String Gauge for Warm Rich Sound

marg
@marg
7 years ago
592 posts

I came back from Louisville with a Warren May small older dulcimer called a groundhog. I wasn't able to go see Warren but did speak to him on the phone and told him I had picked up one of his dulcimers. He is so nice I wished I had the time to visit him. The dulcimer has such a beautiful sound, I hope you find your special one.

Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
7 years ago
96 posts

Joy W.:
Guy Babusek:I keep threatening to publish a tab book and I hope to get that accomplished in 2016! 
I love your arrangements Guy, and would definitely be in line to buy a book of your tabs. :)

Thank you so much, Joy. I'll do my best this year, I promise!

Joe Robison
Joe Robison
@joe-robison
7 years ago
25 posts

Most of my dulcimers have a 28 1/2 inch vsl but sometimes on smaller ones  I use 25.  When I do, I find that C tuning sounds better.

Joy W.
Joy W.
@joy-w
7 years ago
19 posts

Guy Babusek:
I keep threatening to publish a tab book and I hope to get that accomplished in 2016! 

I love your arrangements Guy, and would definitely be in line to buy a book of your tabs. :)

Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
7 years ago
96 posts

Kathy Ford:
 Guy, where might I find the tab for Wayfaring Stranger? One of my all time favorite songs, and you do an amazing job fingerpicking it. Love the sound of the dulcimer you are playing also.

Thank you so much for your kind words, Kathy!  That is my own arrangement of Wayfaring Stranger. I keep threatening to publish a tab book and I hope to get that accomplished in 2016! 

Kathy Ford
Kathy Ford
@kathy-ford
7 years ago
6 posts

 Guy, where might I find the tab for Wayfaring Stranger? One of my all time favorite songs, and you do an amazing job fingerpicking it. Love the sound of the dulcimer you are playing also.

marg
@marg
7 years ago
592 posts

George, 

 (I just picked up a couple Warren Mays, and find that they overall have a very mellow voice.)

I am trying to get a W. May dulcimer, I will be in Louisville Jan. 15th and just don't have the time to run over to visit his shop. Wish I could have been in your pocket as you picked out your dulcimers. 

marg.

marg
@marg
7 years ago
592 posts

(belong to a group in Berea, KY)

Yes, Warren May is there, wish he was closer to Louisville since I will be visiting there next week.

    Jan. 8 - ...? there is a winter fest in Louisville, may have some dulcimer builders there. Google Louisville, winter Fest or Jan 8th and see if you find something.

Good luck,

marg.

Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
8 years ago
96 posts

Another option is a Jerry Rockwell dulcimer.  This one has a lovely warm tone as well, which may be what you are looking for. It's not really all that deep of a body either. I still own this one, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves:

 


updated by @guy-babusek: 12/31/15 07:37:47PM
Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
8 years ago
96 posts

I owned a Ewing dulcimer, which had a lovely warm sound. I sold it, since I was pretty much only playing my Aeolus, but I think it's one of the nicest sounding of the mid-range priced dulcimers I have played.  I have a couple videos of me playing it here, that may be close to the sound you are looking for. It's not very large or deep body, but is till a lovely warm sound.:


updated by @guy-babusek: 12/31/15 07:38:37PM
dulcinina
@dulcinina
8 years ago
85 posts

Thank you Dusty and Annie for your input.  Sorry I piggy-backed on the string discussion.  I realized my error after I posted.  Warren May's studio is in Berea and I plan to visit soon.  I thought he might be out of my price range but since I have such a great resource so close I'm definitely going to check it out.

 

Dusty, you gave me lots to consider and I appreciate the details.  After reading your response I've decided my "scrunching" problem is due to instrument position. I do use my thumb a lot and some pinky.  I've tried angling the dulcimer as in your video with little success in the past.  As I said, the action on my dulcimer is high and I really have to press hard to get the note/sound.  I am able to play my instructor's dulcimer with much more ease. 

The search is on.  What fun. Nina

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,028 posts

Jane -- Warren May is an individual.  Here's his website:

http://www.warrenamay.com/dulcimers/

Warren does not build anything he calls a baritone, but his "wide hourglass" and "hourdrop" models certainly have the warm, rich characteristics we've been discussing and are designed for conventional D tunings. 

To be honest, I don't think you need a baritone dulcimer.   Baritone dulcimers do not usually come set up for conventional DAd, DAA tunings, but rather deeper -- AEa or AEE -- they need different strings to be tuned conventionally.    I think you need a conventional dulcimer that is a bit wider and deeper than most.  I think the only way you're going to find the instrument to suit you is to play as many different makes and models as you can find.

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

Do the Warren Mays also have baritone dulcimers?

Estes George
Estes George
@george-desjardins
8 years ago
92 posts

I find that it's not really the strings but the dulcimer itself that either does, or doesn't give you the warm mellow sound, the type of wood also plays into it in a big way, such as comparing Cherry to Walnut or red cedar. tuning is the next big one, for me personally anyway, I find the CGC tuning to be very warm mellow sound, but have also found it doesn't always "work" on all dulcimers, it really depends on the personality and voice of each individual dulcimer.

 I just picked up a couple Warren Mays, and find that they overall have a very mellow voice.

 I'll be posting a new forum at some point highlighting the Warren Mays, I got a lot of great feedback from folks here at FOTMD about Warrens dulcimers, and I'm not disappointed in the least, some of my favorites to play, and they handle the CGC tuning like a champ!!!

Annie Deeley
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
8 years ago
49 posts

Dulcinina, doesn't Warren May build dulcimers in Berea? Might be huge fun to try his out, or maybe you have already. Wish I could!

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

Robert,  Thank you so much for sharing your sound clip, sounded wonderful. That is the warm rich sound that I'm talking about and seeking. I also saw a You Tube video of Ron Ewing - Mountain Dulcimers and the 1st one he showed and played was his baritone and it also had that  wonderful sound. I guess that I will have to save up some money to invest in a baritone dulcimer, since there is no way I'm going to get the sound I seek with my Student Dulcimer. There is no way that I will ever get to a dulcimer festive up where I live, there is none. That's why I so much appreciate everyone's help, advice, sharing their experiences and sound clips, it gives me a better understanding, and the knowledge to determine which way I need to go, to get the sound I desire from a dulcimer.

God Bless You All,

  Jane

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,631 posts

Nice playing, Robert.  It makes sense that the larger box and longer VSL of a baritone would produce a richer, deeper sound with more sustain.  I think that was Strumelia's point above.  I know Blue Lion has a model called "Acoustic Jam" which is a standard dulcimer put on the same size box as their baritone and bass models.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
8 years ago
255 posts

Here is a sound clip I uploaded that might give you a rough idea of what a baritone dulcimer can sound like tuned up to C. Deep bodies and long VSL's will give you the sound your looking for... Robert.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,631 posts

dulcinina:
The length on my dulcimer from nut to bridge is 27" and I feel like I'm scrunching to reach the 9th and 10th frets.  I am an average size woman with small hands.  I know what I want in sound but am confused by some of the language when I've done research.  What is considered a starter or beginner dulcimer?  McSpadden's website refers to "bridge compensation option" if you want to play in DAD.  What's that? I was planning to wait until the Ohio Valley Gathering in Feb. in hopes of trying out several instruments.  What other things should I look for? Dulcinina from the Beginner Group.


 


Dulcinina, you ask several questions here, and you might consider posting them separately as their own discussion.


 


I am not sure what you mean by "scrunching to reach the 9th and 10th frets."  Are you having trouble reaching from one fret to another, or are you having trouble just playing up the fretboard? If it is the latter, the issue is how the dulcimer is positioned on your lap.  Sit with your lap flat but you legs apart (you can't be "ladylike" and play the dulcimer!).  Assuming you are a righty, Put the head of the dulcimer out over your left knee and the bottom of the dulcimer in tight on your right thigh.  The dulcimer should be angled out towards your left, so that you can reach the low frets and the high frets equally easily. The exact angle of the dulcimer will be influenced by factors such as the length of your arm and whether you use your pinky or thumb, but you will want to angle the dulcimer at least as much as Mark Gilston does and perhaps as much as Guy Babusek does .  Most likely, you'll be somewhere in the middle.


 


A beginner or starter or student dulcimer is just a less expensive dulcimer intended for someone who might be interested in playing but is not yet ready to commit to buying a more expensive instrument.  I don't know what dulcimer Jane has, but I bought a student dulcimer made by David "Harpmaker" Lynch.  It cost a mere $125.  To make an instrument in that price range, David uses birch ply instead of more expensive tonewoods, spends only a minimal amount of time putting an easy curve into the side instead of more elaborate hourglass shapes, only uses simple circles for soundholes instead of fancier shapes, uses plastic instead of bone for the nut and bridge, only offers a flat head instead of an elaborate scroll head, and so forth.  Because David is a master luthier, the intonation is dead on and the dulcimer has a lot of volume. The action is also very good.  As I said above, I have one which I keep on the east to play when I visit there.  Here is a video I posted a few years ago , if you can excuse my vocals.


 


A compensated bridge is merely a bridge that has been adjusted for the specific strings.  Without getting into the physics, basically the distance between the nut and the bridge should be slightly different for strings tuned to different pitches.  If you buy a dulcimer from McSpadden or Blue Lion or whoever, it is good to indicate if you will tune primarily in DAA or DAd, for they can adjust the bridge to compensate for that tuning.  To be honest, I change tunings on my dulcimers and don't notice the change in intonation, so the difference is probably only noticeable to the most discerning ears.


 


As I stated above, I strongly recommend playing for a few years before making a big investment in an expensive instrument.  While I personally don't believe the type of wood to be a major factor in the tone of an instrument, I do prefer softwoods such as spruce or cedar for the soundboard rather than an all-hardwood instrument. I also really like an ebony overlay on the fretboard to allow for easy fingering and resist damage by my sometimes careless flatpicking.  I prefer a flat head for ease of stringing. Although shorter VSLs are more comfortable, longer ones usually mean more sustain. Now that I sometimes play in public, I want an internal pickup on any new dulcimer I get.  I could go on, but the list of my personal preferences is no guide to anyone else except for the general principle that there are a lot of variables in dulcimer building and you have to play a while to discover what your preferences are.


 


By all means, try out as many instruments as you can and see how they feel and how they sound. Also pay attention to the videos of dulcimer players you enjoy and whose dulcimers sound nice to you and ask about them.  Be patient.  The longer you wait the more you will know exactly what kinds of variables matter to you, and the more your next dulcimer will really be the ideal dulcimer for you.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 12/29/15 04:57:53PM
robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
8 years ago
255 posts

 One thing you can do is buy a baritone dulcimer and string it for Dad tuning... Robert.

dulcinina
@dulcinina
8 years ago
85 posts

The advice to Jane was just what I needed to read because I'm champing at the bit to get a new dulcimer and was ready to call a builder in my area to set up an appointment to try out his instruments.  My dulcimer was made in '87 by someone who built as a hobby.  The action is high and probably is meant to be played with a noter, which is how I started.  I belong to a group in Berea, KY and the leader has brought 3 of her dulcimers for me to play--Folkcraft, Blue Lion and McSpadden.  I, too, want a warmer, mellower sound and so far found it in the McSpadden.  But I want to buy an instrument I can try out before I buy.

The length on my dulcimer from nut to bridge is 27" and I feel like I'm scrunching to reach the 9th and 10th frets.  I am an average size woman with small hands.  I know what I want in sound but am confused by some of the language when I've done research.  What is considered a starter or beginner dulcimer?  McSpadden's website refers to "bridge compensation option" if you want to play in DAD.  What's that?

I was planning to wait until the Ohio Valley Gathering in Feb. in hopes of trying out several instruments.  What other things should I look for? Dulcinina from the Beginner Group.

Annie Deeley
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
8 years ago
49 posts

Hi Jane. From the comments you have made, I think your student dulcimer may be the same model as my first dulcimer. if you want to chat about them, "follow" me and I will message you back with some of the things I have found helpful. 

joe sanguinette
joe sanguinette
@joe-sanguinette
8 years ago
73 posts

jane when you are ready for a new dulcimer i would suggest attending a dulcimer festival where the instruments of several luthiiers are available.
you can compare and choose the one you like best

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,129 posts

Jane Dyer:
Good Morning,   I really need some advice on strings, to get a very warm richer sound from my dulcimer...  It is a 4 string student size mountain dulcimer and the vsl is 26" from the nut to the bridge with DAD tuning.   Could you please give me some advice and direction on how to get the warm rich sound that I'm seeking??   Best Regards  

 


Jane, you've gotten lots of good replies so far.  


I notice you say it's a 'student sized' 26" with DAd tuning.  I assume that along with the shorter scale length, the "student' means it's also a smaller shallower body.  Though small tweaks can indeed change an instrument's sound a little bit, changing strings in my opinion is not likely to make a small soundbox entry-level short scale dulcimer sound "very warm and rich".  More than any other factor, I would say that dulcimers with larger or deeper (taller) bodies/soundboxes will sound deeper, richer, and warmer.  Think about the difference in tone between a smaller tenor guitar and a large dreadnaught guitar.  Or between different sized wooden recorders.  Perhaps an extreme example, but- you can't make a viola sound like a cello by changing strings.


The good news?- you may have to have more than one dulcimer for different sounds.   winky




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
8 years ago
96 posts

If you are going to be playing mostly in DAA instead of DAD, I find that changing the treble string to a heavier gauge which matches the middle string gives a better sound. Otherwise that upper string can sound kind of floppy and lifeless IMO. 

I like CGC a lot. Especially if I am playing a tune that hangs out lot in the upper range of the instrument. The upper notes in DAD don't have the same ring to them IMO.


updated by @guy-babusek: 12/28/15 10:51:04AM
joe sanguinette
joe sanguinette
@joe-sanguinette
8 years ago
73 posts

robert nailed it.  i have built 2 instruments (more than once) that were identical and made from the same board that sounded totaly

different.  lynn mc spaden told me the thickness of the top had more to do with the tone than the type of wood used.

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
8 years ago
255 posts

Jane. Every dulcimer like every person has its own voice. People can change, dulcimers can't..  There is a tyranry of tuning when in a group that says everybody must tune to Dad... But at home alone find the key that sound best. At some point you want to try different tuning / modes.. Daa will definitely sound a bit more warmer. The dulcimer was never intended to be tuned only to one key and one mode. This is what makes this seemingly simple instrument so complex and exciting..  Robert.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,028 posts

I agree with Dusty.  There are so many factors that affect the sound of a dulcimer tha wood selection plays a very tiny part.  Volume of the body -- length without head x width x depth will affect the sound more -- larger volumes give a more 'mellow' sound. Buy what looks good to you, and most importantly what sounds the way you want. 

Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
8 years ago
96 posts

Jane, You have gotten some excellent responses from the great people and players on this board.

 

I agree with Dusty, that while wood can definitely affect the timbre of your instrument, it has much more to do with how the instrument is built, and how it is played.

 

I find that paying great attention to my technique, using as little pressure as possible when I fret, and using a light touch on my picking hand. Regardless of whether I'm finger picking or using a pick to strum I have to be careful of how I'm playing... not digging into the strings very hard to play them, but getting  a nice brush on top of the strings to set them vibrating.

I have personally found that the longest VSL my body can manage seems to also help me as far as sustain goes... so while you don't want an instrument that is too long for your body, you don't want to go too short either. 

 

Size, build, materials and technique all play their own part in the tonal quality of your sound.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,631 posts

Jane, some woods do indeed create a slightly warmer sound than others, but many other aspects of dulcimer design have an even greater effect.  A Blue Lion dulcimer will always sound bigger and warmer than a Pritchard replica no matter what woods are chosen.

I suggest you listen to other dulcimer players and when you hear a tone you like, inquire about who made the dulcimer.  Then you can talk further with the luthier.

 

But as Dan says above, take your time.  There are a lot of variables of dulcimer construction and you need to develop your preferences before you know what your ideal dulcimer would be.  It took me about 3 years of playing before I knew the kinds of attributes I want on a dulcimer.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
8 years ago
156 posts

I think that you will find that walnut will fit you're needs very well.  In the meantime, don't be in a big hurry.  Ask questions, listen and watch the sound files and videos here on FOTMD.  We are all willing to share our experiences and knowledge with our newer players.  Several of our members are builders as well as good players. I've been on my own dulcimer journey for six years and have enjoyed every moment (aside from a few ill advised purchases on Ebay).  We all enjoy sharing our adventures during our journey and welcome you and look forward to hearing yours too.

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

When I can get a new dulcimer, what type of wood should it be made of that will give it a warmer mellow sound?

joe sanguinette
joe sanguinette
@joe-sanguinette
8 years ago
73 posts

jane it sounds like the dulcimer.....especially the top is birch plywood.  there is not much you can do to improve or change the

tone.  you might try tuning in ionian (Daa)

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

thank you so much, I will give it a try thumbsup

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,631 posts

Jane, you've received good advice so far. Try CGc tuning and see what you think. The deeper sound might please you.

You might also increase the gauge of your bass string to .024 or even .026, but your melody and middle string should probably not be increased much.

Also, if you angle the dulcimer up a tiny bit so that it is not sitting flat on your lap, you will likely get more vibration from the bottom, which should open up the sound a bit.  You could also place your dulcimer on a wooden table and see if the increased resonance and sustain is something you like. If so, you might play with a possom board, or at least a wooden plank under your dulcimer.

 

I don't know if any of these changes would really produce a warmer, richer sound, but they will make slight changes and perhaps you'll like what you hear.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 12/26/15 07:12:29PM
Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

as far as I know it has a  birch body, birch sound board

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
8 years ago
156 posts

Jane, CGC is one step lower than DAD and may suit you needs.  "Warm Rich" sound is a very subjective phrase.  What sounds warm and rich to you're ears may not sound that way to mine.  You are presently using larger guage strings on you're melody and middle strings than I have used on my dulcimers with the same VSL.  What woods were used on your dulcimer and who built it?  If that person is still building and has a website they may be able to give you better information.

"

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

do you think with that tuning of CGC, I might get the warmer, richer sound? I don't know if I can increase the string gauge anymore for the size dulcimer. What would be the most string gauge I can put on for melody strings, middle and bass? I appreciate all your help and advice.

Best Regards

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
8 years ago
156 posts

Jane, you can still use you're DAD tab if you tune down to CGC.

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

No I have not tried a different tuning, all the music I have is for DAD tuning. The max width is 7 1/2 "(at the widest part), the full length is about 32 1/2 and the depth is 2". And the vsl is 26" from the nut to the bridge.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,028 posts

I have a sneaking suspicion that you've maxed out the amount of 'warm rich' sound that simply changing strings can give you.

Have you tried dropping down and playing in C -- CGG or CGc?  You say you have a "student size" instrument, and I don't know what that means -- who made the instrument?  What is the max width, length and depth?  Dulcimers with more cubic inches of internal volume generally have a more 'mellow' sound, than small instruments.   As do dulcimers with VSLs longer than 26" or even 27".

You can certainly try nylon/gut strings, but to work best you may need to change out the nut and bridge for ones with wider notches.  Start with nylon gauges about the same as your steel strings.

Jane Dyer
Jane Dyer
@jane-dyer
8 years ago
8 posts

Good Morning,

 

I really need some advice on strings, to get a very warm richer sound from my mountain dulcimer. It is a 4 string student size mountain dulcimer and the vsl is 26" from the nut to the bridge with DAD tuning. I recently put on some guitar strings they were Elixir Brand, the 2 melody strings have .013 gauge, the middle string .015 and the last string .023 Elixir Acoustic polyweb coating string. It still doesn't have that very warm rich sound I want. I have seen online that some have put on nylon strings on their mountain dulcimer, but not sure if that would accomplish the sound I want. Plus I would have no idea what nylon string gauge to even try. Could you please give me some advice and direction on how to get the warm rich sound that I'm seeking??

 

Best Regards

 


updated by @jane-dyer: 06/08/16 09:24:05PM