Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer
General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
Linda Jo brockinton:
Now lol Robin I can't go that far......
I think that the fret layout is one of the most facinating aspects of the instrument in terms of tuning the darn thing! The more frets the less retuning required and the more versatility at your fingertips. Although (going straight back to the OP) personally I like the 'playability' of having a pure scale. This is because once I'm tuned to whatever pitch or mode I'm using the instrument becomes that tuning. It's a little difficult to explain but I'm sure you get the concept. The other instruments I play are chromatic (guitar, banjo, mandolin) or have no frets (dobro, fretless banjo) but I've never been drawn towards a chromatic dulcimer. I'm not sure why that is because, logically, a chromatic dulcimer makes a lot of sense. I certainly can't say that I'm the sentimental type or tied to 'tradition' - I think it is simply because I love playing old dulcimers and old dulcimers have diatonic layouts - for the most part. I'm more than happy to have a 6+ on my Galax dulcimers (a pragmatic solution for old time session playing in the keys of D, G and A). And, going back to the OP, the tunings I like to use for galax are d,d,d,d and e,e,d,d which gives me the key od D, G and A (mixolidian and dorian).
Linda Jo brockinton:
.....I have a old one that was so off that I had to have fret one and two moved. It was surprisingly on from 3 up but 1 and 2 was a good quarter of an Inch off...
That doesn't surprise me Linda. Again, in terms of the tunings that we like to use, if your scale is starting at the 3rd fret (as in DAA) then the position of the first two frets (the 6th and 7th of the scale) can be quite a bit flat of equal temperament and still sound OK. However, if the same dulcimer is tuned to DAd then those first two frets will sound well out of tune, particularly when playing chord shapes near the nut. A lot of old dulcimers don't sound too good tuned to DAd because of the flattened first and second fret positions. I have noted on the Leanord and Clifford Glen dulcimers that I have seen how the position of the first two frets moved over the years. On their early dulcimers these frets were placed for the natural scale starting at the 3rd fret. On the later dulcimers (once chord playing were begining to take a hold) the first two frets had moved to equal temperament but the rest of the dulcimer scale was still in a more natural intonation. Another factor is that the action on older instruments tends to be quite high at the nut and bridge (fine for noter playing) and if this action is lowered to enable chord melody playing in DAd it can throw out the intonation on the lower and higher frets necessitating the frets to be re-possitioned. Some makers, like Homer Ledford had very unusual fret placements. Ralph Lee Smith has had the frets repositioned on his Ledford to match his chordal playing style and I know a couple of other players who have done the same and believe so have many others. I've left my Ledford as it is because I really like the original Ledford layout (which is in just intonation) for certain tunings and it suits my playing style - If it didn't suit my playing style then I'd probably have moved the frets too.
It is actually a struggle to find any two vintage dulcimer makers who actually used the same fret intonation - or even ones who were consistent from dulcimer to dulcimer!!!! Today, we can be a bit blasé when we talk about tunings and modes that we like to use on our dulcimers as pretty much any mode or tuning will work due to contemporary fretboards using equal temperament. I have quite a few old dulcimers that only actually work in certain tunings and it does make me think that there was probably a lot less re-tuning going on pre-revival than we use today.
So the tunings I like to use are the ones that work best for my playing style on the dulcimer I happen to playing. And I have a passion for playing old dulcimers, which means I am more than likely applying those tunings to a pure diatonic fretboard that's not in equal temperament.
PS - In between writing this post I'm TAB'ing out tunes in DAd chord melody for 3 workshops I'm running with Geoff Black over the weekend. I've had to go searching for a dulcimer with a 6+ that I could tune to DAd - I have some new ones in stock for the shop but have realised that, despite owning about 15 to 20 dulcimers in my personal collection, I don't actually have one with a 6+ capable of being tuned to DAd for chord melody playing at present!!!!
updated by @robin-clark: 08/26/15 12:05:20PM