Tailpiece help please
Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions
Ken, in that case, a bit of lube is a good idea. None that I've had were ever that tight.
Ken, in that case, a bit of lube is a good idea. None that I've had were ever that tight.
About the strings-I can't tell for certain, but they look like guitar-type ball end strings. (There were some oddball oversized autoharp ball end strings, but the shape of the ball end was different.) Take the strings to a well-stocked music store and you should be able to match the strings gauges for a few dollars. You might want to tape the old string to a piece of paper or cardboard and write which note they were tuned to, so you can put the right replacement on the right pins.
Fun! a worthy project.
Yes, that's a mandolin tailpiece. On mine, I usually lift up from the front edge of the cover to get it off, then slide it back on from the butt end of the instrument. Spring tension holds it in place. I'm not sure lubricating the contact surfaces is a good idea. You want the cover to grip the base and not slide off too easily.
Hello, Mark. Others with more dulcimer experience than I have will probably pipe in. But a good place to start might be a packaged set, or at least those gauges. The D'Addario set is .012, .012, .014, .022w. You may vary from this set as you settle into preferred pitches and tunings. But this seems like a reasonable set.
There is little difference among string makers, except perhaps with the one wound string.
Both those look like very nice instruments. The Merlin/Woodrow fretting system allows for two octaves (major scale only) when one plays across the strings. The low octave starts on the "bass" string, crosses over to the middle string on the fifth note for three notes, and ends on the high string. The second octave is entirely on the first string, one fret at a time, traditional dulcimer style, starting on the open string. One can do some nice chording with it, too.
As for Dusty's objection to no "6th" fret, but only a "6+" fret, the 6th fret would confuse the issue of a purely diatonic instrument. How it differs from the traditional dulcimer is with the number one note of the scale on the open string. As something of a traditionalist who likes the 5-5-1 tuning, I sometimes find the 6+ fret a nuisance.
A modified octave mandolin/Irish bouzouki might be a possible solution. Unwanted frets can be removed and the slots filled. You could choose whether to modify the peghead or not--it wouldn't make any difference in playing. The nut and bridge may need to be modified to accommodate whatever stringing configuration you settle on. If you can find a used instrument at a reasonable price, the cost of the modifications shouldn't be too high.
Ken is right. It sounds to me like the third fret is the bad guy. As instruments age, frets can become uneven because of wear or the finger board drying out.
There are techniques for leveling and re-rounding frets. If you don't feel comfortable working on instruments, a guitar repair person should be able to fix the problem for you.
If you have the "mechanical" friction pegs with the tension screws, and the screws won't tighten enough to hold the strings in tune, it means the plastic peg buttons are compressed. The screws can't go any farther.
You can take the peg apart and either add a small washer between the screw head and the top of the button, or make a washer out of leather or soft plastic and put it between the bottom of the button and the metal housing it sits on. This will allow the screw to be tightened a lttle more.
These screws shouldn't be any tighter than necessary to hold the string in tune, or the buttons will become compressed prematurely.
If you have wooden violin-style pegs, the various remedies already given work. Sometimes I use "peg dope" (jeweler's rouge) or blackboard chalk for the peg to have more grip in the holes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.