Changing tuners on a Warren May dulcimer.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
2 months ago
644 posts

Thanks, Greg. I knew that at least one of those fellows did that.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
2 months ago
104 posts

KenL - Keith Young used to put the fine tuners on his dulcimers.  They went on the string between the bridge and the tail-end.  Slide the tuner toward the tail-end to increase the pitch ever so slightly,  Slide the tuner back toward the bridge to lower the pitch.  The fine-tuner is basically a wedge, with a hole for the string to pass through, that is wedged between the string and the fingerboard.  They work like a charm.  I still own one of Keith Young's teardrop dulcimers with hand-carved wooden pegs and his homemade fine-tuners.   Tuning is no problem at all. 


updated by @greg-gunner: 01/17/20 08:45:12PM
Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 months ago
644 posts

I remember a builder who made fine tuners out of small trapezoidal shaped blocks of ebony. I'm not sure if it was Walt Martin, Keith Young, George Orthey, or someone else. They worked very well.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 months ago
1,698 posts

The fine tuners you might use depend on how much string length you have between the bridge and the turn over the end or string pins, and how high/shallow the angle of the strings are.  If you have a long distance and fairly high angle, you can often fit violin fine tuners.   You can also make fine tuners by slipping a large-ish glass or metal bead on each string behind the bridge and before the string pin or turn over the end.  You then tweak the tuning by moving the bead back and forth.  the photo below shows long white beads between the bridge and the turn over the tail:

Image result for fine tuning beads

marg
@marg
3 months ago
545 posts

ken

( fine tuners that will allow you to dial in a tuning once you're close with the pegs.  )

where do we fine these and how do they work?

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
4 years ago
1,717 posts

Joe- what an awesome solution.  Big win all around!!  thumbsup




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
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joe sanguinette
joe sanguinette
@joe-sanguinette
4 years ago
74 posts

ken  is right.  don't change the tuners.  replacing the wound bass string with a plain one might help.

a few years ago a lady brought me a very low number vintage mc spadden asking that i install geared tuners.  instead i called a friend

who worked at the mc spadden shop.  i proposed a trade which they jumped on.  they have a 50 year old instrument hanging in the shop and

she has a beautiful new mc spadden with geared tuners.  it was a win/win

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
4 years ago
1,717 posts

Dan Goad:

 I currently have 5 dulcimers with wooden pegs.  It's a fairly simple process once you get used to it. I use Regal Peg Drips from Regal Music Co, in Ely, MN.  I've had a 2oz bottle ($5.00) for about 5 years and still have approx 90% remaining in the bottle.

I do the same.  That stuff is like gold...works so well.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 years ago
1,698 posts

The problem is that with most geared tuners you have to drill holes for the screws that hold them in place, and that can reduce the value of a collectible instrument.

Jack Ferguson
Jack Ferguson
@jack-ferguson
4 years ago
8 posts

 Cool idea...

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 years ago
644 posts

Jan, that's what did when I needed a 1+ fret to play "It's A Grand Old Flag."

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
4 years ago
436 posts

In Sam Edelston's class at Kentucky Music Week this summer, we made extra frets using the long side of a jumbo paper clip.  I was amazed at how well that worked!  We found it worked best to have our tape running perpendicular to the fret.  Scotch makes Removable Tape that is clear (with a matte finish) and can be removed from paper the way painter's tape can be removed from a wall http://www.scotchbrand.com/3M/en_US/scotch-brand/products/catalog/~/Scotch-Removable-Tape-Dispensered-Roll?N=4335+3294529207+3294603443&rt=rud




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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
marg
@marg
4 years ago
545 posts

 dan-hess

      I have a small Warren May and no 6+ but slipped a piece of medal in the spot where the fret should go and just tape it down, works great.

Just a thought, maybe someone else can tell us a better way but this takes care of the problem.

Dan Hess
Dan Hess
@dan-hess
4 years ago
1 posts

About a year ago sent my Warren May #3277 back to him to have a 6 1/2 fret and mechanical tuners installed.  He stated that he felt the replacement Grover tuners would not affect the value of the dulcimer.  Warren keeps the original wooden peg tuners and when asked why he said he hopes to make some more traditional dulcimers in his old age and has problems carving the wooden pegs with old hands.

I wonder if we get carried away with collectors value of our dulcimers, that said, i would never alter my old 1972 Homer Ledford #2191 YP 1900 with 150 year old yellow poplar sound board and matched burled walnut sides, walnut back, wooden tuning pegs, partial wire frets and first and second frets positioned for old time playing and original Ledford wooden case.  There are few dulcimer players in the area and our group plays songs requiring the 6 1/2 fret so i end up playing my 1989 Ledford #5296 0446 which came with 5 Star mechanical tuners and spruce top.  It is easy to tune and good enough for 80+ year old ears.

Here is a plug for Ralph Lee Smith's "The Story the Dulcimer"  2nd edition.  Our favorite musical instrument is evolving still. Enjoy...

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 years ago
1,698 posts

Most wooden pegs have a tiny hole through them to feed the string through and lock it in place.  I should not take 5 minutes to tune all three strings to the proper pitches.   I wouldn't trust metalheads either...  I know Warren talks about chalk, but a bottle of peg drops works just fine on my John Knopf Thomas replica.   You do have to learn to turn and push to lock the peg into position (not just turn), and expect a little slippage and plan for it.  

 

Dan-goad -- I've used a 20 or 22 plain steel bass string on my Thomas replica for several years, and prefer it to a wound bass.

Stewart McCormick
Stewart McCormick
@stewart-mccormick
4 years ago
68 posts

Thank you all for the helpful responses! And Dan Goad, that video would be much appreciated! Last year when I took my pre-revival dulcimer to the local music shop to get strings changed, it was a little unsettling...  The 30 something yr. old instrument tech, in his favorite Pantera/Dimebag Darrel t-shirt, basically didn't know what he was looking at! And 30 minutes later I shelled out almost $30, but hey, it still plays a tune!

John Gribble
John Gribble
@john-gribble
4 years ago
88 posts

I would not recommend the Grover pegs. I just took very similar pegs off an older instrument I bought used and replaced them with Pegheds. I'm very happy with the Pegheds. They work really well and look like traditional violin pegs. But it was a tricky installation. It took me several evenings to do the job properly. A violin repairperson should do it if you're not experienced working with tapered reamers, small files, super glue, and following directions very carefully.

 

Your wooden pegs are actually superior to the Grover "patent heads." Both hold their tension with friction. Wooden pegs need to be properly seated in their holes and sometimes need a little rosin, chalk, or peg dope to seat properly. Patent heads use a tension screw which often shakes loose or comes loose while tuning.

 

Aside from slipping, friction pegs of any sort are not as easy to tune as are geared heads. Getting the strings just right takes some practice and patience.

 

Geared pegs are easier to use. There are two types, planetary and guitar-type. Planetary gears (or "heads" or "pegs") are used on most banjos and some dulcimers. People like them because they are straight, like friction pegs but have a 4:1 gear ratio. That is, it takes four complete rotations of the knob for the shaft to rotate once. This makes fine tuning much easier. They don't require any screws. But they often require a spline notch or small hole for an anchor post, hidden under the gear housing. The disadvantages to planetary heads are cost (my Pegheds were $100), not as fine a gear ratio as guitar pegs, and the tension needs to be tightened occasionally, just like the patent heads. 

 

Guitar-type heads have gears at a right angle. That's why the buttons on a steel-stringed guitar stick out to the sides, while the buttons on a banjo don't. They can be mounted on the back of a solid peghead or on the side of a slotted peghead. 

 

There are two types, "open" or exposed-gear, and sealed-gear, in which the gears are sealed inside a casing with a lubricant. (Planetary tuners are also sealed with a lubricant.) Guitar-type tuners are made individually, like planetary pegs, or several mounted to a common  plate. The two big advantages of guitar tuners are cost and a higher gear ratio. A typical gear ratio is 12:1, twelve rotations of the knob to a singe rotation of the shaft. While this means changing strings may take longer, fine-tuning a string is much, much easier. Ratios have ranged from 8:1 to as high as 18:1. 

 

A complete set of serviceable import tuners can be had for as little as $10.00! Of course, prices go up from there.

 

Guitar tuners don't require much attention. A drop of oil on exposed gears every few years is about all the service they'll ever need. They are held in place with small screws. Sometimes the screws will loosen slightly and need to be snugged down. Sealed units (both guitar and planetary banjo types) also have threaded bushings which circle the string posts and screw into the housing from above. These help keep the unit in place and may need to be tightened slightly once in a while.

 

I think the main objection people have to guitar tuners is aesthetic. They don’t like the look. But my new Warren May came with gold-plated Grover Rotomatics, sealed guitar tuners. They work wonderfully and the gold against the walnut looks great.  Mr. May does retrofit geared tuners to his dulcimers. He also keeps all the old wooden pegs he replaces. I suspect he plans to build some more traditional-style instruments and he plans to recycle the old pegs.

 

Two of my dulcimers have wooden pegs and one of my fretless banjos has patent pegs. Everything else has gears or zither pins. The only one I had real problems with recently was the dulcimer with the Grover patent pegs. The Pegheds fixed that.

 

updated by @john-gribble: 09/07/16 02:48:09AM
Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
4 years ago
161 posts

The drops work for me and it lasts a good while as well.  I would like to hear Mr. May's reason for chalk only.  I've never heard that before.  I'm sure he has a good reason.  I've heard that rosin is good too but I've never used it either.

marg
@marg
4 years ago
545 posts

Warren says to just use chalk not any of the peg drops. I have a small Warren May 'groundhog' with the wooden tuners, I can use chalk now but not sure what the other owner used or for how long. Most of the pegs do fine but i have one that is a problem, I was wondering if I should switch it around with one of the others, maybe over the years it got into the wrong slot.

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
4 years ago
436 posts

Stewart, I had that same conundrum several years ago (more than 20!), since my first real wooden dulcimer was made by Warren May and, after awhile,  I wanted geared tuners like it seemed everyone else had (even though I only played it about once a year).  My solution was to buy a second Warren May dulcimer--one that had the 6.5 fret and geared tuners!  That may not be your solution.  You may want to consider shipping it to Warren and having him change out the pegs...he'll do it "for a price" (don't know what that would be these days) and you could be sure the job would be done right!

 




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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
Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
4 years ago
161 posts

I've been thinking of replacing the wound bass string on my Thomas repro to a plain steel string.  I may try to put together a video of the process.

Stewart McCormick
Stewart McCormick
@stewart-mccormick
4 years ago
68 posts

Ok so, I get the purity of keeping the original tuners in place, and I do love the thing, so selling it is out of the question. But sometimes it takes a good 5 minutes to get it in unison! The local guitar guys are metal heads so I don't know if I trust them for maintenance or advice... Also, maybe if one of you more knowledgeable members have time, a tutorial on string changing with pegs would help us newbies! Do you tie the string around the shafts of the peg, similar to tying a knot on a nylon string guitar?

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 years ago
644 posts

The Grover Sta-Tites that you are looking at are mechanical friction pegs just like your wood tuning pegs. I did not check the dimensions of the pegs, but you would need to make sure your holes are small enough to accept the new turners. Frankly those pegs would not be a great improvement over Warren's tuning pegs. I had one break last year. I sent Warren the peg. He repaired it and send it back to me along with a new peg at no cost to me. That's great service. I put the new peg in and it works fine. If you were to use Pegheds you would have to make sure you the size of the holes in order to get the correct size tuners.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
4 years ago
161 posts

 I currently have 5 dulcimers with wooden pegs.  It's a fairly simple process once you get used to it. I use Regal Peg Drips from Regal Music Co, in Ely, MN.  I've had a 2oz bottle ($5.00) for about 5 years and still have approx 90% remaining in the bottle.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 years ago
1,698 posts

In all all honesty, I would not change out the tuners.  You will be seriously impacting the re-sale value of the dulcimer.

The best thing to do is learn to live with and use the original tuners.  It really isn't hard.  You can get fine tuners that will allow you to dial in a tuning once you're close with the pegs.  

There really is no sure-fire solution.  There are Pegheds and Knilling/Perfection geared tuners which look like wooden pegs, but there is a better than 50% chance they will not fit the existing holes in your dulcimer.  If you enlarge the holes you'll never be able to use the original tuners again.

If you absolutely can't stand the dulcimer because of its wooden tuning pegs, IMHO you should seriously consider selling the instrument before your consider changing out the pegs to something else.

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
4 years ago
161 posts

Is there an issue with the rosewood pegs (broken, worn out)?  If you are looking to replace them with mechanical tuners, I'm not sure if any are available that don't require screws with the exception of Precision Pegs.  I'ml sure that some of our dulcimer making members will be able to answer that.  Changing to mechanical tuners will probably reduce the value of your Warren May original.

Stewart McCormick
Stewart McCormick
@stewart-mccormick
4 years ago
68 posts

It has it's original rosewood tuning pegs.

Stewart McCormick
Stewart McCormick
@stewart-mccormick
4 years ago
68 posts
Hello,hope everyone had a good Labor Day! I was thinking of changing the tuners on my Warren May, but I don't want to put screw holes or alter the instrument. Is that possible? Any tuner suggestions?
updated by @stewart-mccormick: 02/18/20 06:56:58AM