Warren May Dulcimers, Feedback?

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

Very helpful video. Moved the bridge some to adjust, I'm in DAd now but I haven't gotten the tuning of the pegs down yet so I was only able to come close. I think the bridge won't be as much of a problem as the wooden pegs. I'm please with the first try and everyone's help. Hope with a few more practices the dulcimer will be in tune , set and it holds but now - still having problems with understanding how to with the pegs.

thanks

Dan Goad
@dan-goad
last year
154 posts

 

This video should explain it, marg.

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

I still don't know what the intonation is for the small W. May dulcimer but it has a floating bridge and is set for DAA. If I would want to tune to DAd, I was told I may need to adjust the bridge. Any thoughts on this?

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

I am back from KY and I did get the Warren May '81 small ground hog dulcimer I was hoping for. I need to put on some new strings and work on understanding the pegs still but as it is - it sounds so very nice and the action is the best of all my dulcimers. 

 

1warren may copy.jpg
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robert schuler
@robert-schuler
last year
231 posts

20" scale is a G dulcimer. Ment to be played with light gauge strings in Gdg tuning. Put a capo on your dulcimer at the third fret, retune down to Dad and listen. It won't sound quite as good. Adding heavier strings makes a small dulcimer grone not drone... Robert...

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
last year
1,396 posts

 

Marg said the dulcimer she's interested in was built in 1981.

Well, with ANY Warren May dulcimer, but especially those after 1980 -- when he began commonly using Equal Temperment and 6+ frets to placate 'modern' buyers -- I would specifically ASK him if theparticular instrument is Just Intonated or Equal Temperment.

I said; ..."you might experiment with 18 and 16 for the mid and melody strings. -  with that short of VSL (20"), 12 gauge strings would be too light for the A.)

 

Marg asked: Will heavier strings than 12 be harder to fret or will they give the dulcimer a deeper sound? Would the lighter strings (12 or under) be floppy or wrong tension or break or why do we go heavier?

That's a Looooonnnggggg story involving physics of strings, math and other nasty subjects.  The upshot is that strings heavier than 12 ga at that VSL should not be harder to fret.  String of 12 gauge or less on that short of VSL will be floppy (not enough tension).  You need heavier strings at that VSL to get the proper amont of tension.

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

 (probably be used for solo play rather than ensemble play)

I am hoping to start playing where you hear more of the sweet sounds that come out of the dulcimer, when I am at practice or a jam everything is at warp speed. Such fast strums - they drown out what the strings can do. Sight unseen still with the Warren May - till next week, I am hoping it will be the dulcimer for this. I have been practicing a few songs for when I am able to see & try out the dulcimer. With this discussion I feel very ready for this W. May dulcimer adventure with it's wooden pegs, short VSL and no 6.5

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

I watched a short video by robin on 3 dulcimers in different temperaments. And you right ken, I'm not at a point for understanding but it was good seeing the video and will help when I read some of the post. 

A year ago there was a good bit more I didn't understand but with all the post and videos I feel I am coming alone. With help form the members here, I have been able to set up the used dulcimers I come across (like the red stain one), repair them, make adjustments till they find their voice - learning as I go.

I find it interesting members could be an hour away or half way around the world but all are as near by as my laptop and this site. Thank you all 

 

 

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

kevin,

thanks for your reply. 

(what sounds good to you, and what you want to try.)

    Ha, I think many dulcimers sound good and I wouldn't mind trying many or at lease see them.  

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

ken,

Your answers are always great but sometimes they lead me to more questions:

(IF that Warren May instrument is one of his older (pre-80s)

1981

(might experiment with 18 and 16 for the mid and melody strings. -  with that short of VSL, 12 gauge strings would be too light for the A.)

Will heavier strings than 12 be harder to fret or will they give the dulcimer a deeper sound? Would the lighter strings (12 or under) be floppy or wrong tension or break or why do we go heavier?

Thanks, as always

Kevin Messenger
@kevin-messenger
last year
121 posts

Mary, I would like to say most modern instruments are fretted in equal Temperament. Mean tone fretting is just a slight shift in tone and is a little more sweet sounding than ET. JI is another way of fretting that Gives you an even sweeter tone,at least most who try will tell you. I have used all three on my instruments, and prefer JI for noter style playing , just sound's better to me. As Ken said ,it has nothing to do with extra frets.  JI instruments can be played in most tunnings, but  I have found some sound better than others. I usually use a 155 tuning, usually DAA.  I have found that in that tuning a playing with others in D that they play well together.  It's all about what sounds good to you,and what you want to try.

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
last year
1,396 posts

Yes JI is Just Intonation -- a system for laying out frets which is different than the Mean Tone system used for modern instruments.

JI has nothing to do with having, or not having, a 6+ fret.  Until now (I'm building a dulcimer with JI fret spacing) I've never had or played a JI instrument.  But I've also never built or played instruments with 6+frets (well, just a few). 

On dulcimers with JI fret layouts, notes are just a bit 'sweeter' to the ears, than the same notes on the same frets of a Mean Tone dulcimer.  Mean Tone is more or less world-wide, and allows instrument from many different places/builders/cultures to play together more easily.  In a group of instruments where most are Mean Tone, a JI instrument will sound "off" when playing a scale alongside a Mean Tone.

At this point in your dulcimer journey, I honestly don't think you should even think about JI vs Mean Tone, except in this respect -- IF that Warren May instrument is one of his older (pre-80s), JI layout dulcimers, understand that it should probably be used for solo play rather than ensemble play.  Not all Warren May dulcimers are JI.  Not all have a 6+ fret. 

You also asked about string gauges for a 20" VSL:   "If I was in DAA i would have 18 & 18 for the AA's? Is 12's too way off, since that is what Warren said he would used, or could he have forgotten it's a small size - is there a size good for both or either tunings DAA & DAd?"

Yes, with that short of VSL, 12 gauge strings would be too light for the A.  Warren may not have remembered the VSL correctly.  Strings that work well for A also, generally work with d as well.  Or you might experiment with 18 and 16 for the mid and melody strings.


updated by @ken-hulme: 01/08/16 08:52:16PM
marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

ken

   Still trying to understand some of the discussion above:

Does  JI" mean just intonation? And that would be with no 6+ fret and is best in DAA or 1-5-5 tunings? Could not having a 6.5 fret be anything else or is it always just intonation? 

Sorry, I am slow at understanding this

Estes George
@george-desjardins
last year
96 posts

And here's a shot of the "wide" Sassafras model, Both the Mahogany and this one look like they were never even played, or minimally at best, I couldn't find any sign of wear at all.

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Estes George
@george-desjardins
last year
96 posts

I actually ended up with 3 Warren Mays, to do a side by side comparison, I really don't mind the wooden pegs, all it requires is a little patience and adjusting to them, I find I can now tune about as quickly and accurately as with geared tuners.

 I ended up withy the 82, older fret scale, not sure of the wood.

also got an 86 all mahogany, with the updated fret scale, and a much more recent model, the "wide" version with f holes, walnut back and sides, and a sassafras top, they all sound fantastic, I do think my fave is the wide version, so mellow and haunting sound, especially tuned to CGC.

 I may end up selling the 82, but can't decide for sure, I really only set out to find one, but I was a little naughty but nice to myself for Christmas!!

 Here's a shot of the Mahogany.

mahogany.jpg
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marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

ken,

If I was in DAA i would have 18 & 18 for the AA's? Is 12's too way off, since that is what Warren said he would used, or could he have forgotten it's a small size - is there a size good for both or either tunings DAA & DAd?

Maybe I'll look for a how to video on wooden pegs

thanks


updated by @marg: 01/06/16 10:15:32AM
john p
@john-p
last year
213 posts

Hi Robin and John,

A different slant on this for you. Take a look at the distance between root and fifth for any particular mode and see how well it matches the fifth you have between drones.

 

 

 

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
last year
1,396 posts

Marg -- the whole phrase was "Regarding bagpipe tuning - this never works well for me in Mixolydian Mode in JI".  That is to say that for John Shaw, playing Mixolydian Mode (the modal name for DAd and other 1-5-8 tunings) tunes when his Just Intonated dulcimer is tuned to Bagpipe tuning does not work well for him.

Wooden pegs require a little more patience that geared tuners, uke tuners or autoharp pegs.

Using the Strothers String Gauge Calculator, a 20" VSL instrument tuned Mixolydian DAd or Bagpipe Ddd would want strings at least 13, 18, 26.

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

Warren May's groundhog looks like your dulcimer, george but with f sound holes and smaller. What type of wood do you think yours is?

I haven't had pegs before, is there a trick to tuning it or restringing?

 

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

George,

You haven't had your '82 Warren May long but what do you think of it up to now?

 

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

Checking the string gauge, Warren I think said 12 12 12 24 or 26, can't remember but checking unless I am ready it wrong shows heavier strings. What would be good size strings for Warren's 20" short fat hourglass?

marg
@marg
last year
431 posts

 What does mode in JI mean?

I'm looking to get a '81 Warren May small, fat dulcimer called a groundhog he use to make but doesn't anymore. It has a string length of just 20" overall length 28.5".

I think at the present it is tune to DAd, reading all these post it sounds like it should be tuned to DAA. Since I don't know what's it life has been up to now, can I just change it back to DAA with no problem? Will this be the best tuning for it but could it handle DAd if I wanted to play something in that tuning? There is no 6.5 fret so I guess this would be the 'old scale'? Warren always like DAA best Is that why DAA is the best intonation for it?

I will be seeing it next week when I travel to KY. I have only hear it over the phone and seen photos so far. Even over the phone it sounded really nice, like a Warren May's dulcimer would. I did get to talk to Warren, he said since they were smaller they were more custom made. He said he had recently found one for himself to add to his own collection.  

Estes George
@george-desjardins
2 years ago
96 posts

Thanks everyone for the feedback, I just won the auction for the 82, that's what I love about this group, good iformation and valuable conversation as personal opinion gets thrown in. Loved Roberts comment about, "It just depends how selective your hearing is."

 I have tinitus, the joy of a constant, unending high pitched ringing in my ears, day and night. Funny thing, when I play my dulcimers, I don't hear it at all.

 Thanks again friends!

 

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robert schuler
@robert-schuler
2 years ago
231 posts

Ive been playing in JI for over 40 years. All tunings work. It all comes down to how fussey your hearing is. I dislike tempered scales , even when they are in tune they have a coldness about them... Robert.

John Shaw
@john-shaw
2 years ago
65 posts

I agree, Robin.  It's no surprise that those tunings work in JI.

Regarding bagpipe tuning - this never works well for me in Mixolydian mode in JI.  I need to be playing out of the 3rd fret when I'm in bagpipe tuning on a JI instrument.

Re your last point above - I'm sure that each of the modes does need its own JI to sound at its best.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
2 years ago
352 posts

John Shaw:
I'd like to add my voice to those praising Warren May dulcimers.  I bought a 1990 one (all poplar) just over a year ago.  Mine is also in just intonation (very similar, though not identical, to the fret spacing on my Homer Ledford), and has the most glorious, rich sound - mellow, but fairly loud by dulcimer standards.  It's also, by some distance, the lightest dulcimer I have - 1lb 2oz!  Like Robin says, it's really made for DAA or other 1-5-5 tuning, though it also likes unison "bagpipe" tuning, DAC and DGD. I love it - dulcimers just don't come better than this!

Hi John,

Those other tunings also working in JI is not a surprise.  The only 'problem' with just intonation (well it is a problem for DAd players) is changing the first fret from being the 6th of the scale, which is how it is set for DAA, to it being the second of the scale in DAd.  That's because the pitch between the nut and first fret is 182 cents but it would need to be 204 (200 in ET) for DAd to work.  For a similar reason DAG dorian will not work but DAC Aeolian is fine.  DGD simply reverses the drones but leaves the Ionian scale starting at the 3rd fret.  And bagpipe tuning still is Ionian starting at the 3rd fret but with 5th drones.  Mixolidian in bagpipe tuning is quite interesting because it doesn't sound 'bad' but the intervals are very different from Ionian.

One thing I've still to work out is if each of the modes has its own just intonation with only Ionian and Aeolian correctly 'fitting' the same fret intonation, or if they all should sound as they play from Ionian just intonation?

 


updated by @robin-clark: 12/14/15 09:49:26AM
Estes George
@george-desjardins
2 years ago
96 posts

Thanks for the feedback everybody!! I had been seeing a lot of positive comments, but always nice to hear from people thgat know far more about dulcimers than I.

 Either way I'm going for it, only question I have at this point is, does anyone know what year the fret scale changed? the one I'm looking at is 1982, but based on tuning really doesn't matter, I've not been a DD A D player for some time now.

 Thanks again everyone. 

John Shaw
@john-shaw
2 years ago
65 posts

I'd like to add my voice to those praising Warren May dulcimers.  I bought a 1990 one (all poplar) just over a year ago.  Mine is also in just intonation (very similar, though not identical, to the fret spacing on my Homer Ledford), and has the most glorious, rich sound - mellow, but fairly loud by dulcimer standards.  It's also, by some distance, the lightest dulcimer I have - 1lb 2oz!  Like Robin says, it's really made for DAA or other 1-5-5 tuning, though it also likes unison "bagpipe" tuning, DAC and DGD.

I love it - dulcimers just don't come better than this!

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
2 years ago
352 posts

I have one from 1980, which has the 'old' scale.  The frets are set in just intonation (like older Homer Ledford dulcimers) and so the scale is just beautiful in DAA tuning for either melody drone or some DAA chord playing.  It is my very favourite fret intonation.  Beyond that, the whole instrument is wonderful.  A lovely light built, great workmanship and a rich, resonant tone - truly a musician's delight to play.  Some folks don't like wooden tuners, the generally higher actions on these instruments and the intonation of the earlier May's which will not play in DAd.  Consequently, the prices are often lower than they should be for a musical instrument of this quality.

Whether the instrument has the older or more contemporary fret scale it is worth having one in your collection - just tune and play it accordingly.

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
2 years ago
1,396 posts

What John said!  Warren May makes top of the line dulcimers at affordable prices.  Have played a number of his and loved every one of them...

John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
2 years ago
146 posts

George, you can't go wrong with a Warren May dulcimer.  They are high-quality from a man who's made thousands of them now.

Stewart McCormick
@stewart-mccormick
2 years ago
27 posts

Just added a Warren May to my collection! The nicest dulcimer I have played to date.

Dan
@dan
2 years ago
68 posts

I believe the 82's were on the new scale and play quite nice.

Estes George
@george-desjardins
2 years ago
96 posts

I'm eyeing a used, 1982 Warren May, Just looking for feed back from anyone who has had or currently has one, playability etc.

 Thanks folks!