The Wren Has Landed

John Gribble
09/14/14 09:02:25PM
I recently received a new Wren travel dulcimer from Pete Staehling of Feather Dulcimer. Here are my impressions.First off, this thing is cute as a button. It is really tiny. The elliptical box is 19 inches long (just under 48 cm). Including the zither tuning pins, it is just under 20 inches (about 50 cm). The VSL is 17 1/4 inches (43.6 cm). At the saddle it is 2 1/16 inches tall (5.5 cm). It is 3 1/2 inches wide (9 cm) at the widest point, tapering down to 1 5/8 inches (4 cm) at the end blocks. It weighs 1 lb 14.7 oz (303g). My instruments measurements are a little different from those Pete gives.Not only is it cute, its well-made and lovely. The workmanship is first-rate, with nice clean edges and glue joints. The fret work is also clean, no buzzes, and the action is low. The fret ends may need a little attention after it acclimates to its new home, but nothing major. Pete may be new to dulcimer-making, but hes no stranger to woodworking.My Wren is an all-solid wood instrument. Both the top and back are Spanish cedar. The back looks to be two book-matched pieces. With the top it is difficult to tell. The sides and end blocks are nicely-figured English walnut and the sides are also book-matched. The fretboard is black walnut. The instrument has a very light cherry stain and an oil finish. All of this is extremely classy for an instrument way under $100!It arrived tuned G-d-g, which gives it a high, clear voice. Think mandolin. Because of its small size and sturdy construction, it isnt very loud. It isnt for jamming with others, though if placed on a table and strummed with a pick, it puts out a surprising amount of sound. It is, however, just right for a little private music-making in the park, at a camp site, in a hotel room at night, or in a quiet corner of an airport departure area. It is also just right for near the computer desk or favorite TV chair.Due to the short VSL and low action, finger-dance and chording are easy. Noter players, however, may have a problem. The fretboard is only 1/4 inch thick (.7 cm). When I use a noter, I put my index finger on top. The rest of my hand is far enough away from the side of the instrument that theres no clearance problem. But those like Jean Richie who use their thumbs on top would have a problem. I imagine, though, that Pete could build an instrument to accommodate. Communication with him was easy and open through the planning, building and shipping.For those used to guitar-type or planetary tuners, the zither pins, like those used on autoharps and hammered dulcimers, may at first be a challenge. But with a little practice, getting in tune and going between tunings with friction pegs isnt much more difficult than with geared pegs. The clock-key tuning wrench supplied with the instrument is sufficient. Some might like to use a larger hammer or T-style wrench, though. And unlike on most dulcimers, the nut, that slotted piece back past the strumming scoop holding the strings up off the frets, isnt glued down or in a slot. String tension holds it in place. So one needs to use a little care so as to not bump it out of place.About all I would add to my Wren are feet, and I just may do that. It would then be more steady on a table, have less tendency to rattle, and sound better. I dont need a bag for it. I already have an old pair of sports socks. Slid on from either end they provide protection when its in my backpack.So I am pleased with my new toy. It wont replace any of my other instruments, but is a sweet addition and a real bargain.