Can you ID this dulcimer?
Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions
The label is inside the lower left f-hole. I think the piezo pickup is on the outside, Ken. I'm not quite that clueless. ;-)
The label is inside the lower left f-hole. I think the piezo pickup is on the outside, Ken. I'm not quite that clueless. ;-)
Unfortunately, that's all I have. I was hoping to identify a brand. Obviously, it could be a custom one-off, but I thought someone might recognize it by brand if a more or less common model. I note the tuners, the scroll head, the satin finish, the f-holes, and the fact that the pins are on the bottom rather than on the front as most Folkcraft dulcimers seem to be. It belonged to an older lady (son selling) who cannot play anymore and comes with a fairly large number of songbooks, so I am thinking it got some serious use and is not just some junk instrument. As you might expect, I am very curious to see what it might be. Just because it looks rather plain does not mean it is not a fine instrument. By the same token, I have played some recently built instruments from people you would recognize that were beautiful, but somehow not quite right in how they played and sounded.
Can anyone ID this dulcimer from just this photo? It has popped up for sale on Craigslist by someone who doesn't know much about dulcimers and is not very responsive to questions (out of town, can't check label, etc), but it's available for sale. I am guessing from what I have been told that this instrument is perhaps 20 years old. I was surprised to find that there are not many photos on the net of dulcimers with f-holes. Appears to be made of walnut.
Any guesses? Just a tiny bit of label visible there.
Does the line above suggest that simply placing the bridge at 702mm will "fix" or at least optimize how the notes will sound? I'm skeptical re that.
YOU SHOULD BE SKEPTICAL! DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING YET!
Sorry for the shout, but you're misinterpreting the results. If you base any nut adjustment on what those results imply, things will only get worse! I'll explain more fully in another post - but for now I just want to prevent you from wasting time chasing your tail or worse yet modifying your instrument.
Don't worry, Jim. I will not be modifying the instrument at all. If I make a secondary nut, it will just sit there where the screwdriver was and be easily removable. Just a thin piece of bone. I am NOT going to change the instrument in any way. I have respect for the instrument and its builder. :-)
Well, I ran the numbers for Bridge's tulip dulcimer and man was I blown away! I added Bridge's data to my own example of a Maxwell and took special care to scale the charts the same to facilitate comparisons. I'll let the spreadsheet speak for itself except to say this has become an investigation into a comparison of equal temperament versus just intonation, and forever I will avoid blatantly calling their discrepancies "fret errors".
|VSL||698.098||684.049||-14.049||Bridge||702.217mm (± 0.5mm)|
Jim, thanks for plugging in those numbers. Does the line above suggest that simply placing the bridge at 702mm will "fix" or at least optimize how the notes will sound? I'm skeptical re that. I'll try it after I finish my morning coffee (but not before) and report back. I was telling Robin that I will probably make a tiny second nut out of some bone blanks I have and place it upstream of the zero fret.
Does it seem odd that the strings at the nut are pushed toward the melody side of the fret board? Look at the photo I sent of the screwdriver and note where the cuts are in the wood.
Bridge - Your issue is simply that the zero fret is in the wrong place.
I will try what you suggest, Robin, though I think I will need to buy some single strings in other gauges before really drawing any conclusions. Clearly, this thing sounds much better with the "nut" in a different position, but the general build quality suggests that the zero fret was intentionally positioned where it is rather than that it is where it is by error.
I get the impression that this instrument was designed to play in two configurations. I even have a sneaky suspicion that there was a free-floating nut that has disappeared over the years. I think I will try to make a tiny nut out of some bone blanks I have using my nut files. That will at least keep me out of the bars and racetracks for a day or two. ;-)
Ok.... I don't know nothing about nothing except for this. I made a dulcimer and set the frets by gosh and by golly. Strived for pure 5ths and octaves and 6ths, etc. like whatever I knew sounded good. I tune it DAA, DAd, mostly DGC. Every time I change tunings or change pitch much I have to move the bridge back or forth so things are right. Usually have to compromise on the 1st fret and here and there. I get over it! I jiggle it until I get it to where I can live with it. I can set an equal temperament by ear on a piano but I'm not as particular with the dulcimer as I used to be... and that's a good thing to be free of.
You have always explained things so well Robin.
I hear you, Randy, but there are limits to how far out of tune you can get before EVERYTHING sounds awful. ;-)
We're trying to understand what the builder intended for this instrument, and it has been very interesting and instructive, so far. Enjoy!
I'll have to figure out whether I need to do all of the @s or if you will all just check back from time to time! ;-)
Well, I tuned it to DAAd with the strings that are on it with no great sing of improvement. All of the fretted notes were still very flat compared to the open strings. For the heck of it, I tried increasing the distance between the zero fret and the first fret by putting a very small screwdriver under the strings beyond the zero fret. The screwdriver lifts the strings over the zero fret. With the screwdriver about 9mm "north" of the zero fret and lengthening the VSL by moving the bridge away from the zero fret to get an octave where it should be, voila! All the notes sound quite close. I will plug the numbers into the fret spacing tool and see what it says, but the fret-to-fret spacing seems fine - except for the zero fret. I still don't think the builder made a gross mistake, but there is more to learn and understand about this...
After I took the screwdriver out, it occurred to me that the action was actually extremely low using just the zero fret. It's reasonable toward the right end. I'm wondering if there was some sort of long lost bridge above the zero fret that would raise the action and clear the zero fret. The other interesting thing is that there are two sets of registration marks for positioning the bridge, almost as if the instrument code be quickly changed to operate in either of two modes.
The picture below is where the bridge is with the screwdriver; note registration marks. When using the zero fret, the bridge must be set at the forward set of registration marks.
Okay, Jim and Robin, I have some data we can work with. I tried plugging this into the StewMac calculator, and it keeps telling me the 8th fret is the octave. Maybe they are counting the zero fret. Anyway, from the zero fret to the 7th is 335mm. If you double that to place the bridge, the end of the wooden bridge assembly lines up exactly with a couple of pinholes that were clearly put there by the builder. (There is a second set of pinholes about 1/4" frther from the zero fret, but that's something for later.)
Here are my measurements, all with reference to the zero fret in millimeters:
z-1 59.5 mm
In the StewMac calculator, I inputted a 670mm VSL, 14 frets, and selected Dulcimer. Should I be doing something different?
A couple of notes concerning Robin's post...
- I don't think anyone has changed the action on this instrument.
- On a 4-equidistant dulcimer, would the first string be considered the melody string and the other three drones?
- "Tune to D,A,A for your drones then tune the melody string so it sounds a 'd' note at the 3rd fret an octave above the bass string. Play the scale on the melody string against the drones. If it sounds OK (see below) except for the open melody string sounding sharp then your problem is simply the zero fret position. My guess (and it is just that) would be that the maker took a fret template from an older dulcimer with a bridge but fitted a zero fret. A bridge in the same position as that zero fret(particularly a high one on an old dulcimer) would have made those first half a dozen frets pull sharper."
Can you suggest typical string gauges? Just best guess and estimate.
I apologize for seeming dense, here, but would what I would tune to be DAAd? I have a fairly light gauge set of John Pearse strings on this dulcimer. Perhaps I should have something like 12-14-14-22 on this one.
Jim, I am once again grateful for your help on this. I have been swamped with tasks these last two days, but I should be able to look into this in the afternoon. My gut feeling is that they guys who made these instruments knew exactly what they were doing and why. Some of us latter day dulcimists are demanding different things from the instrument and just don't quite grasp what they were doing. The action on my tulip is just about where it should be and slightly lower than some dulcimers I have seen. It's about the same as my McSpadden M12w. I'll contact you in a few hours.
I just pulled it out and experimented. I have been positioning the bridge so that when you play the octave fret the note sounded is one octave higher using a digital tuner (and my ear). When I have that satisfied and play notes up the fret board, they are flat until I reach the octave fret I used to position the bridge. It would seem that the frets are not the proper distance from the zero fret, but I'm finding that hard to believe give the general quality of the instrument. The strings are all properly seated and are vibrating between the zero fret and the fret serving as the bridge.
I wondered if string gauge and tension might have an effect, but I don't think so. The bass string is a .023, and it acts the same as the unwound strings. The action is properly set and not so high as to affect the note sounded (and it would also be sharp, not flat). At the first fret, I have to bend the string about 1/8" to bring it up to the proper pitch. I've recently read an online article about different tuning "modes" and some of it went over my head. The writer was talking about some notes being flat or sharp when "in tune." Couldn't quite wrap my head around that one, but it seemed authoritative! ;-)
This might be better posted in another forum, but this topic line fits it perfectly. These are photos of a West Virginia 4-equidistant-string dulcimer I recently bought in Cleveland, OH for $75 while visiting my son. I'm not sure if it is supposed to represent a lyre of a tulip! I cleaned it up and put some standard strings on it. Sounds nice, and "shimmering" seems to fit it. The label inside it reads as follows:
Russell W. McCarty
Volga, W. Va.
I've done some light investigation on the web, and I believe I have located some members of Mr. McCarty's family, but I have not yet tried to contact them.
Based upon my limited experience, this seems to be a pretty unusual instrument. I don't know how old it is, but it must have been constructed after 1963 and before people started printing labels on computers since the address contains a zip code and the label was done on a typewriter.
Since restringing the instrument, I have not been able to get it to play properly. The bridge is adjustable fore and aft, and I can get it to sound the right notes at the octave or middle fret, but it is as if the frets are not spaced properly when you play up and down the fretboard. As I go up the fretboard, the notes are flat until I hit the octave fret. I do NOT believe the instrument is improperly constructed, but I have yet to figure out why it seems to be so far off. I haven't really spent much time on it, and I might even be using the wrong fret for positioning the bridge if it doesn't have half frets. There are some very small pin holes that seem to hint at where the bridge should be placed; they are obviously there for that reason.
Anyway, that's a project I am working on.
I've posted below a link to some photos at the Google Photo site. I've made them accessible to all, but I may remove that link if I find that it compromises my my security there. First time I have done this...
Essentially through dumb luck and what came up for sale on the local CL, I ended up with a pristine McSpadden M12W that had been in a case in a closet for 27 years. The intonation is dead on up the frets and from string to string. I don't really know why because there's no sign of any extra compensation tweaks. It's textbook. I returned a dulcimer made by someone you would all know that just was not right. I had bought it used from Guitar Center with the 45-day return option, so it wasn't a case where the original luthier could set things right, perhaps with a different instrument. It's a current model that sells for about $300 with soft case, and it just was not right. Why the McSpadden is so spot on, I just don't know, but I had read that their build quality is extremely consistent from instrument to instrument. I'm on a budget, and I feel very fortunate that this M12W fell into my lap at a good price. It's a pleasure to play.
Just an added note regarding short VSL instruments. In general, intonation is harder to get spot on as you shorten the string length because anything that's "off" about the instrument (perhaps the accuracy of fret positions) represents a large percentage of the whole and gets magnified. For example, it's much easier to have perfect intonation on a baritone ukulele than it is on a soprano uke. You can definitely get intonation spot on if you are willing to do what needs to be done. On some saddles (at the bridge) you will see them shaped so that each string has a slightly different VSL. On electric guitars, there are small sliding string carriers that can be minutely adjusted. Often, you can just angle the bridge/saddle. On my McSpadden M12-W, the bridge is basically perpendicular to the strings. On the McSpadden 26" VSL, the bridge is at a distinct angle on the 4FH26WR pictured at their website. See pic below.
I'm new to dulcimers, but I have quite a bit of experience with short-scale guitars and alternate tunings. On guitars, when you go to a shorter scale, you end up increasing the string gauge to maintain proper intonation. When you go down in VSL, less string tension is required to maintain the same pitch. At some point, the string becomes floppy, sounds bad, and doesn't intonate well. If you keep the same VSL and go up in pitch, your string tension obviously goes up. If you want to go up in pitch and maintain the same string tension, you need to go to a lower string gauge. Just some examples.
Go to this string tension calculator provided by D'Addario and experiment. You can select a standard setup and then vary one or more factors and see the calculated results.