LOL, So it starts ! Sigh, the onset of DAD !!!! It looks as if Scott did you proud Gail, thanks for sharing
Treat 'em well, play 'em often
I bought 2 new dulcimers yesterday from Scott Rhodes, a member here. I bought the 2003 McSpadden walnut teardrop he had for sale and and really love it. While there I also bought a cedar dulcimer made back in 1990 - we think it was made by Dorsey Williams. They both have their own unique sound. I plan to leave the double melody strings on these and use them for noter playing. Thank you Scott. I am very happy with them! I have attached a picture of them below.
Thanks for your advice, Paul. I think you are right. There are some dulcimer shops within a couple of hours of where I live - in fact that's how I got my McSpadden. They mainly carry McSpadden, but it would be a good idea now to try some of the others that they carry.
Gail, if you are looking for a specific sound you aren't finding in your current dulcimers, your best bet is to get to a few shops or festivals where you can play a number of different instruments and let your ears tell you which one you like. Play every one in your price range, and if you don't find what you want, save up till you can increase your price limit. It's not only one of life's great pleasures to shop by ear, but probably the only way you will really find the one dulcimer that you just have to own. Sooner or later one dulcimer will refuse to let you leave without it.
Carolyn, No one is saying that the wood isn't important in making an instrument, any instrument. There are woods that I would choose over others. I wouldn't want to make an instrument out of balsa, for example. Two of my constructions have been made of cherry with western red cedar soundboards, though. The sound difference is dramatic, one is high, light, and sweet, the other has more of a mellow modern guitar type of sound. The first instrument is a traditional construction of the bridge resting on the fretboard but directly over the tail piece with a small shallow body. The bridge is about 5/8" away from the end of the instrument. The second is build with the bridge resting on the fretboard but way in (about 3 ") over a very large (wide and deep) sound box. Same woods, but the tone or voice of the instruments is totally different.
Carolyn - read David's explanation at the bottom of the previous page. No one says that the kind of wood in a dulcimer is not important. It's just not the most important factor in making dulcimer (or violin) sound the way many people have believed. There are many other things that a builder can do that will influence the sound quality more than the choice of wood species. It wasn't the wood that Antonio Stradivari used that made his violins so much better than others. It was many other things, including mineral treatments, varnish formula and more. There are perfectly good or better dulcimers and violins that are made from cardboard, plastic, even metal.
IF everything else is equal, then the wood used may have an effect on the voice. The operative word there is "equal". In other words, if the dulcimers are made the exact same way in every other respect. However, unless you are working with a mass produced instrument, this is rarely the case. There will be differences in wood thickness, sizes (just a 1/8 inch deeper box will have a 5 % greater interior volume) subtle changes in bridge placement etc etc etc. And even if they are identical in every other way, a different wood still may or may not change the voice depending on the overall construction of the instrument itself.
One thing to keep in mind when comparing the dulcimer to guitars is that the vibrating plates on a guitar are far larger than on a dulcimer so the wood used on a guitar will have a far greater effect than on a dulcimer.
Wayne Anderson said:
For those that have firmly stated that the type of wood used does not impact greatly on the sound of the instrument...I would invite you to look at This Web Page The author opens with " One of the most important variables in defining the sound of a guitar is the wood used to build it. Generally speaking, the tonal impact of the various tone woods used by guitar builders will be the same for any given body shape. "
Granted he is talking about guitars but the same would hold true for the Mountain Dulcimer.
Thanks Lisa, Ken and Kevin. Kevin, I'll sure take a look at some of yours. I mainly play chord/melody on my current dulcimers, but may want to play more of the noter and drone style on the other one. I really like both styles of playing. I have messed around a little bit with the noter,but am by no means very good at it yet (posted a video a while backI did with the noter here - Sad Old Aunt Rhodie).
Gail, I am the Kevin Messenger that these kind folks have mentioned above. And thanks guys for the mention. I myself believe that build design, set up , and string selection ha much to do with the tonal outcome of the instrument. I build mainly with poplar ,like a lot of the early builders did. I like the earthy tone of poplar. I use piano wire strings, that I make myself, the seem to have a brighter sound, more sustain, and just ring like a bell. Robin Clark a member here has many audio, and video files ,of him playing one of my Prichard reproductions. Take a listen and see if this is the sound you are looking for. The instrument has quite a range. You can also take a look on my website , www.kevinmessengermountaindulcimers.net and look at some of my instruments. Thanks again for the mention guys.
Gail Webber said:
I guess that high silvery sound is really what I am looking for.
Gail, if you are looking for that sound, then you'd most likely find it in a fairly narrow and shallow soundbox. I can second Ken's recommendations of three people who build this kind of dulcimer here on FOTMD: Bobby Ratliff (Slate Creek Dulcimers), Kevin Messenger , and John Knopf. All three are dependable, high quality builders who specialize in traditional style dulcimers with that kind of sound.
Of course, to really bring out a 'silvery' effect, you'd want to try playing with a noter- that's where the bestest zzziiiiiiiiing! comes from.
I guess that high silvery sound is really what I am looking for. It sounds like a number of factors affect the sound. John, I have never been to Song of the Wood shop in Black Mountain, but want to go. I got my current regular McSpadden from The Dulcimer Shop in Blowing Rock. It was nice because I just kept playing different ones (as much as I could back in December) and found one pleasing to my ear.
As I have indicated in more than one post, I think that the sounds one hears from one's dulcimer may quite well be viewed as 'Subjective' even tho' we may start out looking for an objective result ! After years of noise from woodworking machinery and associated construction site noise, I know only too well how tinitus can interfer with things !!! On the positive side, it may make my playing sound better than it is, to me at least !!!
Mike A ! again as said before, I grew up in the construction industry in the days when one's claw hammer became an extension of the arm, and six inch round steel nails formed an important part of a joint in some timber constructions, so yes, I drove steel !
Descriptions of sound are subject to variation based on people's definitions of things. To one person, a 'traditional sound' may mean bright and high...to another it might mean sweet and quiet. So rather than my attempting to define what is a 'traditional sound', I simply say that soft soundboards (spruce etc) and larger/deeper soundboxes usually produce rounder more mellow tones, while shallow/smaller soundboxes and hardwoods tend to produce a crisper brighter sound.
No one denies that wood is one factor in the kind/quality of sound in a dulcimer.
IMHO and that of many others, who are also builders, it is not the most important factor in the creation of that sound quality. There are other variables which can be scientifically proven to influence sound quality to a greater degree. Most notably cubic volume of the sound body.
This can be proven with a simple experiment involving a narrow necked bottle of glass and another of plastic, and some water. Begin with empty containers and blow across the mouths of said containers. Now fill each container 1/4 full with water and repeat. Do the same with half and three-quarter fillings. Larger volumes produce more bass/baritone/mellow sounds than do smaller volumes, regardless of material of the sound body.
Chuckle! I repeat, just my experience talking there Wayne , nothing written in ' Tablets of Stone'.Horses for courses as it were ! If you have the time (and/or inclination) have a listen to the vids posted of the epinettes I have made. The very first one I constructed was all cherry, 'cos the little reseach I did indicatedit should be of a fruit wood, I did'nt like the sound of that at all, almost muted .One for the bin !!! Succeding ones have all had soundboards from the same piece of Doug. Fir, with Hon. Mahog bodies, identical everything else,except for a much brighter sound , (in my opinion !!!)
Thanks for the good wishes, some slight improvement on the home front, have got systems in place which seem to work, tho' still seem to have very full days , lol, and continue to have to snatch moments to visit here and catch up with things. Have enjoyed the luxury of having a grand daughter help out for a couple of days, was able to play a bit , first real go at it since Christmas, but have not managedto find thetime to record anything yet. I reckon I shall be in the 'beginners' class all over again soon !
I have worked with timber for many years, including the construction of various musical instruments. I agree that factors such as size/volume, string selection, bridge position, nut and bridge materials used, greatly influence perceived resultant sound. I also hold the opinion that the type of timber used, particularly for the soundboard "makes a difference", and in my experience if I was setting out to achieve a less mellow sound I would go for a medium density, straight grained quarter sawn softwood, such as Douglas Fir or similar, something showing a pronounced difference between its spring and summer growth. I went to my workshop just now and did a simple 'knuckle knock' test on more or less similar sized pieces of Mahog, Poplar, Walnut, Ash, Cedar, Maple and D. Fir. No doubt in my mind timbers which gave the 'brighter' sound ! That decidedly unscientific 'test' does'nt make me 'right' , but would influence the type of dulcimer I might buy should I not be making it.
Then of course, there are instruments made of plywood (veneers if you want to be fancy). Hmmmmmmmmmm.....
different ball game there......nothing wrong with 'em, just diff. ???
(sorry if that caused confusion Gail, I have'nt posted much lately, and being 'off duty' for a couple of days I am enjoying a bit of 'me' time' )
good luck in your search
Thanks for all of your input. I guess the best thing to do for now is to just listen to as many different ones as possible - I listen to a lot of the recordings here and on YouTube. When my budget allows, I'll try to visit some dulcimer shops here in North Carolina and play various ones. I live about 2 1/2 hours away from both Blowing Rock and Black Mountain and they both have shops.
I couldn't agree more. Wood choice can be just as important as the size and depth of the instrument. The density of woods like walnut or cherry (or the like) has provided that traditional sound for many years. The caution comes when selecting a wood that is possibly too dense. Ebony looks great (and is expensive), but a dulcimer made of a dense wood like ebony would sound like a brick with strings on it. If you ever have a chance, sit down and play multiple dulcimers in one sitting made of as many materials (and shapes, sizes, etc.) as possible. That is the best way to determine what your ear is truly looking for...hearing it right in your lap!
Dusty Turtle said:
A dulcimer made entirely of walnut or some other hard wood will have a slightly more traditional sound.
I am one of those people who like the soft, round, guitar-y sounds of non-traditional dulcimers, but I think I know what you mean, Gail. You want that bright, high silvery sound rather than the soft, round, mellow sound.
One thing to do would be to get a dulcimer without a softwood for the soundboard. Both of your dulcimers have spruce, which is the standard soundboard wood for guitars. A dulcimer made entirely of walnut or some other hard wood will have a slightly more traditional sound. But folkfan is correct thatdesign factors other than wood type have a greater influence on tone quality. A smaller box, for example, is more traditional than the larger boxes of modern dulcimers like Blue Lion. For another example, check out this David Beede demo of his "de-coupled" tailpiece: . He makes the dulcimer so that it has a warm, mellow, guitar-like sound. But he also shows how filling in the space between the tailpiece and the soundboard creates a more traditional dulcimer sound. In the video you hear the difference very clearly.
Many luthiers, such as FOTMD member Kevin Messenger,consciously try to make replicas of traditional dulcimers. Other luthiers, such as David at Modern Mountain Dulcimer, consicously try to make big round-sounding dulcimers appropriate for modern multi-instrument jams.
My advice would be to listen to dulcimer players, and when you hear one that has the sound you like, as who made it and what the design specs are. Most luthiers have their own specialties, but they are also willing to work with you to get you the dulcimer of your dreams. Keep your eyes and ears open so you can best explain what that is.
What Folkfan said --- volume of the box has much more to do with that 'high silvery' sound of a traditional dulcimer. Wood choice has very little to do with the tone of the instrument, in spite of urban legends to thecontrary.
If you want a traditional sounding dulcimer you want one of much smaller dimensions -- say 5-6" at the widest, and 1.5" at the deepest. The bridge should be at or near the tailpiece for best sustain.
Another thing that helps the older sound is to get rid of your heavy wound bass string and use a plain wound of slightly smaller gauge.
Look at Bobby Ratliff's Slate Creek Dulcimers -- his Virginia Hogfiddles are perfect examples. I own one of his Sow models with some slight modifications. If you aren't a Noter & Drone player he could probably be convinced to install full width frets.
Kevin Messenger and John Knopf here also make vintage dulcimer reproductions which have that traditional high-silvery sound. But again, they normally feature staple frets only under the melody strings. I haven't played one of Kevin's but I do own one of John's Uncle Ed Thomas reproductions, and the only fault I find is that he uses stapler frets and they just aren't as tall as I would prefer.
The volume of the sound box has more to do with voice of an instrument than the wood it's made of, all other construction being the same. If you want a traditional sound: high, light, silver, try getting an instrument that has a smaller box: narrower and shallower, the bridge should be located at the end over the tail piece, and perhaps an all the same wood construction, all walnut, all cherry, all poplar.
Gail, I'm with Mike on this one, what would you consider a more traditional sound? To me the McSpadden is a very traditional sounding instrument. Most of my instruments have a far more mellow sound than the McSpadden. Of course, style of play has a great deal to do with a traditional sound. What is your playing style?
I have been playing for about 7 months. I currently have a McSpadden dulcimer with cherry back and sides and a spruce top, and a McSpadden Ginger dulcimer with walnut back and sides and a spruce top. I really like both of these and both have a really nice sound. Both have more of a mellow sound. I am thinking about adding another dulcimer sometime in the near future and would like one made by an individual builder, perhaps with a more traditional sound. I would appreciate any input anyone can give with ones you may have.