Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
8 years ago
155 posts

Nikolas, have you tried increasing the string gauges on your dulcimers?  This should reduce the pitch of the notes to a 'mellower' tone.  Just a thought.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,268 posts

Robert, that looks like a pretty good identical bunch for comparing tone.  A lovely sight, I might add. 




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
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robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
8 years ago
252 posts

Here I built a bunch of identical dulcimers with a mix of woods. All sounded maybe 90% in common with each other. Type of woods and weight defined the last 10%. Although I've come to my own conclusions about wood choice another person probably would not agree. Butternut, poplar, cherry are my favorites... Robert... 

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
8 years ago
155 posts

I'm wondering if the hearing aid is the culprit rather than the dulcimer.  Have you explored any other options with your audioligist or ear specialist?

John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
8 years ago
182 posts

Nikolas, from what I have read of your sound desires it strikes me that the combination of a walnut body and a butternut (walnut family...slightly less density) might be what you seek, but actual sound and individual perception of sound can vary somewhat (the same is true with pitch...some people can be out of tune and not even realize it due to their own perception of sound).  Wood choices are extremely important in the sound of a well designed instrument.  A dulcimer made of all woods with tremendous density could have the same basic sound quality as a brick with strings (trust me, I've heard it).  The hickory could also be a nice choice.  All hickory is usually a more subdued and mellow sound, while a hickory top with a walnut body keeps the mellow quality with a bit more volume.  There is nothing like trying them yourself, but if that isn't an option, these would be my recommendations based upon what you have written.  I hope that this is helpful to you in your quest for the right dulcimer for YOU.

paul buckner
paul buckner
@paul-buckner
8 years ago
1 posts

On the site for Ron Gibson Dulcimers he has soundfiles for several all walnut dulcimers. Keep in mind that Ron's dulcimers have a deep sounbox and have a lot of volume. I had teardrop with a maple soundboard and cherry sides and it was one of the louder dulcimers I have heard

joe sanguinette
joe sanguinette
@joe-sanguinette
8 years ago
73 posts

different woods.....especially soundboard woods can have their own tonal qualities.  perhaps the best example are instruments made of

koa.  they have a unique and beautiful sound found in no other instrument.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,128 posts

Nikolas -- I see you're in Winston-Salem NC.  There is a lot of dulcimer activity "inland".  There's a dulcimer shop in Blowing Rock and in Black Mountain; also around Cullowhhee.  Undoubtedly several others I don't know of.  NC is a hotbed of dulcimer activity both on the coast and up in the hills.  Several world-class dulcimer players make NC their home.  Look around, you should find a lot of dulcimers to listen to.

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
8 years ago
108 posts

They always say the most important piece of safety equipment in an automobile is the nut behind the wheel.  Well, the key factor that determines a dulcimer's sound is the player.  Heavy strum, light strum, where to strum, type of pick... never mind fingerpicking.  Five players can take the same dulcimer and make it sound entirely different.  That's one reason why we'll never come to a definitive agreement about wood or anything else.

I once had the opportunity to work my way down a vendor table, playing standard McSpadden hourglasses that were identical except for the wood.  I once browsed the Folkcraft showroom, where I sampled various woods and body depths (and other factors, too... the Folkcraft options can get overwhelming) (clearly I need to buy them all).  I borrow and play every dulcimer I can lay my hands on, and over the years I've come to some conclusions about what I like, but someone else could do the same and come to entirely different conclusions.  Different ears, different personal tastes, and different playing techniques.

If at all possible, try to attend a dulcimer festival or go to Fort Wayne and visit the Folkcraft showroom.  Or go to Mountain View and visit McSpadden.  Even if you don't buy a dulcimer there (good luck with that) you'll get the chance to play similar models with different woods, shapes and sizes.  Barring an opportunity to try dulcimers in person, your best bet is to talk to builders, and maybe you can listen to them play some models over the phone.

Incidentally, as a former apartment dweller who likes to stay up late and hates to annoy neighbors, I've tried keeping dulcimers quiet.  A softer pick, a slower strum, resting the dulcimer on a towel or some other thick fabric to keep the back and sides from resonating, using a piece of paper or a corner of an envelope as a pick, giving up on picks entirely and using my fingers, stuffing fabric into the sound holes, leaving the fabric resting on top of the dulcimer, tuning the strings down to low tension, playing near upholstered furniture, rugs and curtains that absorb sound rather than in an empty room... there are many things you can try before giving up on a dulcimer as too loud or too bright. 

Dan
Dan
@dan
8 years ago
185 posts

Strumelia:
I think part of the problem is that with mtn dulcimers, there is a HUGE variety in the factors that influence sound: body shape, body volume, wood type, string gauges and types, inner bracing, wood thickness, instrument age, repairs, overall scale length or size, pick variations, noter or finger fretting, action,...the list can go on and on, and every one of these factors can influence the sound/tone/volume to one degree or another.  Side by side tests are rather meaningless unless every single factor but one is absolutely identical. In comparison- violins, mandolins, guitars etc do have some of the same kinds of variations but overall they tend to be much more uniform and therefore it's a bit easier to make comparisons based on one factor, such as wood type or body volume for example.  Yet we expect to be able to make the same comparisons on wildly varying dulcimers?...we cannot. There are just way too many variations to do accurate scientific comparisons on dulcimers that are different from each other in multiple ways.  In the end, our best means of selecting a dulcimer for ourselves remains: simply listening to an existing particular dulcimer to see if we LIKE the sound (what a concept), or by talking to your luthier of choice about your goals and preferences so he can try to incorporate some of the factors that would increase the odds of a custom dulcimer sounding to your liking. All that said, it seems like we have this very same discussion every year.  

Ditto!

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
8 years ago
252 posts

 

Ken Longfield:
Have you tried an all hickory dulcimer? I think they are one of the most muted dulcimers I've every heard. It is a lovely sound. Ken "The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
 

Ken, I couldn't agree more. I built a hickory top and back model  with a 1.75" deep body. Somewhat muted but a remarkably balanced tone. A great dulcimer to sing along with.

No two dulcimers ever sound alike and you don't know how a dulcimer will sound until its tuned up. Half the fun of building dulcimers is the surprise you get when you first play them... Robert...

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,268 posts

I think part of the problem is that with mtn dulcimers, there is a HUGE variety in the factors that influence sound: body shape, body volume, wood type, string gauges and types, inner bracing, wood thickness, instrument age, repairs, overall scale length or size, pick variations, noter or finger fretting, action,...the list can go on and on, and every one of these factors can influence the sound/tone/volume to one degree or another.  Side by side tests are rather meaningless unless every single factor but one is absolutely identical.

In comparison- violins, mandolins, guitars etc do have some of the same kinds of variations but overall they tend to be much more uniform and therefore it's a bit easier to make comparisons based on one factor, such as wood type or body volume for example.  Yet we expect to be able to make the same comparisons on wildly varying dulcimers?...we cannot.

There are just way too many variations to do accurate scientific comparisons on dulcimers that are different from each other in multiple ways.  In the end, our best means of selecting a dulcimer for ourselves remains: simply listening to an existing particular dulcimer to see if we LIKE the sound (what a concept), or by talking to your luthier of choice about your goals and preferences so he can try to incorporate some of the factors that would increase the odds of a custom dulcimer sounding to your liking.

All that said, it seems like we have this very same discussion every year.  whistle




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Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 01/16/16 10:54:37AM
Randy Adams
Randy Adams
@randy-adams
8 years ago
116 posts

There are a minority of people who can tell the difference of sound between different woods used in musical instrument construction and the different shapes used....what percentage I don't know...10%?...20%?...5%?...

Whenever this subject comes up the majority, who can't hear the difference, claim there is 0%...... : )....

Me?....I used to be in the minority when I was younger and willing to put forth the effort to listen and concentrate intensely....now I'm in the majority... : ).....

-----------------

Almost everyone can agreed that different woods have definite tonal characteristics. For one example  https://www.taylorguitars.com/blog/guitars-more/tone-talk-rosewood-mahogany-and-maple

Yet when someone in these dulcimer forums asks what kind of wood they could use to get such and such a sound the standard response seems to be "just pick out the wood you find pleasing and the builder can make it sound any way you want." 

Shouldn't a dulcimer be made to focus on the tonal characteristics of the wood with which it is built?

 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,128 posts

A part of the problem is that is no meaningful definitions of terms like bright, mellow, sharp, sweet, muted and loud.  Nothing that says "this is a 2 on a 5 point scale of mellow".   All we have are subjective impressions. 

We do know that wood type is only one of dozens of factors that affect sound, and a good builder can make a dulcimer sound pretty much anyway you want.  I have personally heard both "sharp" and "mellow" virtually identical dulcimers made by the same maker, from the same wood combinations. 

Volume (length x width x depth) of the dulcimer affects sound, yes, certainly.  Both volume and effect are easily measured.  But shape does not effect the sound.   A year or more back I posted here and on ED,  a double-blind "can you tell which track is played by a teardrop and which by an hourglass" test because people said they could "always" tell what shape was playing a tune.  A number of tunes were recorded on an hourglass, an elliptical and a teardrop.  No one who took the test came close to getting the shape correct, even half the time.  That's a pretty good indication that shape has little or no discernable effect on the sound. .


updated by @ken-hulme: 01/16/16 08:32:47AM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
8 years ago
1,737 posts

If you are looking for a specific sound, I would suggest asking what builders make dulcimers that sound like that rather than what woods to use. Although the type of wood clearly has some effect on the sound of a dulcimer, other aspects of instrument design have a far greater influence. A Blue Lion will always sound more mellow than a Pritchard replica no matter what woods are chosen. If you have an all walnut Folkcraft, a Folkcraft with a spruce top, and an all walnut Warren May, the two Folkcrafts would sound closer to one another than the two walnut dulcimers would.

Having said that, in general, instruments that have soft tonewood like spruce or cedar for the top will have a warmer, more mellow sound than instruments that have hardwood such as walnut or cherry for the top.  That is why spruce is traditionally chosen for the tops of guitars and violins, for example.

 




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

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Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
8 years ago
143 posts

I have a Folkcraft all-hickory FSH teardrop dulcimer that I play on a table with a small thin plastic placemat (lined side up) under it. Its sound is quite mellow (to my ears) and not very loud when played this way. I have an all-walnut hourglass dulcimer made by Johnny Pledger that I play the same way and its quite a bit louder and not as mellow as the teardrop (it's deeper and wider).

To be honest, I don't know how much the type of wood affects the sound quality of each dulcimer as opposed to the size and shape. 

John Gribble
John Gribble
@john-gribble
8 years ago
124 posts

I think the quality you have trouble with is a bright tone and the top of an instrument really does affect the tone quality. An all-mahogany instrument may have the sound you're looking for, warm, not so bright. Walnut is similar, but a little drier, a little brighter. I personally don't care much for spruce-topped dulcimers. They sound too guitar-like to me, and I already have guitars.

The McSpadden website has pretty good soundclips of their instruments. A half hour there would probably help you narrow down your choices. I also hear a significant tone difference between hourglass and teardrop bodies.

Annie Deeley
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
8 years ago
49 posts

Hi. I have a mellow,sweeeet-soundiing dulcimer. Built by Robert Schuler of butternut, which I understand is related to walnut...

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
8 years ago
1,107 posts

Have you tried an all hickory dulcimer? I think they are one of the most muted dulcimers I've every heard. It is a lovely sound.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
8 years ago
108 posts

It seems you're looking for exactly the opposite sound compared to what I prefer.  So... given that I greatly prefer a cedar top over an all-walnut dulcimer... I conclude that you would probably prefer the all-walnut!  Vive la difference :-)

Give Folkcraft a call or email them and ask what they recommend.  They are very nice people and they can help you pick out not only the wood, but also the body size, shape and depth.  A deep body gives a mellow sound, but also increases the volume so I'm not sure if that's the way to go. 

Ben Barr Jr
Ben Barr Jr
@benjamin-w-barr-jr
8 years ago
64 posts

A dulcimer too loud?  That would have to be an oxymoron.  

joe sanguinette
joe sanguinette
@joe-sanguinette
8 years ago
73 posts

hard to imagine a dulcimer that is too loud. 

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,268 posts

I personally feel the reality is somewhere in the middle here.   :)




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,128 posts

Type of wood is REALLY far down the list of dozens of things that influence and affect the overall sound.  All Walnut is no more 'fat and mellow' than all Poplar or Wenge and Spruce or any other wood combinations you can think of.  Specific instruments vary in sound.

I never recommend that a person buy a dulcimer by specific wood, except in the sense of beauty.  Virtually identical dulcimers can sound as different as night and day.  Several builders that I know have made identical dulcimers from consectutive slices of wood from a single log -- and gotten completely different sounds.  No two McSpaddens sound exactly alike, regardless of the woods.  Just keep listening until you hear the sound you want.  Then be prepared to buy that sound.