Leny-Sue
Leny-Sue
@leny-sue
3 months ago
11 posts

Thanks for the responses and insight into this. I will tune the strings according to the meter and then just tweak it to my ear.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 months ago
1,822 posts

Well,  I just tested 8 dulcimers of various VSLs and tunings, and I can say YES -- at the very end of the sustain, the needle wiggles a little to either side of 'spot on', usually less than 10 cents worth.  I suspect it's an artifact of the volume of the sustain falling off as much as anything.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 months ago
1,969 posts

Leny-sue, that's what is called "decay" of the note, and is normal. It tends to be more noticeable on strings at looser tension and also wound strings, and more so when the strings are plucked hard. Most of us pick the first part or middle part of the sounding note to tune by, not the ending 'decaying' tone.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Leny-Sue
Leny-Sue
@leny-sue
3 months ago
11 posts

Hi Folks. I have a question concerning my dulcimer strings fluctuating in pitch while tuning with an app on my mobile device. Is it common for them to "go flat" while sustaining after plucking? The pitch actually moves lower then sometimes back to nearly what it should read on the meter. Is the sustain suppose to remain constant to the end? Thanks for your input.

Jim Soltis
Jim Soltis
@jim-soltis
5 months ago
5 posts

Thanks for the response and suggestion, Ken. 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
5 months ago
1,822 posts

I see Terry sells string sets in 24/16/12 and 26/16/13.   The 26/16/13 set may help but i wouldn't guarantee it. 

What I suggest is dropping Terry a note and explaining to him what you've explained here.  Rather than centering your strings on D, he may recommend buying strings ideal for the key of C; that way you'd be going up one step to D, and down only one step to B...

Jim Soltis
Jim Soltis
@jim-soltis
5 months ago
5 posts

Ken, I normally play in the key of D, especially when I'm playing with my dulcimer club [which I hope to do again this spring or summer]. But when I'm playing by myself these days, I'm playing in C just as often.   And the intonation problem is definitely worse when I tune to B than to C.  Maybe I should go up to .26, 16., 14.  Then perhaps I could play in D, C and B without noticeable lack of intonation as I go up the fretboard.  I might give that a try. 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
5 months ago
1,822 posts

What is your normal tuning on the McCafferty?  Key of D -- DAd -- I'm assuming?  If so, going down to the key of C should be easily playable with those strings.  But going down to the key of B may be borderline 'floppy' for those strings and causing issues.

Jim Soltis
Jim Soltis
@jim-soltis
5 months ago
5 posts

I have a slightly different, but related, question.  On my McCafferty dulcimer, I use the gauges recommended by the builder, Terry -- .24, .15, and .12.  But for some songs I like to play in CGC.  And Wendy Songe posted a YouTube video of a wonderful version of Loch Lomond that she does in BF#B.  That has inspired me to try playing some in that tuning.  Both tunings are a bit bass-y, but as I say, they work well for some songs.  Problem is that the intonation gets noticably  off -- strings get sharp --  as soon as I move up the fretboard, even on the first fret.  Will higher gauge strings counteract that?  I don't really want to have to change strings whenever I want to use those tunings.  [I don't have a lot of dulcimers that I can keep around in different tunings.  Besides, I love my McCafferty in all tunings.]

Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
6 months ago
7 posts

Thank you, Dusty--good information and perspective for me this morning.  

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 months ago
1,441 posts

@lisa-c, it's certainly a good idea to get a ballpark idea of what a good string gauge would be for different tunings, as you've done, but you will want to experiment and find the ideal for you.  We all have different preferences.  On my full-size dulcimers I use a .026 on the bass, . 016 on the middle, and .013 on the melody.  That might be too heavy for others, but I like the bigger sound and the extra resistance when bending strings.  And my preferences also change depending on how I am playing. When I fingerpick, I like a little extra give in the strings, so I tune down to C. When I flatpick, I like really taut strings with a quick response to the pick, and I tune up to Eb or even E.  In other words, I keep the string gauges the same but change the tuning to get a different feel.  Of course, when I play with others, I just keep things tuned to D.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 11/01/20 01:55:37AM
Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
7 months ago
7 posts

Strumelia, I appreciate your suggestion and should have known better as a retired editor! :)  And while I'm fine with changing tunings, having three dulcimers and just playing alone at home led to each having a different tuning.  I recently changed my DAd dulcimer to CGc, thus nice to know the set of strings is fine for either tuning.  Thanks again for your sharing today and for all your care to this wonderful site!  


updated by @lisa-c: 11/01/20 04:17:09PM
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
7 months ago
1,969 posts

Lisa C, just a suggestion so that we can all discuss these details without getting mixed up: it helps to list both the string letter notes and the gauges in the same order. It's been mostly accepted to list from low to high with dulcimers... thus you'd write DAd or CGG and the first letter of each of those is assumed to be the low/bass string. But to carry this through consistently, you'd then list string gauges in the same order (low bass string, middle string, melody string). So for example you would write:  .022, .012, .010 for DAd... not in the opposite order that you wrote.  :)

Personally, I would not bother to change string gauges if going back and forth between DAd and CGC. I do understand though that you are talking about 'ideal' gauges here.. so maybe you intend to stay in a tuning and wanting the best gauges just for that tuning. Definitely there are various reasons when one might want to do that!




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
7 months ago
7 posts

Thank you all.  I now also fully understand the difference between lowercase and uppercase note letters.  (Had prior wondered why some tab said DAD and others DAd.)  And I had assumed that the string gauges for DAd and CGc would probably be the same (both 1-5-8 tunings).  For the 27.75" VSL, am now thinking the ideal gauges for DAd would be .012, .014, .022 and for CGc would be .012, .016, .024.


updated by @lisa-c: 11/01/20 04:19:52PM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
7 months ago
1,822 posts

Lisa is correct, of course the actual tuning is DF#A, not DFA.  And the F# is higher than the bass string and lower than the Melody string. 

I use the Strothers String Calculator:  http://www.strothers.com/string_choice.html  You plug in the VSL of your instrument at the chosen open tuned notes you want.  The calculator is noticeably a bit light, so you can easily go 1 or 2 gauges higher.

I belong to the "change your tuning" school, not the "one tuning per instrument" so I'm constantly changing tunings to match my mood and the moods of the songs I play.

I spent close to 30 years tuning mostly to Ionian DAA and the minor Modes Aeolian DAC and Dorian DAG.  All based on one set of string gauges.  These days I mostly play dulcemores set up to play Bagpipe tunings Ddd and Cgg, and plus a museum replica fretted zither set up for Unison tunings of ddd and ccc, and another "high strung" for GDD.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
7 months ago
1,441 posts

Lisa C: Also, is there a chart or link you could share that shows the ideal gauges for the most common tunings per the common VSLs (thinking between 25" and 28")?   
 


@lisa-c, you can check out the Strothers String Gauge Calculator .  You input the vibrating string length and the specific note you want it the calculator will tell you a string gauge. It errs on the light side, so feel free to go one or two sizes heavier.


There used to be a website devoted to the 1-3-5 tuning, but I can't seem to find it now. Maybe someone will chime in.


For some reason, a lot of people who use that tuning choose to choose F-A-C.  Maybe that allows you to go back and forth between D-A-d and F-A-C without changing strings.  I'm not sure.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 10/31/20 12:08:30PM
Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
7 months ago
7 posts

Strumelia, good information--thank you!  Am wondering whether you have a favorite tuning other than 1-5-8 or 1-5-5.  I began leaning toward trying 1-3-5 because Dulcimertab is generously sharing several good, nicely presented tunes.  

Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
7 months ago
7 posts

Ken, I meant to ask whether or not you were also sharing that the ideal gauges for DAD (a 1-5-8 tuning) would be .022/.012/.010 (for the 27 3/4-inch VSL).  Is that correct? 

Also, is there a chart or link you could share that shows the ideal gauges for the most common tunings per the common VSLs (thinking between 25" and 28")?  

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
7 months ago
1,969 posts

Lisa C, if you are planning a 1-3-5 tuning in the key of D, then keep in mind the middle string will be an F# (not an F). Also, that middle string will be the F# that's LOWER than your melody string but higher than your bass string. If you try to tune the middle string to the F# that's in the same higher octave as the melody string, (in other words 2.5 steps higher than the high d if you are starting from DAd) then at that VSL you'll likely break the middle string if tuning it to F#4 (4 being the fourth octave on the piano). In a nutshell- use the middle string F# that's lower than the melody string for 1-3-5.

Notes such as E and F or F# are a bit tricky on the dulcimer. They can ride the fence of being in either higher or lower octave which can be confusing. With those 'cusp' notes we should double check that we're not only using the right gauge string, but also that we're not aiming for the wrong octave when we go to tune that string, since it's not always obvious.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 10/31/20 10:47:04AM
Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
7 months ago
7 posts

I have not yet added strings to this recently acquired dulcimer.  Just finished refurbishing it, via a wood craftsman, and thankfully now looks brand new.  (Was made from a HERE, Inc. kit sometime in the 1980s or early 1990s in my home state of Ohio.)  Because I have two other dulcimers, I thought it might be fun to try a different tuning for this 'new' dulcimer.  Thank you for helping me see the ideal gauges--much appreciated. 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
7 months ago
1,822 posts

What are you currently tuned to??   DAd?  That .024 is a bit heavy -- .019 to .022 is more common.  An ideal string set for DFA (1-3-5) would be .020/.016/.012.   

Lisa C
Lisa C
@lisa-c
7 months ago
7 posts

I have a 27 3/4-inch VSL dulcimer for which I'd like to try 1-3-5 tuning.  Will the .10, .12, .24 gauge combination accommodate that tuning (or would you recommend otherwise, please)?  


updated by @lisa-c: 10/30/20 09:16:22PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
4 years ago
1,441 posts

Skip has it right. Check out Get Tuned for a visual depiction of the tuning of the dulcimer relative to the piano.

A couple of things to remember:

1) The suggestions you've received so far for string gauge are reasonable, but without knowing the VSL (vibrating string length, or the distance between nut and bridge), no one can really know for sure what gauge strings would be appropriate.

2) Your mileage may vary.  Play around a little to find your personal preferences.  I have discovered that I like slightly heavier strings than most, at least for flatpicking.  But I often tune down to C for fingerpicking because I like a little give in the strings, something I definitely don't want when flatpicking.

3) Steel is steel and strings are strings.  Don't worry about brands.  Just figure out what gauge you want for each string and buy single strings, avoiding sets which might not have exactly the right gauge for each string and also cost more per string.  Once you know what gauges you want you can buy in bulk and save even more.

3a) The exception to the statement above is that wound strings come in a few different varieties.   The most common are nickel wound and bronze wound.  Take the time to discover your preferences.  Personally, I like the bronze-wound strings because the tone is more mellow.  The nickel-wound strings have a brighter sound, and that might be more appropriate for some dulcimers than others and for some pairs of ears than others.  Also, if you find you get a lot of squeaking on the wound strings, you can get "squeakless" strings (which aren't actually squeakless, but the squeaking is reduced).  I won't go into the options there, but just know they exist in several different varieties but some people think they produce a more muted tone.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Skip
Skip
@skip
4 years ago
286 posts

The bass string is tuned to the D below middle C, D3. The middle string is to the A below middle C, A3. The melody string is tuned to either the same A as the middle string, DAA, or to the D [D4] just above middle C, for DAd. Middle C is C4. 

tomchateau
@tomchateau
4 years ago
6 posts

Do you tune the bass string to an A above, or below the D?

Dan
Dan
@dan
4 years ago
130 posts

The wound string (.022) is the bass string. Low D will be fine with that string....

 

DAN

www.dulcimore.com

tomchateau
@tomchateau
4 years ago
6 posts

One more question about strings.

Will the .12 .12 .14 .22 accommodate DAA and DAD tuning, or will the .22 break when tuned to D?   Does this question even make sense?

 

tomchateau
@tomchateau
4 years ago
6 posts

Thanks for all the great info.  Looks like I am settling on .12, .12, .14, .22 (or .24)

 

           Appreciated

Kusani
Kusani
@kusani
4 years ago
134 posts

Also, some players/listeners really don't appreciate the 'squeal, buzz, twang' or whatever some call it on the heaver strings and those (.022" - .024") strings are available in plain steel or a 'silent' wound string. 


updated by @kusani: 05/27/17 04:55:01PM
Dan
Dan
@dan
4 years ago
130 posts

What gauge is more important than maker, this will all depend on you! Some like them light, some heavier. Start in the middle and give them a while before you decide what is right for you. Next, the specific gauge is determined by the instrument, vibrating string length, maker and such will better let us help you to start.....

John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
4 years ago
257 posts

Hi, Tom!  Welcome to the site.

It would help if we knew what kind (or make) of dulcimer you have and what tuning you'd prefer, but a good starting point would be a set by C. F. Martin, D'Addario or GHS.  The strings tend to be plain steel (.012" - .014") and wound steel (.022" - .024").

tomchateau
@tomchateau
4 years ago
6 posts

Hi All,

Totally new to the dulcimer and have a couple of questions about strings.

What brand of strings, and what gauge, do you recommend?  

 

            Thanks...Tom