have to press so hard it hurts fingers to get sound

John Gribble
John Gribble
@john-gribble
7 years ago
123 posts

The advice folks have given about action (string height) is good. When I was teaching guitar it was very frustrating to me to see students struggle with hard-to-play instruments yet refuse to invest a few dollars in having the problem solved. Most those who wouldn't have their instruments adjusted gave up.

Something else to consider, too, is your technique. I have the sense you're around other people who play instruments and offer advice. But be sure that you are pressing the srtings close to, but not on top, of the frets. The idea is to move the string down far enough the fret can do its job. And press only as firmly as is necessary to get a nice clear tone. We often have a tendancy to work too hard. Press down on a string so that you get a nce tone, then relax a little. Find out just how much or little force you need.

If the melody string is doubled, consider taking one of the pair off. A single string is easier to finger than a pair and sounds fine. 

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
7 years ago
411 posts

There are several things that could be making it painful to press down the strings.  Strings too high off the fretboard ("high action") is the first that comes to mind, and I see you're checking that out.  Next, I guess, would be needing a different gauge of string--and you're looking into that, too.  I just had my husband lower the action on a dulcimer in preparation for loaning it out to a novice level student, so I was finding this discussion very interesting.  Even after it passed the "nickel test" (he didn't know about the dime test), it still seemed too high to me.  So I got out a dulcimer that has a very good action (in my opinion--I do a lot of chording) and when I compared the two fretboards, it was obvious right away that my comfortable one had very low fret wires. Was this important or not?  That made me think that there could be much more to comfort in pressing down the strings that I had originally thought.  A Google search came up with this interesting information on the subject--in the context of guitars, but I think a lot of this applies to a dulcimer fretboard, as well.  Here's a link to the "10 Things You Should Know About Frets" article.

  http://www.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/10-things-you-should-know-about-frets-0705-1.aspx

Additionally, I personally feel the development of callouses helps me play better, even though I know some great players who think that if you have callouses you're doing something wrong.  When I was first learning to play, I would put several layers of clear fingernail polish on the part of each finger that pressed on the wire (I would press a chord first, then paint...dry, then press a different chord and repaint, etc.)  Those indentations show you exactly where you need the real or fake callouses! 

This has helped me; I hope someone else can benefit from my experience.  And read this short article--it's very interesting!




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
RHytonen
RHytonen
@rhytonen
7 years ago
2 posts

%^&*$ thing has a zero fret... (I though only Chinese guitars did that...)

At least I had files - have to do the action on every guitar you ever get.

The dulcimer sounds pretty nice though - until you break a string (from all the loosening and adjusting I guess..)

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,025 posts

Wout -- with a 24" VSL, 12 gauge melody strings will work for both DAA and DAd tunings.

Wout Blommers
Wout Blommers
@wout-blommers
8 years ago
97 posts

Surely you don't play noter&drone style winker

You write the strings are three .12 and one .20. Are you tuned in DAA or DAd? If you use the later, the tension on the double melody string is much higher than on the single middle string. Try pressing both using the same finger and on different frets (compare and try out if you feel a difference). A solution could be replacing the melody with two .10 strings (www.juststrings can help you out)

Wout


updated by @wout-blommers: 07/12/15 07:14:00AM
john p
john p
@john-p
8 years ago
173 posts

Hi Cynthia,

My tip for harder fingers is to play every day, even if you can only find a couple of minutes.

Just gives them a little reminder to toughen up.

Cynthia Gaines
Cynthia Gaines
@cynthia-gaines
8 years ago
11 posts

Yes the 24" is between the nut and bridge. Thank you so much for your advise I will give it a try.

I love the sweet mystical sound of the dulcimer I am not giving up!

Ken-hulme my dad explained what soft fingers meant blush  and yes I have soft but working on thoughing them up.

Thank you all for the warm welcome and help

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,025 posts

Ayup.  That's a bit high.  A 2mm doesn't sound like much, but it can be. The height can be lowered by sanding the bottom of the nut and bridge.  Carefully slack off all the strings.  Put a piece of 60 grit sandpaper, grit side up on a table.  Sand a few (10-12) strokes off the bottom of the Nut, then re-tighten the strings and test the height again.  Repeat until the strings just touch. Then repeat the process with the Bridge end of things.

So here's the second part of the equation... You said the dulcimer has "a 24" fretboard".  Is that the distance between the nut and the bridge?  Or some other measure?  If that's the distance between nut and bridge, then the 12 and 20 gauge strigs are a bit thin for that VSL (Vibrating String Length) -- and that could be adding to the problem as they would be under more tension than slightly heavier strings to get to the same notes.  For a24" VSL, a good set of gauges would be 22W for the bass, 15 plain for the middle and 12 for the melody.

Cynthia Gaines
Cynthia Gaines
@cynthia-gaines
8 years ago
11 posts

If you put the dime NEXT to the 1st fret and a nickle balance on 7th the strings are about 1 1/2 mm above dime and 2 mm above the nickel on the 7th fret.

Cynthia Gaines
Cynthia Gaines
@cynthia-gaines
8 years ago
11 posts

Thank you for your response. No I don't have soft hands at all. smile

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,025 posts

If you have very soft fingers you might get string creases that will toughen over time; but it should not be particularly painful unless you are playing for long periods of time.  Darcyhorse instruments seem to have a reputation for having high actions.  The Nickel & Dime test we use is this:

Put a dime next to the first fret.  Each string should just touch the coin.

Then balance a nickel on top of the 7th fret (not the 6+ fret); again the strings should just touch the coins. 

Not sure which is the 6+ and which is the 7th fret?  See my article called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What?  under the Dulcimer Resources Topic.

 


updated by @ken-hulme: 06/17/15 08:02:23PM
Cynthia Gaines
Cynthia Gaines
@cynthia-gaines
8 years ago
11 posts

I just got my first dulcimer, first instrument I have ever tried to played, but love their sound. I have a Darcyhorse traditional 4 string teardrop (beautiful wood) with 24" fret board. Strings are 3-12 & a 20. String height at the nut is 2mm & bridge is 4mm. Saw a post by Nancy Breeding about a nickle & dime test the first fret nickle only thight fit on the seventh fret nickle and dime with a little extra room.

I have to press so hard the wires cut into my fingers and leaves groves melody strings are really hard.. Dad thinks the string height might be to high on the brige but. not sure because he dosen't know alot about mountain dulcimers (if it was a strum stick or a Merlin dulcimer he could compare his instrument).  Do you have any advice or recommendations.

What height should the strings be at the nut & bridge.

Thank you, Cindyfrowner


updated by @cynthia-gaines: 09/09/16 09:33:27AM