purpose of design features on a MD

folkfan
@folkfan
7 years ago
449 posts
I like the look of your board, Robin. It looks like it would work quite well.I haven't made one for a specific instrument, as my board is adjustable to fit all sizes, which I have.Figured out that one board for 14 instruments was better than having 14 boards and trying to remember which one fit which instrument. At my age, I'd be all day just matching the critters up. heheheheheeRobin Clark said:
Hi D.T.

Here are some photos of the board. I simply cut it from a piece of ply. It really only took me an hour or so to build. I didn't put much time into it as I wasn't sure if it would work - but I've been using it every day for the last 9 months!
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Great job, Robin! The only possom board I've held in my hands was a large and awkward piece of rectangular wood. I couldn't imagine playing with that on my lap. But yours is clearly tailored specifically for your dulcimer. You've inspired me. Perhaps the next free weekend I get I'll have to fashion one of my own.Thanks for the pictures.D.T.Robin Clark said:
Hi D.T.

Here are some photos of the board. I simply cut it from a piece of ply. It really only took me an hour or so to build. I didn't put much time into it as I wasn't sure if it would work - but I've been using it every day for the last 9 months!



I use a strap on my MD and the board and MD sit together snuggly because of those little flanges at each end.

Robin

Dusty Turtle said:
Robin, might I ask what the dimensions of your possom board are? I had never really thought about using one, largely because I mainly play alone so volume isn't an issue. But your description makes me wonder how my dulcimer would sound with a possom board. I play with a strap and can only imagine putting a small board underneath.

D.T.

Robin Clark said:
I built a simple possum board for my MD and was very surprised at the difference it made. It has given the instrument more volume and a rounder tone. I have a strap on my MD and it holds the MD and the possum board that the MD rests on just fine - I have found no need to attach the two together. Having heard what a possum board can do, I am having a Galax style false back built onto the MD I have presently on order as I want the possum board built-in for ease of use.

Robin





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Dusty T., Northern California
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Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
7 years ago
1,397 posts
Nice job Robin! The best Possum Boards, IMHO, are those that are built to hold a specific dulcimer, and yours is a great example.
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
7 years ago
352 posts
Hi D.T.Here are some photos of the board. I simply cut it from a piece of ply. It really only took me an hour or so to build. I didn't put much time into it as I wasn't sure if it would work - but I've been using it every day for the last 9 months!

I use a strap on my MD and the board and MD sit together snuggly because of those little flanges at each end.RobinDusty Turtle said:
Robin, might I ask what the dimensions of your possom board are? I had never really thought about using one, largely because I mainly play alone so volume isn't an issue. But your description makes me wonder how my dulcimer would sound with a possom board. I play with a strap and can only imagine putting a small board underneath.

D.T.

Robin Clark said:
I built a simple possum board for my MD and was very surprised at the difference it made. It has given the instrument more volume and a rounder tone. I have a strap on my MD and it holds the MD and the possum board that the MD rests on just fine - I have found no need to attach the two together. Having heard what a possum board can do, I am having a Galax style false back built onto the MD I have presently on order as I want the possum board built-in for ease of use.

Robin

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Robin, might I ask what the dimensions of your possom board are? I had never really thought about using one, largely because I mainly play alone so volume isn't an issue. But your description makes me wonder how my dulcimer would sound with a possom board. I play with a strap and can only imagine putting a small board underneath.D.T.Robin Clark said:
I built a simple possum board for my MD and was very surprised at the difference it made. It has given the instrument more volume and a rounder tone. I have a strap on my MD and it holds the MD and the possum board that the MD rests on just fine - I have found no need to attach the two together. Having heard what a possum board can do, I am having a Galax style false back built onto the MD I have presently on order as I want the possum board built-in for ease of use.

Robin



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Dusty T., Northern California
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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Ken, you are probably right that when I first began playing and had problems with the end of the instrument lifting up it was due to faulty positioning. But our attitudes toward the strap are completely different. Once I attached a strap to my dulcimer and could position it exactly how I wanted to, it really became mine and my playing began to advance. I find it not restricting but liberating since it secures the instrument against your body and allows you to play without having to worry about the instrument moving at all. I think I read on some post at this site Dan Daniels discussing how he holds the instrument by bracing both hands against it while playing so that he can adjust the dulcimer on his lap as he plays. I find playing alone demands all my attention and don't want to worry about my dulcimer develop a sense of wanderlust.Best,D.T.Ken Hulme said:
No reason you can't put a strap on a possum board! Either gravity or a low pressure bungee or rubber band holds the dulcimer on the possum board (sometimes a wooden toggle).

Tail-end lifting when you fret near the head is caused by not having your knees far enough apart and the dulcimer placed incorrectly on your lap. The nut or first fret should be over your left knee, the other end tucked into you right hip. The dulcimer does not naturally sit at right angles to your lap.

Personally I find straps very encumbering and restricting.



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Dusty T., Northern California
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Robin Clark
@robin-clark
7 years ago
352 posts
I built a simple possum board for my MD and was very surprised at the difference it made. It has given the instrument more volume and a rounder tone. I have a strap on my MD and it holds the MD and the possum board that the MD rests on just fine - I have found no need to attach the two together. Having heard what a possum board can do, I am having a Galax style false back built onto the MD I have presently on order as I want the possum board built-in for ease of use.Robin
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
7 years ago
1,397 posts
No reason you can't put a strap on a possum board! Either gravity or a low pressure bungee or rubber band holds the dulcimer on the possum board (sometimes a wooden toggle).Tail-end lifting when you fret near the head is caused by not having your knees far enough apart and the dulcimer placed incorrectly on your lap. The nut or first fret should be over your left knee, the other end tucked into you right hip. The dulcimer does not naturally sit at right angles to your lap.Personally I find straps very encumbering and restricting.
folkfan
@folkfan
7 years ago
449 posts
Here's a picture of two of my possum boards. The backs of both are covered with a non slip rubber surface so they don't slide. The one with the extending leg allows me to change my leg positions easier as I have arthritis in my knees and sometimes just need to unbend them. The leg acts as a stabilizer when I stretch my legs out. I've never used a strap on a dulcimer, but I do know that people have added straps to possum boards to feel more secure.

Paul Certo said:
I'm new to the possum boards. What keeps them in your lap any better than the bare dulcimer? I have used a strap on everything I play, even my harmonica's are nearly always in a holder.
The zero fret is a manufacturing shortcut, for the most part. To adjust the string height at the nut takes longer, so some makers use a zero fret. I don't mean to imply that it is to be avoided. If the maker uses it, that's fine. What I meant to express was that it was no particular advantage for the player, and not worth adding as an option at extra cost. Frequently, manufacturers ship their instruments with high action, allowing the dealer to adjust it to the preferences of the buyer. I have seen a lot of guitars and other instruments on which the dealer didn't bother to adjust the string height at the nut, leaving the purchaser with an instrument that was hard to play. Some don't have personnel to make these adjustments, and tell you to take it somewhere at your expense.These dealers should be avoided. I shouldn't have said "maker" in my original post, as the problem mostly rests with dealers who don't build instruments. A lot of good dealers are out there, ready to adjust any instrument they sell. I hope I haven't created confusion. One of my dulcimers has a zero fret, but whether there is a sound difference from that, I couldn't possibly say. There are too many differences in my 2 dulcimers to narrow it down to any one factor.Paul
Paul Certo
@paul-certo
7 years ago
293 posts
I'm new to the possum boards. What keeps them in your lap any better than the bare dulcimer? I have used a strap on everything I play, even my harmonica's are nearly always in a holder.The zero fret is a manufacturing shortcut, for the most part. To adjust the string height at the nut takes longer, so some makers use a zero fret. I don't mean to imply that it is to be avoided. If the maker uses it, that's fine. What I meant to express was that it was no particular advantage for the player, and not worth adding as an option at extra cost. Frequently, manufacturers ship their instruments with high action, allowing the dealer to adjust it to the preferences of the buyer. I have seen a lot of guitars and other instruments on which the dealer didn't bother to adjust the string height at the nut, leaving the purchaser with an instrument that was hard to play. Some don't have personnel to make these adjustments, and tell you to take it somewhere at your expense.These dealers should be avoided. I shouldn't have said "maker" in my original post, as the problem mostly rests with dealers who don't build instruments. A lot of good dealers are out there, ready to adjust any instrument they sell.I hope I haven't created confusion. One of my dulcimers has a zero fret, but whether there is a sound difference from that, I couldn't possibly say. There are too many differences in my 2 dulcimers to narrow it down to any one factor.Paul
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Hi Folkfan,I was introduced to a possomboard about two weeks after installing strap buttons on my dulcimer, and the strap was such a revelation, I didn't even consider the possom board. You are right that it would allow you to increase the volume on all your instruments, rather than just the one with a double-back, but at this point I'm pretty wedded to my strap. Until I installed the strap, I had enormous problems not only with the dulcimer sliding around my lap, but also with the back end lifting up when I played on the first few frets. Maybe my legs are just to short and small to fully hold the instrument. But getting a strap on there improved my playing immediately and really made the instrument "mine." There might be a way to play with a possom boad and a strap, but something tells me it would be difficult.Anyway, I was initially just looking for clarification that the purpose of a double back was just for volume and not something else.Thanks again,D.T.folkfan said:
D.T. One thing you might want to think about when it comes to a double back is substituting a possum board. You mentioned not playing flat in your lap, so I tried my possum board resting in a more up right angled position. It held my dulcimer securely, and did increase the sound in that position. Usually I play flat across my lap, but with it more at an upright angle it also gave me a place to rest my right arm. And a strap can be attached to the board rather than the dulcimer.

The advantage I see in the possum board over a double back is that with one possum board all my dulcimers can have a freed up bottom for an increase in volume, or not if I don't want or need the extra sound. Just a thought. Smile.gif



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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Thanks, Strumelia. Your comments about the zero fret echo those of Paul, that a good luthier shouldn't need a zero fret. As for the sound preferences, I'll leave that up to you noter/drone players to figure out.D.T.Strumelia said:
And myself on the other hand- I don't care for zero frets. They give my drones a slightly metallic sound as compared to how they sound with a bone type nut. Regardless of the fretted melody string tone, I still like the drones to sound 'non-fretted', just my own preference. Smile.gif
And I think a well made instrument shouldn't need a zero fret to improve intonation.



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folkfan
@folkfan
7 years ago
449 posts
D.T. One thing you might want to think about when it comes to a double back is substituting a possum board. You mentioned not playing flat in your lap, so I tried my possum board resting in a more up right angled position. It held my dulcimer securely, and did increase the sound in that position. Usually I play flat across my lap, but with it more at an upright angle it also gave me a place to rest my right arm. And a strap can be attached to the board rather than the dulcimer.The advantage I see in the possum board over a double back is that with one possum board all my dulcimers can have a freed up bottom for an increase in volume, or not if I don't want or need the extra sound. Just a thought. Smile.gif
Strumelia
@strumelia
7 years ago
1,702 posts
And myself on the other hand- I don't care for zero frets. They give my drones a slightly metallic sound as compared to how they sound with a bone type nut. Regardless of the fretted melody string tone, I still like the drones to sound 'non-fretted', just my own preference. And I think a well made instrument shouldn't need a zero fret to improve intonation.


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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Thanks, Carson. Your comments about the material of the zero fret make sense. That would imply that it is not so much the existence of a zero fret but the fact that the zero fret and the other frets are the same material. One might conceivably make a nut out of that material to achieve the same purpose. And yes, it would seem reasonable that the difference in tone quality would be much more noticeable in noter/drone style than chord/melody.Most of the dulcimers with the double back also have larger bodies, like the Galax instruments, which would make it hard to isolate the effect of the double back alone on volume.Thanks for your comments.D.T.Carson Turner said:
I've found that having a 0 fret improves/unifies the timbre of the open string compared to fretted strings. That is, the open string has the same sound quality as the fretted strings because the string stop is the same material in both cases compared to fret vs nut material.

I play noter and drone on unison strings though so having a different timbre on two of my strings is a noticeable problem. I suspect if I was a chord style player then I might not notice it as much because the members of the chord would be fretted more often.

I do play Galax style (but don't own a Galax instrument, yet) and the double bottom is traditional in that style. As I understand, the only real purpose is to remove the dampening effect our lap has on the back just as playing atop a resonator box (or table) would. What I wonder though is why, if we're interested in transferring vibration to the back, that we don't use a soundpost in conjunction with that false bottom.



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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
It makes sense, David, that the binding would serve a protective purpose. I had never thought of that. As for the zero fret, I am still confused. I've heard some folks say it creates superior intonation and action, but Paul's comments above imply that a careful and patient luthier shouldn't need to use one. I don't think that will be a major determining factor in my next dulcimer. The scalloped freboard does look nice, I agree, but I'd rather put whatever money I can justify spending on another instrument (I have guitars, mandolins, autoharps, and a few assorted banjo ukes and other oddities as well as my dulcimer) into a better sounding instrument and not just a better looking one. And you are right that even small dulcimer gatherings with no vendors still have dulcimers. I'll just have to be a bit more outgoing and ask to try a few.Thanks for your advice,D.T.David Swanson said:
I won't rehash the good advice others have given you, just add what I have been told:
Binding is said to protect the corner/joint from damage coming from minor impacts, besides its cosmetic function. It is the one "option" that the guy who built my dulcimer really pushed, for that reason.
Scalloped fretboards look really cool when done correctly. That is almost enough to justify them by itself.
I wouldn't rule out a builder just because they do or don't use a zero fret, it is just a differnt way of doing the same thing. I certainly wouldn't ask a luthier to add one if they don't usually use it, or delete one if they do. There are fine instruments around built both ways.
Even if there ae no luthiers at a festival, there are usually people there with a number of different dulcimers that you can see, hear, and often play if you ask nice.

Good luck!



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David Swanson
@david-swanson
7 years ago
20 posts
I won't rehash the good advice others have given you, just add what I have been told:Binding is said to protect the corner/joint from damage coming from minor impacts, besides its cosmetic function. It is the one "option" that the guy who built my dulcimer really pushed, for that reason.Scalloped fretboards look really cool when done correctly. That is almost enough to justify them by itself.I wouldn't rule out a builder just because they do or don't use a zero fret, it is just a differnt way of doing the same thing. I certainly wouldn't ask a luthier to add one if they don't usually use it, or delete one if they do. There are fine instruments around built both ways.Even if there ae no luthiers at a festival, there are usually people there with a number of different dulcimers that you can see, hear, and often play if you ask nice.Good luck!
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
That's good advice, Folkfan. When I bought my dulcimer about 11 months ago I contacted a luthier who I thought was in the area, but it turned out he had moved a few states away (and a few states on the west coast can mean a long distance). But we did speak on the phone a few times and he was nice enough to bring several instruments for me to choose from when we finally did meet as he was traveling through northern California on a kind of working vacation.But back then I had no idea what I was looking for and had never heard a dulcimer played live. And other than the dulcimer I bought, which I like a lot, by the way, I have only heard another dulcimer on one occasion, so I really don't have a good idea about the subtlies of sound that differentiate different designs, different woods, and so forth.If I win the lottery tonight I'll quit my job and apprentice myself to a luthier for a while so I can learn this stuff. Otherwise, I'll have to follow your sage advice and contact one or more of the luthiers I am considering for my MD #2.Thanks again,D.T.folkfan said:
One thing you can do is make some phone calls to some of the builders here and on ED. Talk to them about what you are looking for by way of sound and see if they can build an instrument to your needs. Some builders, like McSpadden or other factory built instruments, don't modify their design as they are looking for a certain consistency of sound. Which is understandable as they do a large wholesale business as well as retail.

Other builders will be more adaptable as to size, depth of body, woods, sound holes designs etc. Talk to them about your wants as a buyer. Let them play a few instruments from what they have in stock and see if you and the builder can come up with a mutual design.

Dusty Turtle said:
Well, I am confused, folkfan, but that's not your fault!

It's apparent that there are a lot of variables involved, which makes me even more nervous about buying an instrument from someone whose work I've never played or heard.

D.T.


folkfan said:
D.T. Remember when it comes to comparing the sounds of wood from a guitar to a dulcimer, there is a great deal more wood sounding on a guitar and the bracing is different as well. Your combination of woods can have both a bright and a mellow tone depending on the size of the instrument and where the bridge is place in relationship to the tail block. A longer VSL can have a tinny sound in the higher octaves if the construction of the instrument narrows the body out under those frets and you have a small strum hollow way out on the end of the instrument. Or you can have a shorter VSL that doesn't sound tinny as the body of the instrument is wide and deep well beyond the end of the VSL. But if the luthier has correctly placed the frets you shouldn't have a drastic sharping or flatting of notes in the higher octave. Even the same VSL can sound different based on the shape of the instrument. Is that clear, or have I just confused you????.





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folkfan
@folkfan
7 years ago
449 posts
One thing you can do is make some phone calls to some of the builders here and on ED. Talk to them about what you are looking for by way of sound and see if they can build an instrument to your needs. Some builders, like McSpadden or other factory built instruments, don't modify their design as they are looking for a certain consistency of sound. Which is understandable as they do a large wholesale business as well as retail.Other builders will be more adaptable as to size, depth of body, woods, sound holes designs etc. Talk to them about your wants as a buyer. Let them play a few instruments from what they have in stock and see if you and the builder can come up with a mutual design.Dusty Turtle said:
Well, I am confused, folkfan, but that's not your fault!

It's apparent that there are a lot of variables involved, which makes me even more nervous about buying an instrument from someone whose work I've never played or heard.

D.T.


folkfan said:
D.T. Remember when it comes to comparing the sounds of wood from a guitar to a dulcimer, there is a great deal more wood sounding on a guitar and the bracing is different as well. Your combination of woods can have both a bright and a mellow tone depending on the size of the instrument and where the bridge is place in relationship to the tail block. A longer VSL can have a tinny sound in the higher octaves if the construction of the instrument narrows the body out under those frets and you have a small strum hollow way out on the end of the instrument. Or you can have a shorter VSL that doesn't sound tinny as the body of the instrument is wide and deep well beyond the end of the VSL. But if the luthier has correctly placed the frets you shouldn't have a drastic sharping or flatting of notes in the higher octave. Even the same VSL can sound different based on the shape of the instrument. Is that clear, or have I just confused you????.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Well, I am confused, folkfan, but that's not your fault!It's apparent that there are a lot of variables involved, which makes me even more nervous about buying an instrument from someone whose work I've never played or heard.D.T.folkfan said:
D.T. Remember when it comes to comparing the sounds of wood from a guitar to a dulcimer, there is a great deal more wood sounding on a guitar and the bracing is different as well. Your combination of woods can have both a bright and a mellow tone depending on the size of the instrument and where the bridge is place in relationship to the tail block. A longer VSL can have a tinny sound in the higher octaves if the construction of the instrument narrows the body out under those frets and you have a small strum hollow way out on the end of the instrument. Or you can have a shorter VSL that doesn't sound tinny as the body of the instrument is wide and deep well beyond the end of the VSL. But if the luthier has correctly placed the frets you shouldn't have a drastic sharping or flatting of notes in the higher octave. Even the same VSL can sound different based on the shape of the instrument. Is that clear, or have I just confused you????.



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Dusty T., Northern California
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folkfan
@folkfan
7 years ago
449 posts
D.T. Remember when it comes to comparing the sounds of wood from a guitar to a dulcimer, there is a great deal more wood sounding on a guitar and the bracing is different as well. Your combination of woods can have both a bright and a mellow tone depending on the size of the instrument and where the bridge is place in relationship to the tail block. A longer VSL can have a tinny sound in the higher octaves if the construction of the instrument narrows the body out under those frets and you have a small strum hollow way out on the end of the instrument. Or you can have a shorter VSL that doesn't sound tinny as the body of the instrument is wide and deep well beyond the end of the VSL. But if the luthier has correctly placed the frets you shouldn't have a drastic sharping or flatting of notes in the higher octave. Even the same VSL can sound different based on the shape of the instrument. Is that clear, or have I just confused you????.
Paul Certo
@paul-certo
7 years ago
293 posts
Cedar starts out mellower than spruce, but spruce mellows more as it ages. I believe spruce is considered to have a greater capacity to mellow as it ages than cedar does. I also have a cedar topped 12 string, and love the sound of it. There will be other factors that affect the sound as well. One of my dulcimers sounds a lot better played more gently, the other I can play as hard as I want and it still sounds good. There are several variables, and I really have no idea which variable is responsible to what extent. If you are able to get to a festival and play several dulcimers, you may find an instrument you can't walk away from. Maybe a road trip is in order?Paul
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Thanks, Folkfan. I don't think my fingers could hand a 30" VSL either. My current dulcimer has a VSL of 27" and there are some times when chording is a bit of a stretch. But on the other hand, when I move really high up the fretboard the instrument just sounds tinny. That might simply be due to mediocre craftsmanship, but I wonder if a longer VSL would help the strings ring out better when I finger them way up high like that.I'm undecided about the double back and scalloped fretboard. The idea of more volume is enticing, but there is something about the very simply design of dulcimers without those features that I find alluring. A simple folk instrument should be comfortable in a pair of blue jeans, not decked out in a tux.Thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps in a few months when I do get my new dulcimer I'll post an update so you can all know where I ended up.Thanks.D.T.folkfan said:
A double back will increase volume and might with the way you play increase it even more as both backs aren't as muffled as the bottom back is when lying across the lap.

Many makers allow the top to move more freely by decreasing the fretboard internally. They rout it out. Others will scallop. I like the full length fretboard for the bracing of the top along the complete length of the fretboard. Personal preference.

I've never had a dulcimer with a binding so I can't tell you anything about them.

Personally I like a semi gloss finish in a lacquer. The really heavy glossy coating on an instrument as small bodied as a normal dulcimer would deaden the sound, (IMO)

For my hand size I prefer a VSL just under 26inches, I had one once with a 30 inch and never could play it. I tried to learn chording on a longer VSL, but had an increased problem with my hands due to the stretch and strain, so gave up chording entirely.

I'd say go with the 1+ and 8+ if you think you'll use them.



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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts
Thanks, Paul, for taking so much time to respond to my post. I don't really have the ability to play a lot of instruments, which is a big part of my dilemma. The music stores in town don't carry dulcimers, and the one "festival" in the neighborhood (Redwood Dulcimer Day, about a 3-hour drive) isn't big enough to attract vendors. Except for the one day of that festival last summer, I've never heard a dulcimer played live other than my own. My 12-string guitar, which has a cedar top, has a more mellow sound than most guitars with a spruce top, so I think I know what people mean when they say one wood has a "brighter" tone than another, but honestly I'm not really sure. I wish I had the opportunity to play a dozen or more different dulcimers just to compare sounds, but I don't have that luxury.Anyway, thanks again for the information. You did clear up a number of questions I had.D.T.Paul Certo said:
The double back allows the back to vibrate more freely and allows a bit more volume. The scallopped fretboard would help in the same way by letting the top vibrate more. The scallops also allow you to use a guitar capo, if they are located under the area where you would capo each fret. So the scallops would have the same spacing pattern as the frets, at least up to the 7th fret. I'm not sure if anyone would capo above that point, but it's an option. There are a few other things builders do to increase volume, such as only allowing part of the fretboard to contact the top. Usually, the area towards the tuners is anchored to the top, and the other end of the fretboard is cut away to let the top vibrate free.
The zero fret is just in front of the nut. It allows the strings to be as close to the neck at the 1st fret as it would be to other frets when you press the string down to the frets. A skilled maker can adjust the nut height so the zero fret is unnecessary, but some makers use them. I have one guitar & one dulcimer with zero frets, and others without. I wouldn't order one on purpose, if your chosen maker doesn't normally use one. It does nothing to justify the expense, unless the maker doesn't want to take the time to adjust the string height at the nut. If a builder told me he wasn't willing to make his instruments play well, I'd find another maker. On the other hand, my dulcimers were both kits. The maker of a kit has no control over the abilities, or lack of abillities, his kit will recieve. I can completely understand the use of a zero fret in a kit. It's much simpler for a hack like me to get good action without ruining 2 or 3 nuts on the way. It also makes it possible to build a kit with less nut slotting tools. Again, the home hobbyist/builder is in mind here.
Binding is mostly decorative. It does seal the end grain of the wood, but I'm not sure how much need there is for it. Mine don't have it, I suspect most kit models don't.
A thick heavy finish will deaden the sound of an instrument. But a proper, thin finish can shine, it depends on the product used.
A short VSL will bring the frets closer together. If you have small hands, this makes it easier to play, if you use chords, or find yourself stretching to get your thumb on a fret far above your fingers. Playing noter style you might never see a problem either way. With a longer vsl, you have to tighten the strings to a higher tension to reach the same pitches. This extra tension makes the strings a bit harder to press to the frets, but with the action adjusted correctly, this shouldn't be a problem/ That goes back to the nut adjustment in the 1st question, plus the bridge height.
Softer woods such as spruce and cedar are pretty much the standard for most string instrument tops, with hard woods the standard for back & sides. The best thing to do is play as many dulcimers as you can to hear how the different choices affect the sound. Maple is a brighter sounding wood than walnut, mahogany or rosewood. It really comes down to what you want your new toy to sound like. Try as many as you can, and see what you like in woods, sounds and VSL's. Take your time, there's lots of choices. You wouldn't want to miss any!
Paul



--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
folkfan
@folkfan
7 years ago
449 posts
A double back will increase volume and might with the way you play increase it even more as both backs aren't as muffled as the bottom back is when lying across the lap.Many makers allow the top to move more freely by decreasing the fretboard internally. They rout it out. Others will scallop. I like the full length fretboard for the bracing of the top along the complete length of the fretboard. Personal preference.I've never had a dulcimer with a binding so I can't tell you anything about them.Personally I like a semi gloss finish in a lacquer. The really heavy glossy coating on an instrument as small bodied as a normal dulcimer would deaden the sound, (IMO)For my hand size I prefer a VSL just under 26inches, I had one once with a 30 inch and never could play it. I tried to learn chording on a longer VSL, but had an increased problem with my hands due to the stretch and strain, so gave up chording entirely.I'd say go with the 1+ and 8+ if you think you'll use them.
Paul Certo
@paul-certo
7 years ago
293 posts
The double back allows the back to vibrate more freely and allows a bit more volume. The scallopped fretboard would help in the same way by letting the top vibrate more. The scallops also allow you to use a guitar capo, if they are located under the area where you would capo each fret. So the scallops would have the same spacing pattern as the frets, at least up to the 7th fret. I'm not sure if anyone would capo above that point, but it's an option. There are a few other things builders do to increase volume, such as only allowing part of the fretboard to contact the top. Usually, the area towards the tuners is anchored to the top, and the other end of the fretboard is cut away to let the top vibrate free.The zero fret is just in front of the nut. It allows the strings to be as close to the neck at the 1st fret as it would be to other frets when you press the string down to the frets. A skilled maker can adjust the nut height so the zero fret is unnecessary, but some makers use them. I have one guitar & one dulcimer with zero frets, and others without. I wouldn't order one on purpose, if your chosen maker doesn't normally use one. It does nothing to justify the expense, unless the maker doesn't want to take the time to adjust the string height at the nut. If a builder told me he wasn't willing to make his instruments play well, I'd find another maker. On the other hand, my dulcimers were both kits. The maker of a kit has no control over the abilities, or lack of abillities, his kit will recieve. I can completely understand the use of a zero fret in a kit. It's much simpler for a hack like me to get good action without ruining 2 or 3 nuts on the way. It also makes it possible to build a kit with less nut slotting tools. Again, the home hobbyist/builder is in mind here.Binding is mostly decorative. It does seal the end grain of the wood, but I'm not sure how much need there is for it. Mine don't have it, I suspect most kit models don't.A thick heavy finish will deaden the sound of an instrument. But a proper, thin finish can shine, it depends on the product used.A short VSL will bring the frets closer together. If you have small hands, this makes it easier to play, if you use chords, or find yourself stretching to get your thumb on a fret far above your fingers. Playing noter style you might never see a problem either way. With a longer vsl, you have to tighten the strings to a higher tension to reach the same pitches. This extra tension makes the strings a bit harder to press to the frets, but with the action adjusted correctly, this shouldn't be a problem/ That goes back to the nut adjustment in the 1st question, plus the bridge height.Softer woods such as spruce and cedar are pretty much the standard for most string instrument tops, with hard woods the standard for back & sides. The best thing to do is play as many dulcimers as you can to hear how the different choices affect the sound. Maple is a brighter sounding wood than walnut, mahogany or rosewood. It really comes down to what you want your new toy to sound like. Try as many as you can, and see what you like in woods, sounds and VSL's. Take your time, there's lots of choices. You wouldn't want to miss any!Paul
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 years ago
859 posts

Howdy folks. The one-year anniversary of the purchase of my first and only dulcimer is fast approaching, and since it appears the dulcimer is going to "stick" with me, I am already considering a second dulcimer. There are so many decent builders out there it is intimidating, but there are also a variety of design features the purpose of which is not clear to me. Please help.

a double back: My understanding is that the false or double back just lifts the "real" back off your lap so that it can vibrate better and provide more volume. Is that correct? I play with a strap around my lower back and the dulcimer tilted up slightly, not vertical like a guitar, but not fully horizontal either. So when I play the bottom is raised partly anyway. With that physical approach, would a double back accomplish anything?

a scalloped fretboard: I may be using this term incorrectly. On a guitar, a scalloped fretboard is one in which the fretboard in between each fret is scooped out so that you finger the string but don't actually press it against the wood. But I think the term is used with dulcimers to refer to a style of attaching the fretboard to the soundboard not continuously, but at regular intervals like a series of arch bridges, so that the fretboard sits above the soundboard, as in this Nicolas Hambas Concert Grand: http://www.hambasdulcimers.com/MOUNTAIN.html. What is the purpose of that feature? Does it allow more vibration of the soundboard? Does it allow sound to come out from under the fretboard? I think I saw one dulcimer that had no visible soundholes, for the holes were "hidden" underneath the scalopped fretboard. What exactly is the purpose of a scalopped fretboard?

a zero fret: I may not have sufficient understanding of physics, or maybe myears just aren'tthat discriminating, but what exactly is the purpose of the zero fret? I think I read somewhere that a zero fret allows more precise intonation than using the nut. I don't understand why that would be the case, but is that correct?

binding: most guitars have some kind of binding along the edges of the instrument, but few dulcimers do. Is this merely cosmetic? I can't think of any potential effect on the sound, but a couple of luthiers offer binding as an option.

finish: some luthiers use a lot of lacquer and create a really shiny finish. My current dulcimer was not treated in such a way. As a result, it probably gets dirtier faster, but I would think that lacquer would restrict the vibration of the wood, so you would get a clearer and maybe louder sound if the dulcimer did not have a lacquer finish. Am I on the right track?

VSL: I've heard people with small hands request shorter VSL. But what are the advantages of a longer VSL? Does a longer VSL increase the playability (is that a word?) higher up the fretboard?

Finally, this is where I think I am headed with my next dulcimer. Please scream and yell if my choices seem ridiculous. I expect to get a dulcimer with a softwood top (western red cedar or sitka spruce) and a hardwood everything else (perhaps quilted maple because I like the look). It will be a six-string with the octave on the bass string. I am hoping to get a fuller sound out of my dulcimer and think the double strings will help. And I expect to add the 1+ and 8+ frets. I can see no reason save for tradition's sake not to add those extra frets. I play chord/melody style so I don't have to worry about sliding my noter over those extra frets.

I understand we all have personal tastes, but I just want to make sure I am not going to order some kind of disaster instrument that I'll never play. And there are other variables (tuners, for example) that I haven't mentioned. If you think of any other important variables I should be considering, let me know.

Much thanks in advance.

D.T.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger

updated by @dusty-turtle: 06/08/16 09:24:05PM