Forum Activity for @matt-berg

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
12/30/21 07:08:53AM
78 posts

Fretboard widths and wood chocies


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Definitely agree with Ken and Andy.  Fret board width and VSL is not an absolute.  What one musician finds ideal, another may find unplayable.  Play many different instruments and find what works for you, or, if you build to sell, make a few different models and give musicians a choice.

As far as wood, same advice.  Find the model of dulcimer you enjoy building, then find the wood that you believe sounds best,..., and ignore the people who think otherwise.  Music is in the ear of the hearer, build what sounds good to you.  Best example, cherry.  Some say it produces a sweet sound and others say it over emphasizes the treble.  Does it sound right to you? Then it is.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
10/26/21 03:57:28PM
78 posts

Cedar soundboards


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Depends on to whom you are talking.  I have heard some describe it as a sweet sound and others a bit trebly.  Cedar is  lighter wood than spruce or almost any hardwood (balsa is a hardwood.)  The instrument should be lighter.  It is also a little weaker than other woods, so might get damaged more easily.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
09/27/21 08:53:47PM
78 posts

String Sources, gauges, types


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I mostly just shop the acoustic guitar string sales from wherever.  Depending on gauges, the 1-2-3 or 1-2-4 strings make up a three string dulcimer.  Yes, I have many leftover wound strings in a box. I shop the sales at CB Gitty for multi-packs of singles to make up the rest.  If I am looking for extra light strings, I will look at electric guitar strings, but never use the wound strings in those packs.  But that is just the way I buy strings. Others do it differently.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/22/21 05:01:51PM
78 posts

Locating a Bridge on a new dulcimer


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

At least wo things are going on here. 

In the science of acoustics on a perfectly balanced string in order to increase the tone of an instrument strung to be two octaves by one octave, you would fret the string in the precise middle.  On a dulcimer, that would be the seven fret.

Nice to know, but our strings are not perfect.  As you fret up the scale, strings tend to go slightly sharp.  As an example stewmac.com has a fret calculator for an acoustic guitar (the closest they have to a dulcimer.)  For this example, I entered an instrument with a 26" VSL.  Stewmac suggests increasing the Treble E string, generally a similar string to our "d" string by 0.091"  and the Bass E by 0.219".  Doing some calculation, that would leave the VSL for our Treble d string at 26.091 and our Bass D string at about 26.10".  Many makers will install the saddle at this slight angle.

For a dulcimer, stewmac suggests setting the break point on the saddle at 26.153" for a non compensated saddle.  Stewmac has typically cheaped out on dulcimers and I do not suggest using that number.

If all you are looking for is a quick way to set your bridge, add 0.01" to the melody side and 0.10 to the Bass side when placing your saddle (it is technically not a bridge as so many dulcimer makers insist) and stop reading this post.

If you want a perfectly exact answer, you need to divide those two numbers by the number of frets you would use if your instrument were chromatic and keep adding multiples of the resulting value to the treble and bass sides of your frets.  Instead of perfectly parallel frets, you would end up with frets that fanned out slightly on the bass side with the seven fret being 0.0455" further out on the treble side and 0.195 further out on the bass side.  The only people I have heard that actually do that are luthiers who sell $30,000 guitars. (And I am sure someone will let me know that they do it on dulcimers.) 

Day to day playing, intonation is in the ear of the musician.  Dusty's solution is the same as I use, a floating saddle that the musician can adjust so that the instrument sounds best in that musician's ear.

Sorry for the long post.  A good answer to your question is not easy and I look forward to reading the other responses.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/10/21 08:50:15AM
78 posts

Hollow or solid fret boards


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Bill,  this is not quite a response to your question.  My fretboards have an intermediate step between hollow and sold.  I use a forstner bit and drill 3/4" holes every inch.  Occasionally, the fretboard will warp after drilling the holes.  So far, nothing I can't fix with careful sanding.  

I prefer that the grain runs horizontal to the soundboard.  Again, I have not done any testing of alternate grain patterns.  Now that you mention it. I will try running the grain the other way on my next build.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/05/21 08:28:26AM
78 posts

"Floating" Fretboards


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Sorry about the "Eww". sometime my fingers work faster than my brain.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/05/21 08:26:57AM
78 posts

"Floating" Fretboards


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

These photos are a recent build so you see a little of what I am talking about.


smaller2.jpg smaller2.jpg - 284KB
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/05/21 08:20:40AM
78 posts

"Floating" Fretboards


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Eww, metal dowels?  I use a wooden dowel at the head and a true bridge placed so that the fret board is properly tensioned and does not warp, takes some practice.  The fretboard floats about a 1/4 inch above the soundboard.  The fretboard becomes part of the vibrating part of the instrument and adds (or detracts) from the sound.  This is different from the neck of a guitar.

As far as the soundboard goes, yes, you need to practice bracing so that you emphasize the sound you are looking for. If you are building a standard (treble) dulcimer, try thicker and more bracing.  This will dampen the bass and give you clearer melody notes.  For a bass (my favorite), try longer thinner bracing so that the bass can vibrate.  (The shape of a MD allows for much longer bracing than most other instruments, a difference that can be used.)

If you have difficulty placing the bridge properly, try a second bridge under the seven fret.  A wooden bridge still transfers vibration to the soundboard.  I prefer lighter wood like cedar for my bridges, but like everything a luthier does, whatever works for you is best.

If you are going to try this, you might want to subscribe to American Lutherie.  This magazine focuses on the guitar, but you will find lots of articles by people who have been shaping bracing for years.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/04/21 06:29:00AM
78 posts

Fret Markers


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Why not try indented markers that are slightly below the surface.  They would be tactile and not interfere with a noter!

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/03/21 09:35:02AM
78 posts

Fret Markers


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Not sure everyone agrees with minimalistic fret markers.  https://www.pinterest.com/deachasuravanic/fret-markers/  Besides, what is wrong with decorations?  (In case it wasn't clear, I am laughing a little at this discussion.)  Fret markers are very much the choice of the luthier/musician.  I have made instruments with no fret markers and a 4 equidistant chromatic dulcimer with both dulcimer and guitar fret markers so many more people could play!

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/03/21 09:20:25AM
78 posts

Fret Markers


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Well, when I first started, I put stickers with 1,2,3,4... on each fret, that helped.  Actually, I think fret markers help develop a pattern in a person's mind.  After playing for a couple years, I realized I didn't look down at the fret board anyway, so maybe everyone should have removable fret markers so when they become extraneous, you can remove them?

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/03/21 07:15:42AM
78 posts

Fret Markers


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Wow, I hope this group never dissects one of my instruments.  Not only do I put fret markers at 3-5-7-10-12, I also put a marker under the frets at 1+,6+,8+ and 13+.  Guess it all depends on what the builder prefers!!  Never noticed that the placement of fret markers influenced the sound of the instrument.  (-:

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
12/27/20 08:51:04AM
78 posts

Fret Markers


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I suppose if someone played Capo 1 a lot, 4-6-8 might make some sense, maybe.

BTW, after hearing people complain about confusion over plus frets, I place a fret marker underneath the fret for plus frets as a visual marker.  I drill a hole and use a wooden dowel to plug it, then saw the fret slot.  Never had any problems doing so.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
11/25/20 07:17:34AM
78 posts

Curved back dulcimers


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I have experimented with the side to side curve, trying anything from no curve to 1/2 inch.  Getting the back to curve more than 1/4" almost always causes the back to crack.  A technique that helps with this is to bend the back when the wood is raw and apply a penetrating finish.  This seems to fix the bend in place.

Instead of a curved back, I angle the sides making the tail 1/2" deeper than the head.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
09/13/20 10:35:05AM
78 posts

Installing built-in pick up for 2004 dulcimer?


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Have you considered contacting Richard Ash at Folkcraft?  He seems always willing to help on questions like this.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/28/20 07:28:22AM
78 posts

Choice of Wood: Pertinent or Purism?


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Let me second what Ken said.  Building any musical instrument is the product of hundreds of little decisions made by luthier as the instrument is constructed.  An experienced builder makes many of these decision almost subconsciously. Many builders also understand that the buyer needs something to justify whatever price they paid, expensive wood = expensive instrument = quality instrument?

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/18/20 07:10:35AM
78 posts

Old topic about wood and new McSpadden, need help.


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

One day I visited the Folkcraft showroom and played two all walnut instruments fresh off the workshop floor.  Both were beautiful instruments.  One had a distinctly more bass sound than the other.  Simply choosing a wood for an instrument is not enough.  Each sample of wood, even from the same tree, will produce different sounds.  Yes, McSpadden has great quality control.  Even so, two instruments made from the same species of wood will sound different.

For anyone truly interested in the sound of their instrument, I suggest going to a showroom and playing as many instruments as appeal to you.  Purchase the one that vibrates to the tune of your body.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/14/20 08:14:23AM
78 posts

Size of Soundbox and Loudness


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Funny, I showed my instruments to Butch a couple years ago at Evart.  I guess he remembered.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/13/20 05:07:10PM
78 posts

Size of Soundbox and Loudness


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Yes, the rounded bottom seems to focus the sound back to the soundboard.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/13/20 08:16:38AM
78 posts

Size of Soundbox and Loudness


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I use fan bracing that comes together at the head and spread all the way to the tailpiece.  With a double neck design, you need to have a more or less wide and flat tail piece .  With a single neck, generally just two braces.  With double necks I find four braces emphasize the treble, three helps the bass.  Similarly, straight bracing emphasizes higher pitches, scalloped bracing lower.  Haven't tried mixing them in one instrument. Pick your poison.

The picture shows a build in progress from a couple years ago.  You can see the fan bracing on the soundboard.  The X-bracing on the bottom is used so the bottom can be rounded.


inside.jpg inside.jpg - 123KB
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/13/20 07:04:37AM
78 posts

Size of Soundbox and Loudness


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

The neck rests on a single post under the 0 fret.  The maple fretboard rests about 3/4 from nut to saddle on a bridge on the soundboard.  The strings are set to pull down at a 15 degree angle causing both a bowing down and bowing up tension in the fretboard.  I have been using this technique for about 5 years and have not seen any deforming of the fretboard.

I tried using violin style bridges, bridges that stand alone on the soundboard, but felt too much of the unique dulcimer sound was lost.  Using a fretboard that runs from nut to saddle restored the unique dulcimer sound.

And, yes, the voices of my instruments are much stronger than other dulcimers.  The bass in particular is able to cut through the buzz of a jam, especially when flat picking.


dulci-peg.jpg dulci-peg.jpg - 83KB
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
08/11/20 07:52:01AM
78 posts

Size of Soundbox and Loudness


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Bob,  you mention that your recent soundboard was thinner than typical at 0.100 inches.  My general target for the soundboard is 3/32, roughly 0.100.  Depending on the ping of the wood, I may stop earlier.  What is your general target for soundboard thickness?

(The attached picture is my current build.  You can see the thickness of the soundboard which is made from recovered white cedar.  All of my builds have the neck suspended over the sound board on a single peg and a true bridge.  This is a double neck, treble and bass.)


dnbuild.jpg dnbuild.jpg - 130KB

updated by @matt-berg: 08/11/20 07:52:09AM
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
06/30/20 08:59:04PM
78 posts

Size of Soundbox and Loudness


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Nate,

Many things impact loudness, size of the sound box, thickness of the soundboard, weight of the strings, size of the soundhole and how hard the player hits the strings.

Matt

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
05/10/20 07:10:36AM
78 posts

VSL Breakpoint Angles, Radiuses, and Excess String Lengths


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Most of us know the story of how Jean Ritchie and the 20th Century revival saved the dulcimer from the dustbin of history.

When starting to build dulcimers, I joined a different online group to share ideas.  Using the word dulcimer was like kryptonite, no responses, no comments.  I get the same reaction bringing my dulcimer to many jams,..., "oh, now we are limited", "can you play our songs".  I have also noted the lack of young people at our festivals.

Soon, we will need a 21st Century Jean Ritchie to save our instrument.

Much of this is self inflicted.  Only a few musicians play music from the last 25 years.  And many dulcimer builders insist on using terms that make them sound like they do not understand acoustic instruments.

I may seem pedantic when referring to parts of an instrument, but really, I would like to our instrument take its rightful place as an American treasure.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
05/09/20 03:55:07PM
78 posts

VSL Breakpoint Angles, Radiuses, and Excess String Lengths


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for researching a subject.  However, this quote is taken directly from the Wikipedia page on Wikipedia:

 

Wikipedia does not consider itself to be a reliable source   . Many academics distrust Wikipedia   [23]    but may see it as a valuable jumping off point for research, with many of the reliable sources used in its articles generally seen as legitimate sources for more in-depth information and use in assigned papers. For this reason some academics suggest ‘Verifiability by respected sources’ as an indicator for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles at the higher education level.   [24]

 

And just for the record, in its early days I submitted two short articles to Wikipedia that were published and I regularly donate to Wikipedia.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
05/09/20 07:02:51AM
78 posts

VSL Breakpoint Angles, Radiuses, and Excess String Lengths


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Mounting on the soundboard produces more over and undertones.  Mounting across the soundboard produces fewer.  If you are ever in a session with a Gallier, you can hear a clear difference.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
05/08/20 08:16:06AM
78 posts

VSL Breakpoint Angles, Radiuses, and Excess String Lengths


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

And speaking of controversial, if you are comparing dulcimers to guitars, it helps to use proper luthier terms.  Technically, very few dulcimers have a "bridge".  A bridge bridges the internal bracing.  As most dulcimers either lack internal bracing or lack anything that spans them, most dulcimers do not have a true bridge. What dulcimer builder call a bridge, every other luthier calls a saddle.  However, as to part of your question.

Most guitars have the strings anchored to the soundboard.  Some dulcimers, Gallier in particular, anchor their strings in the same way.  The vast majority of dulcimers anchor their strings to the edge of the soundbox.  Comparing the string angle on a instrument with the strings anchored to the soundboard to one with the strings anchored to the soundbox is an apple to oranges comparison that will get you nowhere.

Jazz guitars anchor their strings to the edge of the sound box.  I read an article in American Lutherie in which the author tried various string angles to see which was best.  The author decided that a more shallow string angle led to a louder more jangly sound.  As the angle sharpened, the sound became clearer.  Beyond 15 degrees, the angle noticeably reduced the volume.  The author concluded that 15 degrees was the optimal angle.

As noted above guitars are not dulcimers and dulcimers are not guitars.  I build my instruments with the 15 degree angle at the saddle (bridge).  I like the sound, but sound is musician's choice.

For the headstock, I also use the 15 degree angle.  I have no particular reason for doing so other than it works for me.

And just for full disclosure, my dulcimers do use internal bracing, a true bridge and a floating fretboard.  So take anything I say with a grain of salt.  The attached picture is of a build I intend to finish this weekend.


IMG_20200508_080638.jpg IMG_20200508_080638.jpg - 138KB
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
02/21/20 06:13:51AM
78 posts



The violin sound post transmits vibrations to the bottom of the violin because the string press down on the saddle and the soundboard would collapse without the post.  The fret board/neck of a dulcimer, even one with vaults, is too stiff to have that problem.  To keep the posts in place, the luthier would need to put pressure on the back of the dulcimer.  Any vibrations would be absorbed by your legs.

Try using a Galax bottom, "possum board".

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
07/23/19 06:53:15AM
78 posts

Richard and Denise Wilson dulcimer - needs a bridge


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I have had good luck purchasing the nut for an acoustic guitar and using that as the saddle, what you are calling the bridge.  The saddle (bridge) is what transmits most of the string vibrations to the soundbox which in turns amplifies the sound.  Your choice of material will influence the sound of your dulcimer.  Yes, wood works.  Softer woods will produce a softer sound with more overtones.  The harder the wood, the crisper the sound.  Some musicians will use very hard substances, including brass, to get a sharp twangy sound.

My personal favorite is to purchase a guitar nut made from bone.  (Try ebay, less than$5, less than $1 if you can wait on shipping.)  You will need to cut slots for the strings, in a pinch a common hacksaw will work.  The clean sound produced will reward your efforts.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
04/14/19 07:51:30AM
78 posts

Dulcimer-Guitar Style Options?


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

The banjo-esque sound comes from the shallow body.  If you want a more rounded sound, look for a deeper body.  For example, compare the sound of a McSpadden v the sound of a Folkcraft or Blue Lion.  When playing an instrument in the underhand "guitar" style, you will find many of the chord/melody riffs of a mountain dulcimer impossible.  You simply do not have the same reach as the overhand dulcimer style.  Butch Ross gets around this by "playing in the box", similar to a classical guitar player.

Good luck and please post videos when you have settled on an instrument.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
02/16/19 05:51:25AM
78 posts

To hollow or not to hollow that is the question?


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

On a typical dulcimer, as opposed to a ukulele or guitar, the vibrations from the strings get transmitted to the soundboard through the fretboard.  A heavy fretboard will tend to dampen some of the vibrations.  That said, it you use a composite fretboard with light wood topped by a strong fingerboard, (think mahogany and ebony) you might not need to hollow out the fretboard.  If your instrument has good internal bracing, you might even try separating the fingerboard from the bridge/saddle portion.

Or maybe just take John's advice and go with a hollowed out fretboard.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
02/02/19 07:12:39AM
78 posts

Shipping in the cold


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions


Two people were kind enough to purchase instruments from my Etsy site during the recent cold snap.  I messaged them that I would hold on shipping until the cold broke as I was concerned that the instruments may become brittle and break in the cold.

This was as much fear as knowledge.

Does anyone have experience with having instruments break during shipping due to cold weather?


updated by @matt-berg: 10/27/19 12:02:25PM
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/28/19 02:05:00PM
78 posts

Removing grease spot


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

I would not try to remove the grease spot. You would have better luck rubbing the entire piece of wood with the same grease. Actually, that would help bring out the wood grain. I would also wait for other ideas.
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
01/08/19 06:24:31AM
78 posts

Narrow waisted hourglass shape


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Although the wasp waist certainly adds to the looks of the dulcimer, I believe it does add to the tone.  It mellows the tone a bit, making it somewhat less jangly.  People compare the hourglass with the teardrop and say, see no difference.  They forget that a teardrop has an effectively shorter body than a teardrop.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
12/07/18 06:08:46AM
78 posts



Many dulcimers are made with hardwoods rather than the softwood soundboard in guitars.  Hardwoods tend to shrink and expand less with changes in humidity.  That is why many people get away with not humidifying their dulcimers.

With a spruce top, well, consider whether how much the air dries in winter.  People who live further north here in Michigan get more dry winters and may need humidifiers.  Not so much here in Detroit.

I believe Foldcraft used to sell dulcimer humidifiers.  Haven't looked for a while.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
10/16/18 06:16:29AM
78 posts

String gauge tolerance(s)


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

This does not directly answer your question, but the highest standard tuning that I generally see is EBee.  If you are just playing around, I would purchase multiple sets.  (If you have a guitar center, ask at accessory counter for individual strings at about $1 each.) Then just keep tuning until..."POP!"

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
09/19/18 07:39:52AM
78 posts

Sound Hole Placement


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

One thought to add, before deciding whether or not an instrument sounds good, try a few instruments.  If possible, listen to it in a jam.  Unless you have a very well trained ear (or the instrument is very bad or very good) it is hard to judge an instrument's sound in isolation.

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
07/31/18 08:00:32AM
78 posts



The trapezoid and its close cousin, the Tennessee music box, have the potential for great instruments.  Here are two of my recent builds where I added rounded corners and a waist.  As with all of my recent builds, they feature a bowed back and a floating fretboard.  Both instruments have strong voices.  The larger, 27" VSL, twangy due to stiffer bracing and the shorter, 24" VSL, more mellow.  The sound boards were from wood recovered from a house renovation.  I believe they are white cedar.


two dulcis 7-31-18.jpg two dulcis 7-31-18.jpg - 198KB
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
07/27/18 07:45:51AM
78 posts

Extra Frets for CGG tuning (DAA)


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

The DAa forum would give you more guidance.  In DAd, the 1 1/2 - 8 1/2 frets give you the ability to play F on the D strings and C on the A string.  You would gain the same notes DAa or DAd.  Whether you would use them depends on the songs you play. 

1