Forum Activity for @dwain-wilder

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/04/24 03:31:13PM
64 posts

Shifting bridge and nut


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

[quote="NateBuildsToys"]

I had no idea there were so many factors to consider. I'm used to switching between tunings on the banjo like crazy and assumed I'd have a similar experience on the dulcimer.

[/quote] 
It's not usually an issue, but with a mass produced dulcimer, there may be small manufacturing oversights to resolve. I would say the easiest solution is definitely to just glue both the bridge and nut into their slots with a drop or two of superglue. You probably don't want to use a bunch of glue, to avoid mess and in case you later want to replace them.

[/quote] 

Probably a good solution, though not having a firm seat for the saddle robs the dulcimer of full response being delivered to the fretboard and soundboard.

If there is a way to find out whether the problem is inaccurate flatting in the bottom of the saddle or of its seat in the fretboard, and fixing the problem, the Roosebeck might sound a lot better, and be more responsive.

And yes, AG, I understand being out of the U.S. and wanting a dulcimer that isn't a budget-buster. Good luck with your Roosebeck!


updated by @dwain-wilder: 06/04/24 03:32:43PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/04/24 02:46:25PM
64 posts

Shifting bridge and nut


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

AG Murton:

Update: I've put the second melody string back on now but the bridge and nut still won't sit flush. I'm tuned DAA.


 

That suggests that either (or all) the fretboard and saddle and nut are not flat. If you have a good straight-edge ruler you can use that to find which (if any) of them are flat.


If none are flat, you can approximate a mating by holding a piece of sandpaper against the fretboard in the area the nut should sit and rubbing the nut along the fretboard in very short strokes. Use 120A sandpaper for this (120 is the grit size, A designates a light paper backing. A heavier backing will not give as accurate a match between the surfaces).


It seems Roosebecks are dulcumer-shaped objects made in Pakistan (see https://riverboatmusic.com/app_dulc/app_dulc.htm)


Given that, my estimate is there is no guarantee that the fret placement is accurate. I am very surprised that the nut does not have a slot to sit in! Determining where both the nut and the saddle should be is a problem that requires some precise measurements between various frets. 


A couple of close-up photos of the fretboard in the region of the nut and the saddle might be helpful in suggesting how to deal with this instrument's troubles.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
05/31/24 05:01:05PM
64 posts

Folk Instruments?


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I think Dusty hits it square in the middle.

But an exploration of the edges brings me to feel "folk" vs "some other kind" is notional, communal, and somewhat conventional —and more than a bit bizarre and ultimately uninteresting. I remember the '90s, for instance when arguments raged about the 'rightness' of putting a 6-1/2 fret on a dulcimer. The addition robbed the dulcimer of its folk status for some people, and cast it into some undefined state in which they seemed to imagine the proponents wanted to play chords and render Broadway hits music, which outraged them.

And that did come to pass! And some dulcimers are now commissioned as chromatic, not diatonic instruments at all. Blue Grass, jazz, renditions of classical music are arranged for dulcimers, either diatonic, altered diatonic or chromatice. DF#A is a well-known tuning scheme for playing Broadway musicals.

Another such edge is the status of the banjo, the ukulele, the African kalimba (thumb piano).

There are serious stylists and accomplished masters of all these instruments, yet only a few can walk onto a stage for an evening's solo concert and come away with much more cash than enough to pay their hotel and travel expenses.

That seems to imply another 'edge' to the consideration of whether an instrument is 'folk' or is somehow otherwise meant for 'serious' music —in other words, music people are willing to pay $50-$100 for a ticket.

In the world of rock, pop music, currently, people are paying truly fabulous amounts for leading singers and bands, while other very worthwhile, serious musicians keep squeaking by financially for the love of the music. Yet no consideration is in evidence about whether they are 'folk performers' or not. Is what Taylor Swift sings 'folk?' Nobody cares about the answer.

In sum, I think the love of the music is a much more interesting way to consider an instrument, those who play it, and the breadth of its repertoire, than whether it is a folk instrument. In the end, isn't any instrument available to and actively used by ordinary people a folk instrument?

BTW, a good friend of mine is a master of the hammer dulcimer.  She made her first mountain dulcimer in my basement—while playing the French horn in high school. And she may still have a French horn. I'll have to ask her sometime.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 05/31/24 05:09:35PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
05/22/24 02:21:41PM
64 posts

buzzy strings


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

MJ:

Hi Dwain; here are my answers . Thanks for your help

Are all the strings buzzing? YES
Are the buzzes on a single fret or a group (or groups) of frets? Mostly from fret 2 and up.(the lowest string is not as bad)
What is the scale length (measure from the nut or the center of the zero fret to the 7th fret to get the nominal scale length).

12 1/4 inches 

What are the string gauges? .012 .012  .020 ( ( think)
What is each one tuned to? D A D 
Can you slip a nickel coin between the last fret and the bass string? YES
Is there any buzzing on the open (not pushed down at any fret) strings? Yes but its slight and intermittent.

 

Oops! I forgot to say multiply the measurement by two! So your scale length is 24-1/2"

From your description it seems likely the problem is at the nut/zero fret. I forgot to ask which you have. If it is a zero fret, you might try slipping a thin palette knife under it and gently pry it up a bit. Not a long-term solution, but if it decreases the buzzes that's a clue the you need a zero fret with a slightly higher crown.

If your dulcimer has a nut, there are two options:

1. Examine the top of the nut to see whether the strings are in slots deeper than the bass string. The bass string should not be much lower than its diameter (so its top surface in its slot should be about level with the top of the nut, perhaps a frog's hair lower). Over time with much playing and re-tuning, strings can wear the nut down, digging deeper into their slots and begin buzzing. Since this is a donated dulcimer, there is no telling how well it was treated before it got to you.

2. If the strings look fine in their nut slots, there remains the possibility that the nut never was high enough. Ya never know what some else is able to tolerate (or play around, despite) in the way of odd buzzes. In this case, pry the nut loose and slip a piece of business card stock, sized to fit the base of the nut, in as a shim. Retune and check for buzzes. You may need two such shims.

But more than two shims would suggest something even more fundamental and dire is going on —such as the whole tailblock becoming loose from its glued foundations in the sides and back, and cocking up when you tune the instrument. Let us then pray...


updated by @dwain-wilder: 05/22/24 02:23:27PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
05/17/24 10:53:51PM
64 posts

buzzy strings


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

MJ:

Thanks for the good advice about anchor pegs- that dulcimer  now has a new anchor, loop end strings and her owner is delighted.  

Now I have a new question. Is there an easy way to fix buzzy strings.  I recently replaced friction tuners ( no screw on the end- just pegs) with geared tuners - in order to make a donated dulcimer tunable and playable. the Strings buzzed before I changed to geared tuners, I think it is slightly better but I was wondering if there is an easy fix for buzzy strings.

 

Hi MJ, we'll need more info about buzzing before giving advice:

Are all the strings buzzing?
Are the buzzes on a single fret or a group (or groups) of frets?
What is the scale length (measure from the nut or the center of the zero fret to the 7th fret to get the nominal scale length).
What are the string gauges?
What is each one tuned to?
Can you slip a nickel coin between the last fret and the bass string?
Is there any buzzing on the open (not pushed down at any fret) strings?

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/15/24 12:18:10AM
64 posts

Does soundbox tension affect volume and tone


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Ken Longfield:

Dwain, Don Kawalek is also a vendor at Pocono this year. Although not known as a dulcimer builder he has been making guitars, banjos, and mandolins for many years. He worked for a guitar builder in New Jersey for a while and then went on to become a shop teacher in northern Virginia. I don't know if he does any repair work. I met him when I took a week long banjo making class from him.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

Ah! I missed seeing Kawalek. I think I met him at last year's Nutmeg Festival, in Milford, CT. Fantastic work, and a very unassuming guy. When I asked him where he hailed from he said "I live in West Virginia, under a rock."

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/14/24 02:38:30PM
64 posts

Does soundbox tension affect volume and tone


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Matt Berg:

Dwain,

Are you talking about the Pocono Dulcimer Festival?  It is a full day drive from Michigan, but a workshop where builders talk sounds fascinating.

Have you had these workshops before.  Who shows up, what day will it be?

Matt

 

Yes, the Pocono. I really appreciate your interest and willingness to consider the journey!

I'll be teaching a workshop on how to repair cracks in any surface of the body of a music instrument, including gluing in cleats across the crack, entirely from outside the instrument, using a soundhole for passing in the cleats and interior clamping gear. The workshop is listed as "Laparoscopic Crack Repair." Saturday, 9-10:15

There will be plenty of time to talk with me (unless people bring a lot of cracks to be repaired, extra fret installations and other refit/repair work) and the other builders there and exchange techniques, views on effective design, finishes, etc. Currently, David Fox, Bernd Krause and Gerry Heinrich are the other dulcimer builders registered as vendors. And as Ken mentions, he will be there for this workshop. Looking forward to visiting with you, Ken!


updated by @dwain-wilder: 04/14/24 02:44:25PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/14/24 03:08:50AM
64 posts

Does soundbox tension affect volume and tone


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Dusty Turtle:

The direction of this discussion exemplifies why Nate's original question is so hard to answer: there are a lot of variables.  He started out asking if modifying the way the strings attached to the dulcimer might increase the tension of the soundboard, thus increasing volume.   But the conversation moved on to the tension of the strings themselves and now how the fretboard is attached to the body of the dulcimer.  The "floating" tailpiece or, as David Beed calls it, the " decoupled tailpiece " surely affects the tension of the soundboard, but more importantly, by reducing its contact with the soundboard, it frees the soundboard to vibrate more, which changes both the volume and the timber of the dulcimer.  Again, that is adding another variable to the equation. Dwain and John mentioned bracing and sound posts, which add even more variables to consider


I am not a builder, and I haven't studied physics since high school, so I might be way off base here.  But I wonder if the issue is not the whether tension increases or decreases volume, but where the Goldilocks sweet spot is.  On guitars, too little or too much bracing will reduce the responsiveness of the instrument.  On a dulcimer, I presume, too much or too little tension (or stiffness of the wood) would not produce sufficient volume. If we were to map out the relationship between tension and volume, the result might not be a straight line, but something resembling a parabolic arc.



 

A good summation, Dusty. It is much easier to have such a discussion about a music instrument with strict conventions such as the violin family of instruments. But even there it eventually defies mere words to show how to make a great instrument.


And fretted instrument builders are constantly innovating, experimenting and analyzing, with a huge range of effect (both desirable and miserable). I've heard that sound posts can deaden a dulcimer from several who tried, and here we read of two luthiers who got a success with them in dulcimers, one even defining exactly where to position the two sound posts!


That constant exploration creates a rich field of personal experience and deep knowledge, but it is not analytical knowledge one would expect from following scientific method. On the other hand, scientific method and analysis will yield any amount of numerical data on a musical instrument, but none of those numbers will tell you anything about what makes it a good instrument or a poor one.


Much better than analytical method is the experiential method, otherwise known as the heuristic. Using the heuristic method is simply making an educated guess that some design change will make a certain desired difference. So one builds an instrument with that one specific change and assesses the results of the guess. If it seems to have worked, build 9 more instruments identically as possible and see if your result is repeatable. If not, dead end alley. But if the effect you wanted is found then try making 10 instruments with a little less of your change and 10 made with an accentuation of your change and see which direction, if any, seems headed more toward your 'goldilocks' point.


It is a very slow process, but it is evidence-based in a way that numerical analysis never is. And the longer you follow your intuition, the better it becomes at a deep but ultimately black art that one cannot write out as a rational explanation but can easily teach, in person. to a student who wants to learn by first-hand experience. It's all like learning how to sharpen a cabinet scraper properly so it will scrape a curl off a plank of redwood without tearing the grain. One can spend a decade learning that unless one has a tearcher, and most of what one learns is in the final year (ask me how I know that...). That's what 'black art' means to me: something I can show someone how to do, but they will not be able to do it from my verbal description, no matter how fine a description it is.


That makes these kinds of forums rather like rumpus rooms, each of us speaking from our own understanding of our craft but rarely meeting in a setting where we could actually demonstrate the validity of what we are saying.


Festivals would be a good place for dulcimer builders to hold workshops for each other. I'll be holding one in a festival soon, at East Stroudsburg, PA, later in April


updated by @dwain-wilder: 04/14/24 03:11:59AM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/10/24 08:00:41PM
64 posts

Does soundbox tension affect volume and tone


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

NateBuildsToys:

Hey folks, this question might be poorly asked but here goes.


Does a soundbox that is under more tension have any additional clarity or additional volume? Is this the reason that 'lighter' builds are more responsive?


When I think about a musical saw, the volume seems to directly correspond to the amount of tension out on the saw blade.


Similarly, a washtub bass seems to be quite a bit louder on its high pitched notes, when the string is pulling the hardest on the tub.


I have been thinking a lot about where the strings are anchored on my dulcimers. Anchoring them to the fingerboard should apply an upward 'pulling' force on the area of the fingerboard with the pins. Meanwhile if the pins are anchored on an actual tailpiece of the box, they are stretched across the end of the fingerboard and are 'pushing' it down into the soundboard.


Does one of these produce more resonance than the other? 


original


Here is a picture of a test dulcimer I built where the strings can be mounted to either the box or the fingerboard. (Sorry it's a bit ugly, form follows function) I am thinking of mounting both outer strings to the fingerboard, and the middle string to the box. My speculation is that this will put a huge amount of extra tension on the fingerboard, and the middle string will help prevent the fingerboard from being pulled off the soundboard. sadly I can't test this out until the local music shop opens back up in a few days.


Any information of how much tension matters, and how to properly harness that would be greatly appreciated



I am unclear about whether you are talking about string tension itself, the effect of string tension when mounted on the fretboard or the instrument body, or a wider question about the effects of tension on the instrument.


If you are talking about the effect of strings mounted on the fretboard, yes, it does has an effect. The effect is almost entirely lateral (depending on how high the play action is), and will be considerable if the fretboard is attached with ordinary woodworker's glue (aliphatic resin, 'yellow glue), unless it is stopped by the peghead (in which case the stress is transferred to a considerable degree to the joint of the peghead to the body (I had one dulcimer fail due to the accumulated stress on a peghead that had a hidden internal wood flaw).


The matter of string stress on the body of the instrument is a much more complex matter, as it involves construction techniques, the internal bracing and stresses within the body, and the overall design shape and geometric details.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
03/19/24 06:35:40PM
64 posts

Crack in the soundboard, by the sound hole


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Ken Longfield:

I seldom go to festivals anymore for workshops but just to visit with dulcimer friends. However, Dwain, your workshop interests me. I might register for the Pocono festival just for that. I can easily drive over, take your workshop, and return home. I'll see when it is scheduled to take place. Thanks for offering this.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

Would be great to see you there, Ken.  I can't remember whether we've met before.

marg:

I talked about how we should handle our dulcimers in class (that you mention Dwain) & your workshop. We are just  north of Houston and it seems one of our players was planning on going to the Pocono Festival and will look for when your workshop is posted to registrar. 

Thanks, that will be great

marg.

 

And Marg, thanks so much for mentioning the workshop and letting me know a player is interested in it. I was raised in East Texas, and always glad to see a Texan.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
03/19/24 01:11:29AM
64 posts

Crack in the soundboard, by the sound hole


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

By the way, at the upcoming Pocono Club Dulcimer Festival in Stroudsburg, PA (April 27, 27) I will be teaching a workshop for builders and repairers on how to fix cracks anywhere inside musical instruments, including aligning the two sides of the crackand cleaning the inside surface across the crack in preparation for glueing an interior reinforcing cross cleat.

All this is done from outside the inside the instrument! I pass all interior materials though the nearest soundhole, and clamp the crack with interior/exterior matching magnets, and clamp the cleat with a system of springs and stops. The workshop title is "Laparoscopic Crack Repair."I will be repairing a crack on an old dulcimer that was such a failure that I cut it in half to use for this sort of demonstration.

Attached is a photo of the interior cleat glued and clamped across the crack inside —all arranged with a thread passed through a small hole drilled into the crack and later repaired.

This workshop isn't on the website's schedule yet, as Norm Williams and I just talked about it last week. Builders, please spread the word!


Cleat-Placed-Fxed-m.jpg Cleat-Placed-Fxed-m.jpg - 469KB

updated by @dwain-wilder: 03/19/24 01:14:07AM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
03/18/24 04:47:09PM
64 posts

Crack in the soundboard, by the sound hole


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Sometimes this sort of crack happens when the dulcimer is lifted or carried by grasping it by the top and back. The back is usually sturdier, but the top will crack at either its weakest wood grain or where the strain is greatest. The area where the top is glued to the fretboard is an area least able to respond by bending when the top is pressed by being lifted like this.

I see no reason here to suspect that was the cause, but builders regularly have to caution musicians to always lift the dulcimer by the peghead or tailblock (or strap) rather than putting the top and back into a vise-like grip between the thumb and fingers.

Similarly, trying to lift a mountain dulcimer by grasping the fretboard risks pressing fingernail dents into the top.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 03/18/24 04:48:27PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
03/05/24 05:37:07PM
64 posts

String gauge and intonation


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

 

Hi Nate,

You describe a common problem. And different string makers use different core diameters (and some use hexagonal core wire, so it bites into the winding for improved performance. And I too sometimes find that in a tuning such as DDAd I have to compensate the A string at the nut. Curiously, this is not on every instrument.

And I find that choosing string sets that operate at equal/similar tensions minimizes compensation of the saddle, as well as producing brilliance in each string that is in a similar 'brilliance envelope', so that playing a scale across all the strings does not sound different from playing the same scale on a single string.

I have a spreadsheet that computes string tension for sets of strings, given their operating pitch, string diameter and whether plain or wound. It turns out that the the fudge factor "k" needed to compute the tension of wound strings is very similar for most of the strings I've encountered (GHS, DR, etc.), so an average can be used for a given manufacturers' strings.

PM me if you'd like me to email the spreadsheet. Requires MS Excel. At present I can only supply it in Mac 64-bit word (Catalina OS and higher), but soon will have it available in the more widely used 32-bit word version. Either one should work in a PC Windows environment also...

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
03/05/24 02:43:02AM
64 posts

Pawpaw's Dulcimers (general info, please)


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

You could ask the builder and try the dulcimer out. 

As for price, I would suggest you play the instrument, ask the builder what it costs, and decide for yourself if it is worth it. If you are a beginner, it is important to get some basic matters clear about what makes a good music instrument.

I have a buyer's guide on my website at https://www.bearmeadow.com/models/ordering/html/buying.html

Hope that helps


updated by @dwain-wilder: 03/05/24 02:45:59AM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/25/24 06:37:45PM
64 posts

Birdseye Maple


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

marg:

thanks for your thoughts:

Yes, it does have a brighter sound - it has very good responsive.

Thoughts on the quality of it as a wood for a dulcimer. Maybe used more in the past for guitars but other woods maybe better now as tone woods or any problems with cracking?

Photo of an older dulcimer, that so far is in beautiful shape.

 

I'll refer back to Ken's question: What thoughts were you looking for?

You seem to be satisfied with the dulcimer. Maybe you could be more explicit with the reason for your question/speculation about the quality of its, other woods, cracking problems. I couldn't see evidence of cracks in your photos.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/25/24 06:01:52PM
64 posts

Birdseye Maple


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

In my experience, figured wood is not good tonewood. Ken is probably right about it producing a brighter tone. Whether it would be responsive and capable of good sustain is another question.

That being said, so much is determined by the maker's design and process.

Many years ago the Guild of American Luthiers held a contest for the best guitar made with unconventional wood. The winning guitar was made from a shipping pallet.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/02/24 01:29:08AM
64 posts

Intonation Problems


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

NateBuildsToys:
Dwain Wilder:

Every dulcimer will have its own fingerboard 'profile,' meaning a concave 'dish', though some makers prefer to build with a flat fingerboard, I hear.

 
Dwain, could you please explain this more, I was not aware of this. I have only built with flat fingerboards so I'm having a hard time understanding what you mean by 'concave dish.'
Thanks
Nate

 

Some builders do build flat fretboards. When there are as many frets as the dulcimer has, though, the problem of getting the lowest action becomes very much like that of designing auditorium seating.

Imagine an auditorium in which the seating floor is flat: even if everyone is the same height, people will have trouble seeing over the heads of those in the next row. And in the foremost rows (that cost the most to get), you begin to see less and less of the performers!

So the answer is to make the floor a long sweeping curved surface sloping gently down, each row a little lower than the one behind. That works well until about 2/3 down toward the stage: at that point the person in the next row are no longer the issue. Now the problem is that you can't see all of what's happening on-stage. So the floor has to start to rise so each row is a bit higher than the one before. Then each person can see everything on the stage.

So think of the string's "line of sight" as it is fretted at each fret, and design your fretboard so that, at each fret position, the height above the further frets is equal. If you're good at trigonometry you can solve the problem as one of the string forming a constant angle when fretted at each angle such that the sine of the angle is just a bit greater than the top of the next fret's crown. Since the distance between frets is exponential, that fretboard surface will be very interesting mathematically. (I've never done it mathematically. I prefer the heuristic method in instrument building, not analytics —except in the matter of setting frets in equal temperament).

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/01/24 08:12:39PM
64 posts

Intonation Problems


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

DulciMaryland:
Dwain Wilder:
DulciMaryland:

Thanks, Ken. The action is significantly higher than that; I could probably put 3 dimes!

This is a great place to start 

 

I agree.

One way to finalize the optimum action height the dulcimer is capable of is to find out the minimum saddle height at which the bass string doesn't buzz, then add .005". A set of number drills (1-60) is great for this, since each drill is a very small variant of its neighboring drills' diameter. So remove the bridge and substitute a number drill. Intonation doesn't matter for this test of course, but you do want to be tuned to playing pitch.

 

This is genius. What about the nut? Remove that and replace with a closely sized bit, too?

 

That's a great idea! just remember to replace the nut with a packing piece so it is level with the fingerboard before starting.

Every dulcimer will have its own fingerboard 'profile,' meaning a concave 'dish', though some makers prefer to build with a flat fingerboard, I hear.

For what it's worth, I set the nut height at .015" higher than the fret crown I'm using. That seems about right for the way I profile the fingerboard.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 02/01/24 08:14:05PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/01/24 02:12:58PM
64 posts

Intonation Problems


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

DulciMaryland:

Thanks, Ken. The action is significantly higher than that; I could probably put 3 dimes!

This is a great place to start 

 

I agree.

One way to finalize the optimum action height the dulcimer is capable of is to find out the minimum saddle height at which the bass string doesn't buzz, then add .005". A set of number drills (1-60) is great for this, since each drill is a very small variant of its neighboring drills' diameter. So remove the bridge and substitute a number drill. Intonation doesn't matter for this test of course, but you do want to be tuned to playing pitch.

Pluck the bass string at each fret forcefully (sideways, not vertically). Substitute the next smaller or larger drill bit shank, depending on whether you find a buzzing fret. If you find a buzz on only a single fret, consider dressing that fret crown down a bit. After you've found a drill shank that represents the minimum action height on the bass, check for buzzes on the other strings. That's a check of the whole fingerboard's surface regularity, and the possibility that some frets aren't well seated or have worn or grooved crowns.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 02/01/24 02:13:40PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/25/24 10:44:58PM
64 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Curt DeBaun:

Dwain, thanks for the offer, but it had the fine tuners with it.  I hope to buy one of your Bear Meadow concert dulcimers in the not too distant future.  BTW, here are better photos of the pegs installed.

Curt

 

Nice job! Watch out about the string winding on the bass peg: if it gets all the way to the pegbox wall it can interfere with tuning and setting the peg.

If you ever have to do another peg setting, ease up gradually on the final reaming, then turn the reamer backwards to burnish the wood. The object is to have about 1/32" of the little end sticking outside the pegbox, so that future peg wear will give you plenty of peg left in case you need to enlarge the hole a bit. And fhen finish the peg end to a nice domed button by rubbing its end in a 1-1/2" diameter circular motion on a soft sanding pads, from 100G down thourgh the grit range to 320G. Then finish off with red rouge on a polishing wheel. (Mineral spirits clean up the rouge very well). That results in a very attractive pegbox.

I'm sort of overwhelmed with commissions now and not accepting any until I get the backlog cleared. I can refer you to one of my students, though, if and when you like. (Or who knows, maybe I'll have the backlog well on the way to completion by the time you're ready!). But as I get older I work slower and more carefully, so each instrument takes longer than the previous one.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 01/25/24 10:51:39PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/24/24 11:37:43PM
64 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Congratulations! So many dulcimer players do not want fricion pegs. That may be due to a number of circumstances that we could all bring to mind. A good story of well-fitted set of pegs is always a joy to read!

Do you have the fine tuners? They are the little ebony trapezoidal buttons on the string between the saddle and the nose of the tailpiece. Sliding them will control the tuning by about a semitone.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/10/24 02:27:26PM
64 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Ken Longfield:

Curt, you can buy the pegs and install them yourself. Bear in mind that the pegs are tapered and the hole into which they go must be tapered as well. A viola size hole reamer is the tool you will need to do this. Also, if the holes were enlarged for the banjo tuners, they will need to be plugged, drilled, and reamed. It depends upon how much time and money you want to spend. Pegs are inexpensive, reamers are not although since you are only doing this one job you can probably get away with an inexpensive one.

Ken

 

Ken, if you're certain on giving Curt this advice on setting his own wooden pegs without professional help, please also include how to fine-fit the taper, and how dress the pegs for the proper fit and proper amount of sticking friction to ensure easy and sseure tuning.

You're way beyond me if you can describe that without giving a hands-on lesson.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/09/24 06:31:38PM
64 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Ken Longfield:

Hi Dwain, I didn't say that the tuners were mechanical. They are, as you noted, Grover Stay-Tites which are friction tuners. I think they came in banjo and ukulele sizes. Those on Curt's dulcimer appear to be banjo size.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

Sorry, I didn't read the whole thread before responding. Somehow I got a private message and just responded to that. I didn't know Stay-Tites came in two sizes! Yes, they do appear to be the banjo size I see on dulcimers from time to time.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/09/24 06:28:42PM
64 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

The original pegs were rosewood viola pegs, by the way. If you prefer them, the pegs need to be hand-fitted to the peghead. A violin string shop could supply the pegs and fit them properly. If you do not have the fine tuners I can supply them.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/09/24 10:41:58AM
64 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Those are not banjo mechanical tuners at all. They are the dreaded Grover Stay-Tites. They weren't fitted them with the grace of  fitted small end peg hole plugs properly made cross-grain to make a good finish for such a fine instrument.

I would recommend having them replaced at a string shop (not a guitar repair shop!) with Pegheds or Witmer mechanical pegs. I prefer Pegheds for their adjustable holding friction.

Walt Martin occasionally-fitted Schaller banjo pegs. But they were customized, cut down to match the pegbox wall thickness. He also re-sculpted and crpss-drilled the stem's string-hole to match, so the strings weren't pulling on the pegs unsupported and destructive to the planetary gears.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 01/09/24 10:50:48AM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/14/23 09:37:40PM
64 posts

Vintage Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

NateBuildsToys:

@ken-hulme I cant help but wonder what the intention was, since I'd Imagine it took some effort to do. Then again, maybe the piece of wood that became the headstock was originally cut for something else, and the maker repurposed it. Ive done that with furniture pieces a couple times with some strange looks. 
@dwain-wilder Am I understanding you correctly that you are saying the string pins should be mounted to the tailpiece like in this drawing, so to not apply upward force to the break?
vintagedulcimerforumfile1.jpeg
thanks,
Nate



On closer examination it seems you are most probably correct! And if so, closing that gap would be disastrous for the top.


And thus the pins should remain where they are too.


Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/14/23 02:34:31PM
64 posts

Vintage Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

dmvtatter:

@ken-longfield

I’m afraid you may be right. I tried to gently press the fretboard down and there were a lot of creaking noises. Plus, when I look at the fretboard from the bottom at eye level I can see that it curves upward at the bottom slightly. I don’t know if either of these things necessarily means that it is warped.

The crucial thing is whether the fretboard's upper surface curves up. There should be a very slight concave 'dish' to reduce string's buzzing against frets.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/14/23 02:14:59PM
64 posts

Vintage Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

@Nate, yes that is the general idea. But those thin pins would themselves be under severe bending tension. I would recommend 1/8" brass rod rather than the brads. And mount them with only about 1/8" showing above the surface at about -15° from horizontal, so the strings tend to seat at the pins' base rather than at their ends.

If one wants to accommodate both loop end and ball-end strings, one end of the brass rods can be turned (or filed) down to a diameter to fit inside the strings' ball-end. That is the arrangement for my Standard Series dulcimers.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 06/14/23 02:15:50PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/13/23 11:06:07PM
64 posts

Vintage Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Interesting notes from Ken, Strumelia and Nate. Definitely a legacy dulcimer, worth some work.

A further improvement at the tailblock would be to move the string pins down, below the break. Where they are now, the string tension tends to re-open the break rather than reinforce the repair.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
06/13/23 05:23:38PM
64 posts

Vintage Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

You might begin by applying a clamp to the tailpiece and drawing it down to where it almost touches the bottom of the tailblock. The easing a folded length of 100g sandpaper and clamping just enough to enable the paper to be drawn back and forth, getting some clean wood. Then you can relax the clamp, brush in some glue and re-clamp to fully join the break.

That break was likely caused by the design feature of a cut-away top along the sides of the last few inches of the fretboard, intended to increase the volume perhaps.

Further fasten that break by drilling a tapered hole for a screw long enough to engage about an inch of the bottom half of the tailblock break. Tapered screw drills can be purchased at good hardware stores. Your photos don't show any sense of the actual size of things, but a #8x1-1/2" screw might be about right.

Interesting design, otherwise! Especially the peghead. A top view of that pegbox might disclose another place where some preventive re-design would help, as it looks like the slot for the interior of the pegbox might extend right to the end of the peghead, in the view you supply!

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/14/23 10:59:06AM
64 posts

fret scale chart of a mountain Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

NateBuildsToys:
Dwain Wilder:

Ah! I just looked up the term "fret scale chart" and see that it is a chart showing the pitch generated at each fret position for each string. That is easy to do with an instrument with a standard string tuning schema, such as the guitar's EADGBE.

The dulcimer is an entirely different instrument in several ways:

  • Players use all sorts of tunings. D5D5A5D4 and A5A5A5D4 are to very popular ones. G4G4F3G3 is another.
  • Dulcimers are essentially diatonic, like a piano without black keys
  • Dulcimers have different scale lengths, ranging from 24" to 28". That allows for even greater range of tunings, and various sets of strings will be found best for each dulcimer
  • Dulcimer players ask for different chromatic frets (I presume that is what you're referring to as 'blue' frets). Popular 'extra' frets are the 1-1/2 6-1/2, the 8-1/2, and 13-1/2. This is a notation developed to describe the chromatic frets on a diatonic fretboard.

So the fret scale chart for a string tuned to D5 would be DFGABCD (the fret pattern of an Appalachian dulcimer is in Mixolydian mode, meaning that the 'black' keys fall between the 2nd-3rd frets,


Dwain please correct me if I'm mistaken, but I think you may have increased all those notes by an octave(or two with A5 and decreased by 1 with F3 relative to the other notes) though I am not aware of GFG being a normal tuning, perhaps you meant GDG, (one full step down from AEA or a 1-5-8 in G major?) with normal tunings being d4d4A3D3 A3A3A3D3, G3G3D3G2 which are normally notated as D-A-dd (mixolydian tuning) or D-A-AA (Ionian tuning) GDGG (baritone mixo)
Also I think you meant to say that a diatonic scale is like a piano without the black keys, not a piano without the white keys.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/12/23 11:34:06PM
64 posts

fret scale chart of a mountain Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Woodworm cigarbox guitars:

can someone help me with a fret scale chart of a mountain Dulcimer.
Preferably with the blue notes

Ah! I just looked up the term "fret scale chart" and see that it is a chart showing the pitch generated at each fret position for each string. That is easy to do with an instrument with a standard string tuning schema, such as the guitar's EADGBE.

The dulcimer is an entirely different instrument in several ways:

  • Players use all sorts of tunings. D5D5A5D4 and A5A5A5D4 are to very popular ones. G4G4F3G3 is another.
  • Dulcimers are essentially diatonic, like a piano without white keys
  • Dulcimers have different scale lengths, ranging from 24" to 28". That allows for even greater range of tunings, and various sets of strings will be found best for each dulcimer
  • Dulcimer players ask for different chromatic frets (I presume that is what you're referring to as 'blue' frets). Popular 'extra' frets are the 1-1/2 6-1/2, the 8-1/2, and 13-1/2. This is a notation developed to describe the chromatic frets on a diatonic fretboard.

So the fret scale chart for a string tuned to D5 would be DFGABCD (the fret pattern of an Appalachian dulcimer is in Mixolydian mode, meaning that the 'black' keys fall between the 2nd-3rd frets,

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
04/12/23 06:01:07PM
64 posts

fret scale chart of a mountain Dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I have a fret calculator spreadsheet, if you use MS Excel. Stew-Mac has one too, but doesn't allow you to specify extra frets. Mine shows all extra frets.

I can't attach a spreadsheet file here, but send me a private note with an email addy and I'll send the spredsheet. MS Excel 2016 or later needed.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
03/13/23 11:52:13PM
64 posts

Benefits of longer VSL?


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I like what Stumelia and Dusty write here. Dulcimer players often do not seem to care about the change in timbre when they tune strings to a different pitches (and thus different tensions). My experience is that longer strings have a warmer tone, due to the variety of undertones, as well as a different set of transient dissonance (which affects brilliance).

And what Dusty says about the player's fretting technique is important, if one is playing chords. I see many people reaching for chords with thumb and pinky. If one does that too often the thumb is liable to suffer, as it is not really structured well for fretting, which requires more lateral pressure. The hand and its members just are not built well to sustained lateral pressure.

In advising my clients about scale length I ask them to consider whether they do much chordal playing, then find the place on one of their dulcimers at which they are comfortable with forming the most demanding chord without using the thumb. Then I advise that they need a scale at which such a chord can be achieved over the first three to five diatonic frets.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/06/23 02:39:56AM
64 posts

Slots for frets loose


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

shootrj2003:

…I guess you learn something every day wether you want to or not!…

I saw a poster once with a cat hanging from a clothes-line. The caption was priceless:

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted."

Happy building!

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/05/23 07:54:42PM
64 posts

Cardboard Dulcimer Recommendations


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Kay Bolin:

…Several of us are interested in playing different dulcimers and are looking into purchasing inexpensive cardboard dulcimers to try out chromatic, or 4 equal distant, or baritone tuned dulcimers.….

What are your recommendations? Ideas?

I forgot to respond to your note in the matter of baritone dulcimers. Any dulcimer can be strung for baritone tuning.

You can outfit any dulcimer for baritone playing. The matter of getting the right strings to do that is easy to do. The effects of the baritone strings, especially the bass strings, might take a bit more work.

First you have to find the tension at which the current strings are operating at when tuned to pitch. Knowing that, it is possible to choose strings which are that same (or similar) tension when tuned to your desired baritone pitch. I  have an Excel spreadsheet for doing that.

Let me know if you'd like me to run it for your dulcimer. I'll need:

  • Your scale length (measure from the nut to the 7th diatonic fret - the octave) and double that for the true scale length, don't measure from nut to saddle (it is probably set back a bit for intonation and compensation —more on that below).
  • The size and tuned pitch of each of your current strings,
  • The pitch you want to tune to in baritone mode (that's usually a fourth down from the conventional tuning you use). For instance a dulcimer in DDAd might be tuned for baritone in AAea.

If the action of your dulcimer is low, the results will be more satisfying, as the intonation and compensation may not change. But you may find the bass string buzzing on some frets, as the vibrational excursion (how much the string travels up and down) may be greater. (Plucking and picking it from side to side rather than pulling up on strings will improve that, though).

If your dulcimer has a floating saddle (not set in a groove), you can re-adjust it to proper intonation (the saddle set-back needed to compensate for the increased pitch caused by fretting the strings) and compensation (the saddle slant needed  to compensate for the difference in plain strings, and wound strings, of different diameters). If your dulcimer's saddle is set in a slot it will need attention from a dulcimer builder (Don't send a dulcimer in good condition to a guitar repair shop for such work unless you now the repair folks understand an respect the instrument. So many mountain dulcimers have been ruined by misbegotten notions of guitar repair people).

And the action can be adjusted by putting a thin shim under the saddle (a business card is good, but a stiff shim of wood or plastic is better). Let me know if you need help on how adjust the action for best playing and how to adjust the intonation. Instructions are also available at my website, under the menu item Dulcimer Building>Setup>. From there, look for the sub-items "Setting action" and "Intonation."

These matters all sounds complex if you've never dived into your dulcimer that far, but the problems and methods for dealing with them are easily explained. Most (probably all) of the builders here can explain them further.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/03/23 04:24:46PM
64 posts

Cardboard Dulcimer Recommendations


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

As a follow-up on Ken's note, if you intend to cut slots for frets, talk to the maker of your kit about which fret-wire to use, as there is a wide variety. The kit-maker may be able to supply enough fret-wire for all the frets you'll need, for a fee.

Regarding installing frets, I agree with Ken's advice. Make sure the ends are the same width as the fretboard. If you cut them yourself to size, make sure the ends of the fret are rounded so their corners don't snag (and maybe cut) your fingertips as you play.

One additional trick I've developed for installing frets on an assembled dulcimer is to get the fret started with a few gentle taps. Then pick the dulcimer up, just clear of the workbench, by grasping the fretboard by the edges while finally tapping it home. That ensures that the rest of the dulcimer doesn't become a 'hammered dulcimer,' possibly causing cracks in the top.

Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
02/03/23 12:51:43PM
64 posts

Slots for frets loose


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions


shootrj2003:

I cut my fret slots the saw cuts .031-.032 the frets I have  are just about .030 so there is grab but they can be lifted out easy,will super glue gel hold them or should I use another glue like epoxy ,my first fret job ,I put in a couple with super glue gel and they held while filing and fitting which can be stressful my concern is will it keep holding or shrink later,the right thing is a wider tang fret or a crimper but I am attempting to do with what I have .Wider tang frets are about .037 maybe enough for more grab.appreciate any help. Thank you



Is your measurement of .031-.032 including the width of the barb tips? If you want a nice press fit, check the width of the tang, not the extent of the barbs. And the best width of the slot will depend on the fingerboard wood. For instance, I use fretwire with a tang width of .023 and barb width of .030.


I cut fret slots in black walnut (which is one of the softest hardwoods) using a .020" saw, and the tang pushes easily and firmly into those slots. But when slotting an ebony fingerboard I need a .023" saw, as that ebony isn't going to move over for nobody!


As I've written elsewhere, it helps a lot when sawing slots to fit the tang, to dress the edges with a small 45° chamfer, just a bit wider than the tang's barbs. This helps seat the frets vertically while inserting and also avoids grain pull-up and break-out when the frets need to be pulled.


One tip I learned for successfully using superglue to seat problem frets is to first apply a sizing coat to the slot walls. Easily done by putting a small bead of glue on an edge of a business card and drawing it through the slot. Let it dry, and it will keep the next coat, also delivered with another edge of that card, from wicking into the wood, creating a much better bond.


My own preference for inserting frets is a manual press. I made one out if scrap and fitted a shop-made swivel foot. By luck I chose just the right dimensions so I can actually feel when the fret is biting into the wood and when it has gotten flush down on the surface of the fingerboard. You can find a photo of it here: Using the Fret Press


And I follow that up with a check on fret leveling by using a collection of trusted straight-edges (the blades of machinist squares, in my case). The process is to start with the first three frets with a blade long enough to span them. If there is any rocking (I check both ends and the middle), I take that middle fret back the the fret press and give it a little more pressure, re-checking as I go so I don't over do it (which would make the next fret too high). Then I progress up the fretboard, checking each triad of frets for rocking on the middle one. I never have to dress frets with a file, using this technique.


Sorry, I may have written much of this before. My memory of what I've said before is lousy.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 02/03/23 12:53:16PM
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
01/31/23 02:21:05AM
64 posts

confusing fret layout


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions


Good! keep us posted on your work with this instrument. Know anything more about Davis?

Here is a tip on finding out how low to get the saddle:

First check to see that the frets are level. To do that, use a good quality set of machinist squares or combination squares. Choose sizes that will span the frets three at a time. Start with setting the blade of a square across frets 1-2-3 and see if the blade of the square rocks on the 2 fret Check on both ends of the frets and the middle.

If it does, that fret is high. Grasp the dulcimer by the fretboard (being careful not to let fingernails dig into the top!) and lift it slightly off the table so you can hammer the fret without having the top get the force of the blow.

Now give that fret a somewhat ungentle tap and test again. Remove the strings and file the fret down only if you cannot get it better seated. Then check the 2-3-4 fret, and so on up the fretboard, choosing smaller squares so the blade only crosses three frets at a time. If you don't have a square small enough to fit across only three frets at the top end, use a single-edge razor blade for a straight-edge or some other known and trusted straight edge (ground and polished machine lathe tool bits, for instance). I would not trust aluminum bar to be straight for this purpos, due to how it is formed.After you're sure the frets are all level, you're ready to see how low you can get that saddle.

Begin by replacing the saddle with the shank of a drill bit 1/64" less in diameter than its height, and tune the bass string to concert pitch, and check at each fret for buzzes. Don't worry about getting the saddle placement right during this. Keep reducing the diameter of your temporary saddle until you find some buzzes happening. Make sure the buzz isn't coming from just one fret that may be still a bit high. If you're getting buzzes from more than one fret, you now know that the saddle has to be at least 1/64" higher than that drill bit.

I like to shave floating saddles to height by putting a small plane upside down in a vice and using it as a one-blade jointer planer. You can get real fine shavings off and easily keep the bottom of the saddle straight. (By the way, make sure the area where the saddle is going to sit is flat before you start any of this work! A rocking saddle will rob the dulcimer of sound.)


updated by @dwain-wilder: 01/31/23 02:30:24AM
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