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.
Have you considered contacting Richard Ash at Folkcraft? He seems always willing to help on questions like this.
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?
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.
Funny, I showed my instruments to Butch a couple years ago at Evart. I guess he remembered.
Yes, the rounded bottom seems to focus the sound back to the soundboard.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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  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. 
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
Perhaps a Seagull Merlin would be appropriate? http://www.seagullguitars.com/en/products/m4
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
I see two issues with your repair. The first is getting the glue to where you want it, the second is holding down the loose brace while the glue sets.
Steady your nerves.
For the glue, find a dentists mirror (Dollar Store, Harbor Freight, eBay) that will fit in a soundhole near the brace you want to glue. Shine a small flashlight into the soundhole on the other side of the instrument. This should allow you to see the loose brace. Shape two curved pieces of wood that are long enough to reach the loose brace. Use one to prop the brace away from the back far enough to insert glue. Take the other and put a small enough drop of glue so that it stays on when you reach into the instrument to place the glue under the bridge. Repeat until you believe enough glue is under the brace to hold it. Pull out both pieces of wood.
Fully insert the strongest of the shaped pieces of wood and flip it with a tweezer so that it curves up with one end resting on top of the brace. Take a dowel that fits through the sound hole and rest it on the wood piece. Take a clamp and gently clamp down on the dowel until the brace is in place.
Walk away and let it sit for a couple days.
For better instructions, look up gluing a loose brace on stewmac.com. They will show you how to do it on a guitar, which is easier because it has a larger body and a bigger soundhole.
Be patient, don't give up.
Could you be more specific on the location of the loose bracing? Also approximation dimensions of the heart sound holes.
Other tunings,..., many. This might not be the best forum to find people who can best discuss multiple tunings. As a start, try tuning each string down a step so that your instrument is tuned CGc(c). You can play all the same music, just everything will be slightly lower in pitch. Many players find DAdd slightly too high for comfortable singing.
If you want to explore more tunings, I would suggest looking through the books written by Don Pedi.
The nickel dime method works with the medium fret wire from Stewmac or C. Gitty reasonably well,...,except when I build a bass dulcimer. Higher action is needed with heavier strings.
When moving from a fixed saddle/bridge to a movable saddle/bridge, I have found that a standard (using the term loosely, Jim) acoustic guitar nut works very well. If you use a true bone nut, you will be quite surprised by the improved tone of your instrument over any type of wood or plastic used. Depending on the manufacture, you may need to lower the action on the new saddle/bridge.
I would say that is my two cents worth, but maybe I should kick in a nickel or a dime?
Is the action high because the nut or the bridge is too high? Sounds like the bridge position needs adjustment.
The crack looks old, if you agree, just let it be. Adds character to the instrument. If it truly bothers you, GENTLY, try pressing it back into shape. If it goes back into place, you can try putting a very thin layer of glue in the crack and GENTLY clamp it back into shape. Use a clamp with rubber protectors to avoid flattening the final product. (Even better, cut out a caul the shape of the instrument where you plan to clamp.) Immediately take the clamps off once or twice to wipe up excess glue (if any) then clamp and let sit for a couple days. Not my first thought, but you asked.
No comment on the finish.
No, actually, I have done it with other features, but not comparing oil to lacquer. The times I have used oil, I was just not happy with the results.
When asking such a question, I always build sibling dulcimers. Cut the sound board and sides out of the same piece of wood. Then finish one with tung oil and the other with lacquer or shellac. That should answer the question.
I am not a fan of using oils on any part of an instrument. I find they soak into the wood and deaden the sound. As Bob Schuler said use wax.
Seriously? This is why other musicians groan when you bring a dulcimer to a jam. We expect everyone to change for us. How nice? Not. If you plan to play a dulcimer with other instruments, you should change for them, after all, there are more of them than there are of us. Majority rules in a jam.
Yes, the dulcimer is a wonderful instrument,..., that can change and play nicely with other instruments. (And when you get REALLY good, you can bring just one instrument, or a fully chromatic dulcimer,..., hmm, fully chromatic CGg with a capo, that could do most everything.)
Bring two one DAd/DAa and one CGc/CGg and a Capo. (DAd/DAa depends on your playing style.)
The builder did a wonderful job of putting together a unique instrument. Eight strings on a thin scroll head is a lot of pressure. The sides of the head are perhaps a tad thin for that many strings.
Every instrument has the danger of cracking. An instrument as detailed as yours needs continuous care, especially to maintain constant humidity. It cracked once and could crack again. If you know a luthier nearby, ask them to look at the crack.