I ordered my own dulcimer
Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions
Congrats on a new BFF! Actually, you could tune it B-F-F and play DAA two steps lower!
Congrats on a new BFF! Actually, you could tune it B-F-F and play DAA two steps lower!
Patty -- you probably will not find a dulcimer fret calculator that includes all those plus frets. The Wfret calculator does include 6+ and 13+ but not the 1+ and 8+. This is the only calculator I know of which actually allows you to print out a template which you can then tack-glue to the fretboard for cutting. All other calculators simply give you a list of fret positions in inches or millimeters. Use millimeters, they're more accurate.
Simplest solution is probably to use a guitar fret calculator, which will have all the chromatic frets. Then ignore the frets you don't want.
asked "Given the same craftmanship (2 dulcimers built by the same quality builder), what do you hear is the difference in particular woods."
A competent luthier can "tune" a dulcimer to create whatever "sound" you want to hear. There are at least a hundred variables which affect the sound of a dulcimer, and wood type is pretty darn far down the list.
Talk to the luthier and tell him what sound you are looking for. Ask him to play the three you are considering over the phone for you. Buy the one that sounds the best to you. Or buy the one you consider the prettiest.
Capitals and accent marks indicate the octaves. The first letter of a tuning name is usually the bass string, then the Middle Drone, lastly the Melody string(s). CGG/CGc and DAA/DAd are the most common tunings.
C D E F G A B c d e f g a b
The Bass string is usually C or D. The Middle Drone is then G or A. If you are tuning to CGG or DAA, the melody string(s) ae the same as the Middle Drone. If you are tuning CGc or DAd, the Melody string(s) are an octave higher in pitch -- as indicated by the lower case letters c or d. If you refer to the line of letters above, and count 8 letters to the right of C or D, you will find c or d.
The system goes both higher and lower than shown here, with accent marks indicating other octaves.
Randy is "da bomb" when it comes to fretless dulcimers. I don' think you can call the sound "sweeter"... just different.
Not necessarily "one size down". The Strothers string gauge calculator shows that for a 29" VSL tuned DAA/DAd or CGG/CGc, you want .010 for the two Melody strings, a .012 for the Middle Drone, and a .020 wound string.
1. Yes -- as far as we can hear, the prejudice against plywood is that it is "dirt cheap" and therefore not good. FALSE
2. Spruce/redwood for dulcimer tops, IMHO is not worth the expense. In guitars, yes. But dulcimers do not create sound the same way, and the "good" that spruce does in a guitar is negated in a dulcimer because the top is so small and further, is muted by the fretboad.
3. Body wood choice is just one of close to a hundred factors which affect the sound of a dulcimer and is overshadowed by the other 99 factors.
Again, IMHO, dulcimer buyers have been sold "a bill of goods" about the importance of exotic, expensive, sexy-looking woods in making dulcimers. As you said, extremely common woods like poplar make absolutely beautiful sounding instruments.
You asked "Is it a matter of the best luthiers choosing the woods that make the subtly best differences, thereby choice of wood could imply a level of craftsmanship?"
My answer is NO. Almost no dulcimer builders have done any reliable, repeatable quantitatively measured experiments to prove "beyond a shadow of doubt" that any woods make any subtle or not so subtle differences in dulcimer sound.
They would like you to think that because they use sexy, expensive woods that that implies "a certain high level of craftsmanship". But it does not. A high level of craftsmanship is found only in those dulcimer builders who can make any woods, or even materials like cardboard or Legos sound good.
[donning asbestos suit to weather incipient firestorm]
I used Jumbo frets a few times, didn't ca re fo r them
As Dusty said, you can't really compare recordings of Brands of instruments on the internet -- too many variables. The only reasonable comparison you can make is to listen live (by phone or in person) to two specific instruments being played. Even then, as James said -- there can be a huge number of variables that cause individual instrument to have a specific sound.
said "i wonder what what was the original reason for excluding some frets. Was it a cost savings for frugal people making their own instrument or did they see a musical benefit to leaving them off?"
Not cost -- musical benefit. Originally dulcimers (and other instruments) were made with a simple Diatonic fret arrangement because folk music was not particularly musically complicated compared to orchestral music. This means the dulcimer was set up to play just the 8 notes of octaves in order -- just the white notes of the piano. Then along came Chromatic fretting, like a guitar, with many additional notes between the original diatonic notes. Any frets which are not part of the original diatonic arrangement, we call "plus frets or "+ frets".
If you look at the arrangement of frets on a diatonic dulcimer and a chromatic guitar, you'll see that compared to the guitar, the dulcimer appears to be "missing" frets -- there are wide spaces between some frets which are not there on a chromatic arrangement. Plus frets are frets with are added in the middle of some of those wide spaces. Between the 6th and 7th frets is the 6+, between 8 and 9 is the 8+, between the 1 and 2 is the 1+
said "I would love to learn to fingerpick and chord but I expect noter drone might be the limit of my ability. "
Please don't ever think of Noter & Drone style as limiting your dulcimer playing ability in any way!!!
I've been playing Noter & Drone style for lo these many years, on every dulcimer I've ever handled, including some with (IMHO) far too many extra frets. Those extra frets don't particularly get in your way playing N&D, but they aren't necessary -- for any style of play. Although I specialize in N&D and Anglo-Scottish Border Ballads, I do play some modern tunes with no additional frets at all.
Lettuce indoor in winter is easy. You'll need a two-tube florescent "shop light", 'grow light' bulbs, some 1/2" PVC to make a stand to hold the light about 2 feet above the medium, and plastic toughs/trays whatever to hold the soil and growing lettuces.
I have an old friend in Oregon who grows lettuces hydroponically -- floating on styrofoam batts floating on top of a large fish tank -- above grow lights. The roots grow through small holes in the bottom of cup sized pockets cut into the foam, and grow into the water. The fish in the water provide nutrient laden aerated water so the plants can grow. He raised tilapia in the tanks and about twice a month has a fish dinner as well as a steady supply of salad fixings.
What Matt said. Wood is only one of a hundred factors that goes into making a dulcimer "mellow" and guitar-like, or "high and silvery" the way traditional instruments sound, including how the player plays the instrument.
All you can do is pick walnut or cherry to go with the redwood top. Since you can't even see what the particular pieces of walnut and cherry *look like* , just look at instruments that have those woods in combination.
I always recommend that unless you are working directly with a luthier to produce your "ultimate dulcimer", that you play as many as you can and pick the one that sounds best. Sound is, to most people, more important than wood. If it isn't, then I'm sorry for them. A competent luthier can make any combination of woods sound mellow or high-silvery.
-- you are correct -- IF the builder makes (as many modern builders especially of inexpensive dulcimers do) the tuning head and tail string anchor are all one piece with the fretboard. Especially if the fretboard/head/anchor board is fast-growing flat-sawn, not quarter-sawn, not very hard timber.
If, as Ken Longfield says, the strings are anchored in the tail block and a tuning head attached to the head block, then there is virtually no string pressure trying to pull up the ends of the fretboard and warp it. Rather there is a minimal amount of pressure pressing the ends of the fretboard containing the nut and bridge downward and helping keep it flat.
Warping can always be an issue with instruments, even $100,000 instruments that travel. BUT! "Well kept" is the important thing. Giving the instrument a chance to acclimate to new surroundings is important. I once made a dulcimer that fretted perfectly in mile-high Prescott, AZ, but which raised a fret every time I drove 90 miles south and 4000 ft lower in elevation to the Phoenix area. Drive home again and it was fine. Such issues are extremely rare with dulcimers.
As Dan said, lutes/guitars are completely different critters than fretted zithers/dulcimers, and guitar problems are rarely found in dulcimers. The dulcimer fretboard is rigidly attached for its entire length; a lute/guitar neck is just hanging out there, just asking to be affected by everything! A truss rod on a dulcimer would not be worth the time and effort to make and install.
There are a lot of static photos of 100+ year old dulcimers. And quite a few such instruments in museum collections like the Hindman, KY museum, the UK museum in Louisville, KY, and the 'opening next year' dulcimer museum that John Hallberg is setting up.
Our friend Kendra Ward regularly plays an over-100 year old dulcimer that belonged to her grandmother.
IMHO, with dulcimers, things like truss rods, carbon fiber doohickeys and similar space techno things are just not relevant to making an instrument sound good. If you can do it with well-cured wood, all the hi-tech stuff in the universe won't make your dulcimers any better. More expensive, but not any better. Compare -- sight-unseen -- the sound quality of a dulcimer that Dan, or Bobby Ratliff or some of the others build with simple tools; to the modern marvels made with all the hi-tech widgetry available. The difference is negligible; but all that hi-tech is gonna cost you a LOT more.
Violet -- if you look at the photos which @Skipll posted six months ago, you can see that the dulcimer does not have a 1.5 and/or 8.5 fret (they are a special order item). And like almost every other McSpadden of that type it has a 28.5" vsl.
Dave has made really great instruments for many years, and I personally vouch for their quality and his workmanship. I've "known" him since the early days of the original Everything Dulcimer. I still own one of his Student Models which he slightly customized for me when I thought I would be moving offshore for a couple years and needed an instrument to fit in a footlocker.
Yeah... I was gonna mention Bobby's travel dulcimer too, but I suspect Jill's friend wouldn't be interested in a dulcimer with only half-width frets, and I'm not sure what he charges...
I haven't found and really short scale dulcimers second hand, Jill. But will keep looking. If I were to recommend a new instrument, I would suggest Dave Lynch's Travel dulcimer -- compact, it turns "inside out" for safe storage, It is $225 new. Dave normally builds 25-1/4" but could, I believe, be persuaded to build a shorter VSL.
Jill -- if she has "hand issues" are you looking for a shorter VSL dulcimer for your friend?
Thanx, Lisa. I figured after all these years I needed a change!
We're doing Zoom yoga with our teacher, and I do T'ai-chi in a local park with a couple friends; plus walking when it's not 90F+ and 90% humidity!
I made a vegetarian Picnic Pie for Sunday Brunch today -- roasted veggies and some cheese encased in puff pastry, baked in a springform pan. When it's done you have a free-standing 'pie' that is 3" tall and 9" in diameter that you slice and serve in wedges. A little decadent with the puff pastry, but once in awhile you've got to splurge. It being Mango season we had chilled mango halves for dessert.
Exception work, as always, my friend. Bravo. That's a real beauty.
Nina -- anytime. Our AirBnb listing is open once again (cautiously), and I'll certainly make you a gourmet seafood dinner!
Hardly anyone goes swimming in the sea down here. Playing "Bobber" is thing. Or sitting in the shade and watching/listening to the surf roll in and the seabirds. On a good day you'll be out Bobbing and manatee will come up to investigate you; or a pod of dolphins want to play with you.
Magic -- you may be over thinking things.
I'll suggest recording your playing and at the end note things you liked about a particular recording. They play it back -- the later that day or next day -- to hear what it sounds like. You can never really tell what the balance of melody to drones sounds like, your attack on the melody or drones, etc. until you hear it from "out front" as it were instead of "on top" of the sound.
Bouncy, bouncy, Lisa -- it's good for you!
We got our "bounce on" two weekends back. We took a short stay at Manasota Key up near Venice, FL, over 4th of July. Olde Florida kinda beachfront motel seriously doing social distancing and mask wearing, etc. Private beach so few people about. Summer rental rates. Gulf of Mexico was 90F and so was the air temp!! Afternoons there was a 'good' sea swell, and needless to say, standing out in chest to neck deep water, we did a lot of bouncing in the waves. Enough that even though we were eating more than at home (dinners at a nearby fabulous really socially conscious restaurant) we still each lost a pound or so over 4 days!
I've owned one of John's Ed Thomas replicas (painted poplar) for a number of years, and agree wholeheartedly with everything you've written. John is a joy to work with and builds great instruments -- not just the Thomas replica but his large traditional Singleton replica is fabulous as well.
Judging how much and which drones to emphasize where in any particular song, is to me one of the joys of working up tunes on a traditional dulcimer.
Steve, welcome! We look forward to insights from everyone. As you mention, the dulcimer creates its sound differently than the guitar.
Changing out a hardwood top for a softwood one seems like it would work, but doesn't really since there is so little top to vibrate. What works much better, IMHO, is to completely free the back to vibrate -- hence the "false bottom" of the Galax style instruments mentioned below.
A lot of guitar builders come to the dulcimer and try to apply guitar style bracing on the top and back. Which does nothing, of course, except make those surfaces even more stiff and less sound producing! With dulcimers, fewer braces are generally better. That big brace on top can be massively hollowed, and arched to cut down on overall mass, but for conventional "on the lap" play it needs to be a minimum of 1/2" deep for Chord-Melody style play. We Traditional players want a fretboard closer to 1" high so there is room for fingers to clear, but also like narrower fretboards since we are fretting only one string.
It's not sacrilege to consider moving at least the bridge inboard, and some builders bring it quite far in. The nut is harder to move inward unless you restrict construction to flat guitar style tuning heads. If there is "too much" dulcimer beyond the nut and bridge, balancing the instrument on your lap can become an issue.
Nate -- Dan is referring to the more or less traditional Galax shape and construction -- a deep-bodied elliptical (not teardrop) shaped body with a double bottom. That sort of shape needs no special tools or anything to make the elliptical sides.
Many builders today do not use any bracing. The top and bottom are simply glued to the edges of the sides without kerfing even; especially with teardrop and elliptical designs.
The general rule of thumb for loudness and 'baritone-ness' is that the larger the volume of the soundbox (not just width or length, but volume), the louder the overall sound... especially when accompanied by more than 4 or 5 square inches of sound hole.
Size (square inches) of sound hole is important to creating volume. There's a complex mathematical solution called the Helmholts Equation (Wikipedia has a good write up on the subject). As a dulcimer gets bigger it needs more soundhole to let out the sound, and it's not a linear progression. John's Uncle Eddie has soundholes that are scaled up from the originals, but it needs maybe almost twice as much area of soundhole to "let it all out". If you are truly interested in maximizing performance, I think you'll want to find someone who can help you solve the Helmholtz equation specifically for the volume of the proposed body.
Mass of the body isn't as important as you might think.
Look at the traditional Tennessee Music Box -- roughly 4" deep, 14" wide and 26'-28" long, with planks (sides/top/bottom/back) averaging about 3/8" thick! Usually on feet to allow the back to vibrate as well, and a solid (seldom hollowed) 2x2 freboard.
Without a lot of "messing about", the simplest solution to a LOUD dulcimer is, IMHO, to build something about the same dimensions as the Tennessee Music Box I described above. Look at pictures of original TMBs to get an idea of how many soundholes/how much area of hole you'll need for something that size. Then here's my suggestion. Make twice as many soundholes as an original TMB of the same dimensions. Then start blocking off holes two at a time, and see the effect on the sound.
Dusty -- back then -- 10 years ago -- I was saying I'd been playing 30 years. Now, 10 years later, I'm saying 40 years...
2020 -1975 = 45 years "Time flies when you're having fun; fruit flies like bananas." -- Groucho Marx
I play a number of songs very slow -- Londonderry Air, Danny Boy, Amazing Grace, and others. It's the regular tempo that I'm struggling with -- rather than playing "expressively" to the rhythm of the words, I guess.
"Like a kidney stone, this too shall pass." -- Unk Nown
Speed issues with Ariane's Shenandoah Summer Project. I've spent 40 years playing to the rhythm of the words, and I decided to get involved with her group play project for the challenge. But 60 beats per minute seems glacial! Have I mentioned how much I hate those little blue city guys -- metro-gnomes?
MaryB -- not sure what your question has to do with the Chat Room, but there isn't even an Undergraduate program for Mountain Dulcimer in regular colleges, that I know of, let alone online, not to mention a Masters program!! There are some "courses" of various descriptions by folks like Steve Eulberg, Stephen Seifert and others, but no formal program.
If you ask this question by itself in the General Discussion area, instead of here under an announcement about the Chat Room, you may get others chiming in with course suggestions.
Simply put, you "determine(s) whether you choose to chord or not". This is a major factor in creating your own personal style of play. Just as choosing to sing or not sing along when you play, how you strum or pick or otherwise make the strings sing, and whether you sit, stand, hold the instrument flat or vertical or somewhere in between, define you as a dulcimer player.
The quintessential "rule" of dulcimer playing is: There Is No Right Way, Or Wrong Way To Play The Dulcimer -- only The Way that works for you. Never let anyone tell you that you must play in a given way.
I'm self taught too -- 40 years ago when there was only one book! I tell people that "one of these days I'll get it right." Actually I have -- gotten it right for me. I don't play chords at all. I play the full melody all the time in Noter & Drone style, with a variety of full and partial strums, primarily out-strums. I strum to the rhythm of the words, not a mechanical tick-tock. I almost never tune to DAd -- I change tunings readily, depending on the song -- DAA, Ddd, DAC, DAG and in the keys of C and E and G as well. I play sitting, with the instrument flat in my lap, or standing, with the dulcimer flat on a tall stand. I don't sing along as I play, rather I use the old technique of "play a verse then sing a verse".