Glitch with Graphics
Site QUESTIONS ? How do I...?
I had the same experience as Kevin on my Mac, OS Mohave, Safari.
Clicking on the image, I got a large version. Clicking on the text, the file went to Downloads and needed the same tweaks to open.
Robin, virtually all John Jacob Niles's recordings have his dulcimer-playing on them. He used his dulcimers strictly for song accompaniment. They were huge, low-tuned instruments and he played rhythmically free arpeggios, strumming across the strings with either his thumb or fingers.
After starting this discussion, I followed up on the suggestions, writing Ron Pen, visiting him and Niles's instruments at the University of Kentucky, meeting and spending a day with Jan Potts touring the area, and writing a piece about Niles and his dulcimers for The Dulcimer Players News. It was published a couple of summers ago. Unfortunately the version which made it to print had some errors. If anyone would like to see the corrected version, drop me a line.
Try to open Ken's .pdf. It is very good.
Well, this is interesting, although a llittle off-topic. The only Richie dulcimer I ever saw "up close and personal" was an hourglass instrument with a scroll peghead. It was at the little satellite store McCabe's Guitar Shop had at the Ash Grove coffee house in Hollywood in the mid-60s.
I just took a look at the Blue Lion website. It didn't appear that they weren't taking orders so much as they have a waiting list, as do many popular luthiers. Their buiiding schedule is full until next summer. One can ask to go on the waiting list and when they are about the schedule the next batch they will contact you, probably for a deposit. So one would have a little time to save up!
If you're playing noter style and the chromatic note passes pretty quickly, you can use the noter like a guitar slide. You can get the "in-between" note this way.
Leave the tip of the noter on the fretboard. Lift the noter on a slant, tipping it downward so that the string is off the fret, but still making contact with the noter. You want to have the noter where the chromatic fret would be. The tone isn't the same as a fretted note, but most people won't notice. It is a little tricky with a doubled melody string, though. That can get buzzy.
On guitar and mandolin I use small hard hard picks made of Tortex, a material which gives a sound similar to the traditional tortoise shell picks of the past. One gets a big sound from a hard pick. I tried stone picks, wood pick, and even coins, but discovered I want a little bit of flex in the pick. The problem with using a really stiff pick is learning to roll the thumb so that one can play softly.
I have never wanted to play dulcimer loudly. I have noisier noiemakers for that, resonator guitars and five-string banjos. That's why I like a more limber strummer or my thumb for the dulcimer.
But by all means experiment. Discover what sounds good to you. In artistic circles, this is what's call "finding your voice."
I've settled on large, straight-edged, thinish triangle picks as my favorites for dulcimer. I also drill a hole in the center to improve the grip. I'm mostly a strum and noter player and like the slapping sound a thin pick makes on the strings. This works fine when playing with others.
But most my playing is alone and for myself. So usually I use the side of my thumb to brush the strings fairly lightly. A sweet and mellow sound. It isn't hard to brush in both directrions, so all the interesting rhythms are possible.
And I always know where my thumb is. Not always true with picks!
Actually, Jethro Amburgey passed away in 1971. By that time he had made and numbered over a thousand instruments. The signature on this one is "M J Amburgey," dated 3-7-76, and is #42. So I would guess it was made by another member of his family, perhaps a son. Someone else who knows more about this stuff than I do can bring more information to the table.
No matter. It looks like a very nice instrument in excellent condition. Enjoy!
Actually, it isn't a dulcimer--It's a piggy bank!
Sorry about that. I couldn't resist. Actually I believe it is a sound hole. My Kevin Messenger teardrop has two round ones, one in the hollow, the other in the fret board area between the first and second frets.
The bridge is a piece, usually wood on acoustic instruments, on which strings rest and are sometimes attached. The vibrations of the strings are transferred to the resonating body of the instrument.
A saddle is a bone, ivory, metal, wood, or synthetic piece which is set atop a bridge, usually in a slot or groove. The strings sit on top of it. Traditionally saddles are not glued to the bridge.
Sometimes a second piece of material is glued to the top of a bridge. If it is fitted into a notch or slot, it is called an insert. If it is the top layer of a bridge, it is called a cap.
Yes. You can do all of those things with the fretboard assembly. Experiment. But be careful! You may end up building instruments before too long!
As a noter player I like DAA best. I like the low melody note. I will sometimes set the noter aside and play harmonies of 6ths on the outside strings. Then the 6+ fret is a real asset, because the correct low harmony note is available. If I want lots of chords, I play guitar.
I have a Feather Wren which I keep tuned in GDG for a couple reasons. I tried it in GDD (DAA up three frets) but it buzzed. It needs either heavier strings, higher action, or a little touch-up to the frets. Also the fretboard is too thin to easily allow noter-style playing. So I play it fingerdance/chord style for a change of pace. It is an excellent travel instrument, small (fits in my carry-on or backpack), lightweight, and quiet enough I don't worry about annoying people on the other side of sometimes-thin walls. In fact, my wife and I are planning a little trip in a couple weeks and I will take it with us.
Chalk will sometimes help with pegs which won't hold. Dan's suggestion of peg drops is good, too. I use "peg dope." It is actually jeweler's rouge, a very fine polish. It comes in a little tube and looks like a brown crayon or art pastel. Lightly rub the pegs with it where the pegs make contact with the sides of the holes. I bought mine in a music store which stocks goods for violin.
I don't think water or spit are a good idea.
You can also use the noter as a slide, the metal "bullet" or glass tube dobro and steel guitar players use. The idea is to use the slide (or noter) as a moveable fret.
Here's how: Move your noter to where you think the "missing" fret would be on the melody string. Tip it up away from you so that the end of the noter is on the fretboard. The part of the noter which usually presses the string down to the fret is still in contact with the string. But it is not pressing the string down far enough for it to make contact with the fretboard or the fret. The noter is probably hard enough the "in-between" note will sound pretty clear. It won't be as bright as a "real" fretted note, but if the note passes by quickly, the difference in tone won't be very noticable. This works better if you don't have doubled melody strings.
Like the others said, learning to re-tune is part of this playing style. But you can "ghost" the occasional accidental note with this technique.
Two fret dressings in five years seems extreme. You may have too heavy a hand, or you could be one of those people who just plays hard. In any event, you're getting to the point where there won't be much fret left to dress. Did you wear them down to the point where you had buzzes? Or were you simply concerned by visible wear marks? On some of my instruments you can see wear, but it doesn't yet affect the sound.
Rather than try to hunt up a dulcimer-exclusive repair person, I'd look for a competent guitar repairman/woman close by. I see you're near Phoenix. Surely there's someone there who can can help you decide what to do and do the job. Who did the fret dressing?
About the problems with coiled fret wire--there's a tool, I believe Stew-Mac sells it, which will put fret wire in the proper shape.
I would guess the 4" deep measurement includes the fretboard. That seems awfully deep to me, too.
When you start filing one fret, you end up filing them all. Then you re-shape them. Then you polish them. And then polish them some more. And some more after that.
My point is, don't go down that path unless you know exactly what the problem is, know what you're doing, and have the tools to do it. A slightly higher bridge might be the appropriate fix.
I'm discovering I have a pick problem as I get older. My skin is dryer than it used to be. I thought a hole in my big triangle pick would help, but it doesn't do the job for me. I'll try some of the other suggestions.
On flat top guitars there is a bridge plate, a piece of wood somewhat larger than the bridge glued to the inside beneath the bridge. But this is more to prevent twisting, since the strings are attached to the bridge. On archtop guitars where the strings attack to a tailpiece, there isn't any special bracing under the bridge. But the arch itself is very strong because of the shape. How do you plan to attach the strings? What sort of bridge do you plan to use?
A nice looking instrument, by the way.
Even a crushed, smashed, or exploded instrument can be repaired, given time, determination, and skill enough.
It sounds like there's a hump in the fingerboard, or some frets have popped up because of humidity issues. In either event, the problem can be fixed by a reasonably competent guitar or violin repair person. The cost of the repair may be more than you think the instrument is worth. But consider the cost of repair vs the cost of a new (or new-to-you) instrument.
If the problem is either a hump or high frets and isn't too bad, the frets can be filed level, then re-shaped and polished. If it is really a camel in disguise, then the frets need to be pulled and the fretboard planed flat. Some of the fret slots may need to be re-cut before new frets are installed, leveled, shaped and polished. All of this sounds pretty drastic, but the procedures are pretty common in guitar repair.
The advice folks have given about action (string height) is good. When I was teaching guitar it was very frustrating to me to see students struggle with hard-to-play instruments yet refuse to invest a few dollars in having the problem solved. Most those who wouldn't have their instruments adjusted gave up.
Something else to consider, too, is your technique. I have the sense you're around other people who play instruments and offer advice. But be sure that you are pressing the srtings close to, but not on top, of the frets. The idea is to move the string down far enough the fret can do its job. And press only as firmly as is necessary to get a nice clear tone. We often have a tendancy to work too hard. Press down on a string so that you get a nce tone, then relax a little. Find out just how much or little force you need.
If the melody string is doubled, consider taking one of the pair off. A single string is easier to finger than a pair and sounds fine.
A balloon! I hadn't thought of a ballon. Thanks.
Ooh, a spy camera! And maybe a robotic arm? I'm afraid my repair tools/toys aren't that hi-tech.
Did you make any effort to clear out the old glue or somehow clamp the brace while the repair dried?
I would not recommend the Grover pegs. I just took very similar pegs off an older instrument I bought used and replaced them with Pegheds. I'm very happy with the Pegheds. They work really well and look like traditional violin pegs. But it was a tricky installation. It took me several evenings to do the job properly. A violin repairperson should do it if you're not experienced working with tapered reamers, small files, super glue, and following directions very carefully.
Your wooden pegs are actually superior to the Grover "patent heads." Both hold their tension with friction. Wooden pegs need to be properly seated in their holes and sometimes need a little rosin, chalk, or peg dope to seat properly. Patent heads use a tension screw which often shakes loose or comes loose while tuning.
Aside from slipping, friction pegs of any sort are not as easy to tune as are geared heads. Getting the strings just right takes some practice and patience.
Geared pegs are easier to use. There are two types, planetary and guitar-type. Planetary gears (or "heads" or "pegs") are used on most banjos and some dulcimers. People like them because they are straight, like friction pegs but have a 4:1 gear ratio. That is, it takes four complete rotations of the knob for the shaft to rotate once. This makes fine tuning much easier. They don't require any screws. But they often require a spline notch or small hole for an anchor post, hidden under the gear housing. The disadvantages to planetary heads are cost (my Pegheds were $100), not as fine a gear ratio as guitar pegs, and the tension needs to be tightened occasionally, just like the patent heads.
Guitar-type heads have gears at a right angle. That's why the buttons on a steel-stringed guitar stick out to the sides, while the buttons on a banjo don't. They can be mounted on the back of a solid peghead or on the side of a slotted peghead.
There are two types, "open" or exposed-gear, and sealed-gear, in which the gears are sealed inside a casing with a lubricant. (Planetary tuners are also sealed with a lubricant.) Guitar-type tuners are made individually, like planetary pegs, or several mounted to a common plate. The two big advantages of guitar tuners are cost and a higher gear ratio. A typical gear ratio is 12:1, twelve rotations of the knob to a singe rotation of the shaft. While this means changing strings may take longer, fine-tuning a string is much, much easier. Ratios have ranged from 8:1 to as high as 18:1.
A complete set of serviceable import tuners can be had for as little as $10.00! Of course, prices go up from there.
Guitar tuners don't require much attention. A drop of oil on exposed gears every few years is about all the service they'll ever need. They are held in place with small screws. Sometimes the screws will loosen slightly and need to be snugged down. Sealed units (both guitar and planetary banjo types) also have threaded bushings which circle the string posts and screw into the housing from above. These help keep the unit in place and may need to be tightened slightly once in a while.
I think the main objection people have to guitar tuners is aesthetic. They don’t like the look. But my new Warren May came with gold-plated Grover Rotomatics, sealed guitar tuners. They work wonderfully and the gold against the walnut looks great. Mr. May does retrofit geared tuners to his dulcimers. He also keeps all the old wooden pegs he replaces. I suspect he plans to build some more traditional-style instruments and he plans to recycle the old pegs.
Two of my dulcimers have wooden pegs and one of my fretless banjos has patent pegs. Everything else has gears or zither pins. The only one I had real problems with recently was the dulcimer with the Grover patent pegs. The Pegheds fixed that.
Thank you, Matt. Those cross braces seem to me to be more a construction aid, helping to keep the shape, than a source of strength.
Hi. Since I acquire used instruments I often have repairs which need to be taken care of. A particular problem for me is the issue of loose braces. I'm curious how people go about reparing them. On a flat-top guitar I can usually work through the soundhole. But dulcimers are too shallow and the soundholes are too small to do this easily. I'd like to hear how people address this problem. Do you take the backs off, the way a violin repairperson might? Or do you work from the outside, with small holes, glue-and-screw, to be replaced with small dowels? Or do you simply take the offending brace out? They really don't do much and I see Warren May and other makers don't use them.
Please teach me. Thanks.
In memorizing an instrumental, I'm pretty "scientific." I like to work from music/tab and I play through a piece a few times to "get the lay of the land," looking for musical phrases which repeat. I love folk songs and fiddle tunes. Most of them are pretty short and most have at least one "chunk" which repeats two or three times. So if I get that part down, I have 1/4, 1/3, or even 1/2 the tune learned. The different endings of the repetitions come next.
After that it is a matter of repetition and smoothing things out. One trick I learned which I find useful is to memorize "backwards." I'll take the last two measures and get them down, then the two measures ahead of those, then two ahead of those, all the way back to the beginning. When working on a new section, I always play through to the end. That way the new material flows into material I'm already familiar with.
I think it is important not to speed up and slow down. If after I've memorized a piece there's a rough patch I can't play as fast as the rest, there are two things I do. I take that section out and work on it alone, pushing myself slightly to try to get it up to speed. That may take a while. If it takes two days, or two weeks (or two months!), OK, that's what it takes. Most of the time it comes in just a practices session or two. I also continue to work on the whole piece, playing only as fast as I can get through the hard parts smoothly. That way the whole piece comes together without any "seams."
Everybody has trouble with rhythm. Your metronome is a friend who won't lie to you.
I don't sing or memorize words very much anymore, but remembering the story of the song and the rhymes always helped.
Thank goodness the Amburgey arrived safely!
Yes, Robin, I agree. But I think it is great that we all arrived safely. I still don't think blasting into the air a tenth of the way to outer space and halfway around the world is such a good idea!
Good to hear from you, too. I do need to make (or cajole my wife into making) a 1970s hippie-style dulcimer bag. The soft shell case which I bought with my Warren May worked well in the overheads on the trip home from Kentucky and Tennessee last spring. And it is fine for around town.
I have a Feather Wren which is my designated "travel dulcimer." It is quiet, but great for weekend trips and late nights in hotel rooms. Sometimes I put it in a sock. It fits in a small suitcase with my clothes just fine.
My all-time favorite travel instrument is a Lapstick. It is a small electric guitar with a built-in headphone amplifier. Despite its small size and "different" appearance, it is a performance-level instrument which sounds great plugged into an amp. Yet I can stick it end-wise into most overhead bins. It doesn't take up much more space than a large bottle of booze.
Again, thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece.
Glad it worked out so well for you, John. I wonder, though, what would you have done if things had turned sour and became the nightmare we all fear?
Steven, I guess I would have written about that, if it had seemed noteworthy.
Often we hear and tell horror stories about traveling with our music instruments on commercial airlines. But I just had a really pleasant experience and thought I’d share it.
I recently purchased a vintage Jethro Ambergey mountain dulcimer and needed to get it home to Japan from California. I don’t have a case or bag for it and thought over several different packing/wrapping strategies for the trip. But I finally decided to just hand-carry the little thing naked on board with me and see what would happen.
My wife and I were flying economy class on ANA, All Nippon Airways. As we were checking our bags at Los Angeles International Airport, the counter clerk was curious about the dulcimer and had some questions. She also expressed some concern about its safety. I told her I planned to ask a flight attendant for some help stowing it once we were on board.
After going through Security and getting into the Departure area proper, we found our gate and settled in for the wait, taking turns to do a little last-minute shopping. About twenty minutes before boarding time I was startled to hear my name over the P.A. I was asked to please come to the gate counter. I did and gave the woman there my name. She found me on the computer and said, “Oh, you’re the one with the musical instrument. We’re going to have you go on during pre-boarding.”
Seeing my confused look, she continued. “That’s the time before the regular boarding. It’s when people with small children, wheelchairs, or special needs can get on board and get settled. That way you can find a place for your instrument, no problem.”
“That’s great,” I told her, “Can my wife come on board early, too?”
“Oh yes,” she said, “No problem.”
Thanking her, I went back to Miwako to explain what they had said to me. No sooner had I told her what was going on when the woman from the counter came up to explain in more detail the procedure and to look at the dulcimer. She too had questions which I happily answered.
So when they announced pre-boarding we were checked through and after a few minutes allowed to board the plane. Our seats were at the back of the plane. After we stowed our carry-ons and shopping I looked for a place for the dulcimer. At first I wasn’t happy with what I saw. This new 787 Dreamliner may be a miracle aircraft, but the overhead bins are pretty small. I didn’t want to take up one for just the dulcimer and I didn’t want to try to share. But I did find a pretty good dulcimer-sized space. It was on the floor between the last row of seats and the bulkhead behind them. I found a flight attendant in the galley at the back of the plane and got her to come out and hear my plan. She said fine and suggested we wrap the dulcimer up in a blanket, which she supplied. We swaddled the little naked dulcimer and laid it on the floor out of harm’s way for the eleven-hour trip across the Pacific. The flight attendant, too, was curious about the instrument and had questions.
We settled into our seats as the other passengers began coming aboard. My wife was very happy with the early boarding. She said we should always carry a dulcimer with us, if it means getting special treatment.
After boarding was complete, the doors sealed, and we began taxiing towards the runway, another flight attendant came by and offered to put the dulcimer in a nearby closet. I thanked her, but declined. I felt the place we’d found and the blanket wrapping offered as much protection as we could expect or would need. Besides, I liked having its nesting spot close at hand.
The flight to Tokyo was fairly smooth, as was the landing at Narita International Airport. I had found recordings of Hawaiian slack-key guitarist and singer Dennis Kamakahi on the in-flight entertainment system. I continued to listen while the plane taxied to the terminal. Since we were at the back of the plane and would be among the last to disembark, I figured I’d enjoy as much of this wonderful music as I could before gathering our things together. But my wife started tugging at my sleeve and saying something I couldn’t understand. And I saw yet another flight attendant. She had pulled the wrapped dulcimer from behind the seats. I took my earbuds out, a little grumpy at being yanked from Hawaiian bliss to Narita tarmac.
“She wants to make sure the dulcimer is OK,” Miwako said, “And she wants to see it.”
“OK, fine,” I said, taking the instrument from the attendant. I unwrapped it. The bass string peg had been bumped and the string was a little flat. Otherwise the dulcimer was fine. I handed it over to the crew member. She looked it over closely and brushed the strings lightly while we got out of our seats. More questions, more answers. I got our things down from the overhead bin while Miwako and the attendant chatted. The plane emptied while they talked and finally we hustled down the aisle, the last to leave, as the crew finished up. The naked dulcimer had landed, arriving in good condition.
As I said at the top, the bad news, the horror stories and problems get reported. I wanted to share my good experience and praise the ANA staff and cabin crew for their concern and efforts. It is a class operation.