and sides.

This carbon COMPACT was also used to develop a fourth playing bridge that enables playing the “third bridge” Super Bass courses on both the left and right sides of the dulcimer. Structural integrity and tuning stability are preserved and tone of the Super Bass courses is improved. This feature will be available on Rizzetta dulcimers and is being developed for select models of Dusty Strings dulcimers. See the tuning charts at the bottom of the page.

Rizzetta carbon EXTENDED RANGE hammer dulcimer.

For recent recordings and concerts I have been using a carbon EXTENDED RANGE dulcimer. The soundboard is natural uni-directional carbon while back and sides are carbon twill weave.

ER with carbon reinforced Bubinga wood frame rails. Bridges are purpleheart.

Carbon frame rails are overlaid with highly figured bubinga wood decorated with abalone inlay.

Top view of carbon EXTENDED RANGE hammer dulcimer.


COMPACT hammer dulcimer with carbon soundboard. Frame and bridges are jatoba.

Pictured above is another experimental COMPACT designed primarily for jam sessions, portability, and rough use. The soundboard is carbon fiber while the rest of the structure is wood of relatively light weight design. Exterior frame wood is jatoba. Weight is 12 lbs., and I plan to sometimes use it without a case to minimize carrying weight. It has a longer scale length and slightly heavier strings than my ultralight carbon COMPACT discussed earlier. I also wanted a minimum number of strings to tune, so range is limited to 16-15 with two strings per course throughout. Adding extra bass and chromatic bridges, as I do on most of my dulcimers, would have required a heavier structure and more weight to carry or lighter strings resulting in less volume. I wanted a very portable dulcimer that could still be heard in a large jam session. This dulcimer meets that goal providing a full but mellow tone, well-controlled sustain, and especially good volume and projection for its size and weight. It is equal in volume to some of my larger and heavier dulcimers. Like my ultralight carbon COMPACT, it will be easy for airline travel. But it is also less valuable should it be damaged or lost. I can use it in situations where I would rather not risk my other dulcimers.

In the early 1970’s I devised an adjustable bracing system, and this COMPACT, like the majority of my dulcimers, has that feature. So, I can adjust this instrument to have a loud and open tone or a more gentle and sweet tone. Initial set up was for loud tone which has worked well in jam sessions.

The latest development in my design quest for ultra light weight hammer dulcimers is the Arch Back Compact. This design enables me to build an all-wood dulcimer that is about the same weight as a carbon fiber dulcimer. Weight is 10.7 lbs. The tone and tuning stability are very good while avoiding the much higher cost of carbon fiber construction. The 16-15 prototype pictured has 4 Super Bass course that are playable on both the left and right sides. I like this dulcimer so well that I have been performing with it a lot.

I do not take orders for dulcimers but will sell them when I have some available. This is to avoid the work load of dealing with back orders and to give me time for the experimental design work that is most enjoyable to me. Prices will be higher than for production and non-carbon dulcimers.




While my early mountain dulcimers were wood, and wood mountain dulcimers are played on my recordings, for years I have experimented with dulcimers made partly or largely of carbon fiber composite. Carbon dulcimers, made in the same designs as my wood ones, tend to sound like a wood dulcimer that has an extremely thin hardwood soundboard, or top. Although very thin wood will easily crack, carbon fiber will not. I design my dulcimers for responsiveness and volume to suit the melodic fingerpicking styles I like to play. Critical design features include the soundboard, the bracing, and the weight and stiffness of the fretstaff. Carbon helps achieve design goals while maintaining adequate strength. Unlike wood, it is also immune to humidity problems.

Mountain Dulcimer

Pictured above is a carbon mountain dulcimer in standard DAD’D’ tuning. Sound is strong and warm with the characteristic tonal clarity of carbon. The mellow, lush, and articulate tone is especially nice for fingerpicking.

As a structural material for dulcimers, perhaps the most useful carbon fiber application is for soundboards. Dulcimers with carbon soundboards on wood bodies have the carbon tone at lower cost and faster build time. The baritone dulcimer pictured below has a carbon soundboard and a light weight carbon reinforced frestaff. The back, sides, fretboard, and peghead are East Indian rosewood. Tuning is ADA’A’. Tone is wonderfully deep, strong, and mellow.

Baritone Mountain Dulcimer

In recent years I have performed a lot with carbon dulcimers. They are durable, trouble free, and project well in a concert hall. Concert goers have remarked that they thought my dulcimers were amplified when actually they were not.

I also build all-wood dulcimers with the same design features. Their sound is also very pleasing. Wood soundboards generally produce a brighter more “woody” tone while carbon yields a more “glassy” and round tone.

My carbon dulcimers have a 27 inch scale length and mean-tone temperament fretting using low, wide frets for a very smooth playing action. A 6-1/2 fret is included. A 1-1/2 fret is not included but can be added. My dulcimers are generally set up with four equidistant strings and wide fretboards (1.9 inch width) for easier fingerstyle playing. Note that this is a little too wide to install the popular L. R. Baggs Dulcimer Pickup.

I do not have a walk-in store, but my dulcimers can be seen and played by appointment at my Inwood studio or at some of the festivals where I perform and teach.

I do not take orders but occasionally have one-of-a-kind dulcimers available to sell. Mountain Dulcimers