(Any string tuned up from its recommended tension will sound brighter )
Good to know, i do like a mellow sound.
Good luck with all the experiment you will be doing and getting back to building - can't wait to hear how it all goes..
When I built dulcimers 40 years ago I loaded them with stock Black Diamond dulcimer sets. Of course, wasn't a lot of variety available back then. When I resume building (soon!) I'll have more options. But I have some experience stringing other instruments. I use online string calculators like these:
Acoustic Guitar String Size Calculator: https://wahiduddin.net/calc/calc_guitar_string.htm
D'Addario String Tension 101: http://www.daddario.com/DAstringtensionguide.Page
You can find more by gargling https://www.google.com/search?q=calculating+string+gauges+and+tensions
Many string packs now are labeled with the tension exerted for a specific scale length, string gauge, and tuned note. I use the calculators to find what combinations are suitable for any situation. Any string tuned up from its recommended tension will sound brighter -- until either it or the instrument breaks!Strings tuned too low will sound muddy. Luckily we have a bit of leeway there.
Of course the string's material is important too, and *how* a wrapped string is wrapped. A flatwound or semi-flat string will sound mellower, as will nylon or composite strings, but the latter will probably have less sustain. As it happens, Mimmo (the boss) at Aquila is sending me a set of his new Nylgut (composite) mandolin strings to evaluate. They supposedly have the same tension as steel mando strings -- I wonder if they will sound mellower?
That brings up another possibility. Classical balalaikas use two gut or nylon strings tuned low, and a thin steel high string. I figure I'll experiment with something similar on mountain dulcimer for noter playing: bright, ringing melody line with softer, fading drones.
Something to think about, hey?
The best changes are those who are reversable...!
Bob, I don't know what style of music you play on the guitar, but did you ever tried 'Silk and Steel' strings? It is a set with three nylon like wound bass strings and three steel treble strings. They do a wonderful job when you play fingerpicking.
Ok, I worked on the dulcimer some.
I changed the middle string to the same size as the melody and took off one of the bottom strings.
Put a bit of paper in the grove of the bridge for the middle string and fixed one of the tuner knobs on a peg for the bass so it would hold the tinning.
Little changes but it made a big difference. I'll have to decide if I will just leave the paper or drop a bit of glue in the grove or file the 6,7,& 8th fret but for now the paper works fine.
(Have fun and don't be afraid to try something new!)
I love this and no I'm not afraid, I learn so much about the dulcimer by each of the member's post with all the many suggestions. The dulcimer has a nice response but my problem could be, I just like warmer more mellow tones.
Thanks for all the feed back, I will continue to try & fine this dulcimer's voice or accept it has what I would think is an old timey sound. Some cords or notes are quite nice and some not so much.
Marg, when I think about "tone quality", I think of three things pitch, volume and timber. String choice has an effect on all of these. First, let's define what I mean:
Pitch: the note to which the string is tuned. You also see this referred to as tension. More tension = higher pitch, less tension = lower pitch. Lighter weight strings can be tuned to a higer pitch than heavier strings because they require less tension to reach that pitch.
Volume: loudness. Heavier strings can produce greater volume than lighter ones
Timber: (pronounced tam-ber) This is all of those sound qualities that are not Pitch or Volume. Highly subjective and influenced by many many factors such as Wout mentions above: body design, wood choice, string materials, etc.
So, string choice is really a personal choice as to what you think sounds best on your instrument. For example, for many years I have played medium weight, John Pearse phosphor bronze wound strings on my guitar because I get greater bass response and a warm tone. Right now I like the McSpadden flat wound (squeakless) strings on one of my instruments because thery sound mellow and sweet on it and I have another strung up with nickel wound tenor banjo strings because they are brassy and bright. (and I found them at my local music shop in a pinch)
Robin Thompson plays an instrument with all plain steel strings of the same guage tuned to the same note.
Have fun and don't be afraid to try something new!
Ken, another size of strings, with the same length and pitch, needs a different tension, which will result in another building-up of overtones, which one can clearly hear, even at an old age ;-) Designing strings is a difficult job. Designing an instrument too. Lets take a look at the piano. If the bass strings weren't different in size with the others, an octave lower would mean a string twice as long. Even the grand piano would be too small. These strings are designed to sound at a special pitch with a special volume. The length is (almost) fixed. When changing the pitch of the string, mostly higher (an A into a D on the dulcimer), the tension of string is changed, also higher, which enable the string to produce higher overtones. The string will sound slightly different... In the piano the sizes differ to get the same building of overtones all over the strings, because the tension is almost the same.
The human ear is the best instrument to measure this. There are musicians, who has no prefect hearing, but are able to hear a music piece is played in 432 Hz or in 440 Hz. I am able to detect a 'false' sized string on a guitar. The dulcimer is harder, simple because the instrument is played in a different style.
On all my dulcimers 26 and27" I use 012 012 014 022. This size works for Dad and Daa. It could be that your dulcimer just doesn't sound good. I built a very beautiful black walnut model that has no tone at all. I've made many modifications and it still sounds bad. It will end up as kindling wood come winter... Robert.
length is a tad under 27". I have checked the string gage. Just wondering if in DAA i should have melody and middle both the same string size? How much does that makes a difference? Or is it not something that can make much of a diference? All good just not the best voice yet.
Marg, it would help to know the scale length... Robert
it's the red stain dulcimer, I am still playing around with. It has an old time sound to it, which I like but something just isn't right yet with the overall sound. I have put 2 strings back on for a class i am starting today but think it really sounds better with just one on the melody. Since I will be DAA mostlyI was wondering if the middle string should be the same as the melody, that's why I was asking how much of a difference the strings sizes could make. If you can remember from many many years ago, do you recall what size strings you had on yours to make it sing how you wanted?
(many variables that determine the tone of every dulcimer)
(the different soundbox or wood - one has to experiment - I mostly play in DAA,)
I like the 12 string size on melody for my 2 other dulcimers but this last one, an older 1970's dulcimer I'm haven't gotten it to sound pleasig as of yet. I have it tune to DAA and had 1 melody string on it to start but I am starting a DAA class today so put 2 - 12's on. I do feel I liked just the way just 1 string sounded better - maybe because it was thiner or just 1? Since I maybe will play mostly DAA on this dulcimer should I also have the middle string the same size as the melody? Maybe that is where I am running into trouble with the tone.
Yes, experiment is needed on this dulcimer to find it's voice and that was the thought of the post to see how much of a difference the strings can make. thanks
String gauge and tone quality? As mentioned there is no overall "right" string gauge. Just gauges for particular tuning ranges.
What do you mean by "tone quality"? How do you think string gauge would effect whatever that is?
I believe it would take extremely accurate instrumentation to be able tell if there was any difference in "tone quality" (whatever that means) between a .010 and a .012 gauge string on the melody course (either of which would be usable) in Ddd tuning, for example. Even if you had perfect pitch, I don't think you could hear the difference between a .010 and a .012 string tuned to the same note on the same instrument (double melody strings, one .010, the other .012, both tuned to the same note)
The right string is a combination between length, size and tension. The three strings on the dulcimer when bought in one package are 'matching'. Surely there are packages for sale which offer a different combination for your dulcimer, which have a different volume, resonance and playability for that particular instrument. So one has to experiment. Take one brand of strings which offers different matches. Buy a package of each and renew the strings every week (!) Try the same songs on each set, hopefully remembering how the other ones are sounding. Make notes about which string 'speaks' better than the others (sounds louder or is easier to play). Use them also in different tunings when playing in a other mode. It is possible one string fits better in another set, due to the different soundbox or wood. I mostly play in DAA, in which the middle string is too loud on my instrument. Replacing it by a thinner one makes the balance for me (less tension). I play a Blue Lion and I suspect it's luthier emphased the volume of the 2nd string to balance the double melody, which I play single. This volume is created by the instrument itself and the Blue Lion luthier, I think, has the nowledge and the capability to construct it this way. I can't tell for sure, because I have only one Bleu Lion
Marg, in my opinion there is no "right" string size. Their are ranges of string sizes "right" for melody, middle and bass strings, but the "right" size is the string or string set that the player feels is most pleasing to his/her ears. My ranges of size personally are 8 - 12 melody 12 - 16 middle and 20 - 26 bass. There are many variables that determine the tone of every dulcimer., (sound box volumne VSL, intonation, wood type, etc.)