majajog
@majajog
2 months ago
18 posts

Thanks for the comments Ken.  I might as well bring everyone up to date on my fret issue.  Spent the Spring in Mountain View AR.  Went to the music shop and asked if they would re-fret mY dulcimer with stainless steel.  They thought it was a really bad idea.  The sound would become tinklier and the stainless frets would saw through the strings rapidly.  So, I sort of gave up on the idea.

However a couple of weeks later I was at a jam and Jim Woods from the Dulcimer Shoppe was there and he was playing a chromatic dulcimer with EVO frets.  I asked him about the sound issue and he didn't think that EVO would make much difference in the sound but he did think EVO might increase the sustain a little.  I played with his dulcimer for a while (poorly, all those extra frets were confusing). I thought it sounded okay so I asked him to Re-fret my dulcimer with EVO.

After I got it back, I decided the following:

1. it might be a little brighter in tone to mY ear plus some other people said they thought it was a little brighter.  However the difference is fairly small.

2. The sustain definitely increased but I like that.

3. I personally find fretting easier on the EVO than it was on the German silver.

i am happy with the outcome but as usual wit's these kinds of issues, your mileage may vary.

Ken Bloom
@ken-bloom
2 months ago
15 posts

You can get EVO and stainless steel fret wire from Luthiers Mercantile. I have EVO on my personal instruments.  On a dulcimer made in 2009, it shows virtually no fret wear. I play everyday and when I go to fiddler's conventions I play for about ten hours a day. German silver frets are relatively soft and the material is easy to work with. EVO is quite a bit harder and stiffer and is more difficult to make behave. Stainless is even more so. It's the guys who play heavy metal who first instigated stainless steel as all that tapping and string bending was very hard on softer materials.  I have found no tonal difference among the various materials. They all do a good job when properly installed. Changing the frets on aMcSpadden would be no more difficult than on any other dulcimer. If you have more questions about any of this, feel free to e-mail me.

majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

I agree that two fret dressings in five years sounds extreme which is why I started this discussion about fret materials.  I wasn't having trouble with buzzes.  I believe the issue was one of the technicianplayer at the dulcimer shop being concerned about wear and me, the non-musician saying sure, fix it.  You are right I don't probably need a dulcimer specialst and a capable guitar guy should be able to the job.  So thanks for that suggestion.

EVerybody has been great about this.  Thanks again

John Gribble
@john-gribble
4 months ago
70 posts

Two fret dressings in five years seems extreme. You may have too heavy a hand, or you could be one of those people who just plays hard. In any event, you're getting to the point where there won't be much fret left to dress. Did you wear them down to the point where you had buzzes? Or were you simply concerned by visible wear marks? On some of my instruments you can see wear, but it doesn't yet affect the sound. 

Rather than try to hunt up a dulcimer-exclusive repair person, I'd look for a competent guitar repairman/woman close by. I see you're near Phoenix. Surely there's someone there who can can help you decide what to do and do the job. Who did the fret dressing?

About the problems with coiled fret wire--there's a tool, I believe Stew-Mac sells it, which will put fret wire in the proper shape.  

majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

Robert/John, its was great to hear that you both have experience with the fret materials I was interested in.  Interesting to hear the problem with coiled EVO. That's an issue to think about.

i figured that stainless was a lot harder to work with. I've watched nickel silver frets being installed and my own frets being dressed.  The filing/planing looked fairly straightforward.  Doing that on a much harder material would not be as easy.

i had no idea that re-fretting could cost as much as an instrument.  Not sure I would be do it in that case unless it was a dire necessity.  Even then I might use order a new instrument. On a new instrument stainless adds about $70 and EVO something less to the total price.

In regard to hearing the differences with different fret materials I am sorry to say I can't take up the build two different instrument challenge.  I can barely nail two boards together and even then I am going to bend the nails.  I did not say they that there weren't tonal differences in different materials only that I may not be able to hear them or hear them differently.  I still sometimes have a hard time distinguishing two adjacent notes on the dulcimer or knowing which was higher in pitch. No musical ear at all. What I am doing trying to play an instrument is a mystery to me.

robert schuler
@robert-schuler
4 months ago
244 posts
I used evo gold on three banjos. Really good stuff. After three years there is hardly a scratch on frets. What I don't like about EG is it comes from a coil. It is very hard to flatten the radius. On flat fingerboards it will popup in middle sometimes. If I could get it in straight lengths I would use it exclusively. Re fretting can cost you as much as you paid for the dulcimer. At least by EBay standards. And it puts a lot of stress on the instrument. Frets have to be really worn to need replacement. I think for most folks its easier to live with worn frets. I use Stewart MacDonald nickel silver wire. Its very good and easy to use. And it comes is straight lengths.. Robert.
updated by @robert-schuler: 03/20/17 09:56:25AM
John Keane
@john-keane
4 months ago
255 posts

A few years ago, Karen and I found ourselves having to have frets dressed and/or replaced every few months.  We use low action and we don't have a particularly heavy touch, but we were absolutely wearing frets out.  We spoke with Richard Ash at Folkcraft and decided to try an experiment.  Karen swapped to EVO frets, and I switched to stainless steel frets on our main performance instruments.  Any change in tone is negligible, but neither one of us has had to address fret wear since.  We admittedly play the instruments more than the average mountain dulcimer hobbyist, but changing fret material made a huge difference for us.  My understanding is that the stainless is a pain for luthiers to work with (more time, tough on tools, etc.), but it holds like a champ.  The EVO is apparently easier to work with for the luthiers, and it also lasts well.  Both materials have a higher cost, but when you compare the cost to frequent maintenance costs it actually saves money in the long run.  Just something to ponder. 

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
4 months ago
27 posts

Ken, majajog, so here is the challenge to you.  Build two instruments from the exact same wood, take alternating strips to build the two instruments.  Then put different nuts and frets on the two final builds, say one with ebony and brass frets, the other with bone and stainless.  Then tell me you can't hear the difference.  I have, I can.  Think I am wrong, build the instruments and post the results.

majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

Ken, I agree that many people might not be able to hear the difference beteeen frets made of different materials.  A lot depends on the person, their physical abilities and experience.

When I was buying my dulcimer, they wanted to know what woods I wanted.  For a non-musician this was a challenging question.  However, they had a variety of combinations for me to listen to.  A lot of people I know have all walnut dulcimers saying they liked the mellow/bassy sound.  To me all walnut sounded sort o like lad or dead.  I finally settled on walnut and spruce because it sounded quite a bit brighter to me.  The question is whether this brighter sound appealed to me because it was better or because I have a high frequency hearing loss that began in the service and has not improved with age and the spruce helped compensate for the loss.  My wife has a similar issue and she ended up with cherry and redwood because it sounded better to her than an all cherry or all walnut dulcimer.

Knowing about the loss, would we be able to hear the differences due to fret materials?  I don't think we could.  However, we are getting pretty far afield from question about fret materials.  Thanks to everyone for your comments.

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
1,487 posts

There are quite a few good luthiers here a FOTMD who might be willing to take on your re-fret job if you ask.  Start a new thread in the General or Building categories with a tile something like "Looking For Luthier to Re-fret Dulcimer and in the body of your message tell them what kind of dulcimer you have and re-iterate what you've said here...

Dusty -- a lower action wouldn't necessarily reduce fret wear if the play has "white knuckles" from pressing down too hard, but if the action is high, lowering it would certainly help the issue.  

From experience, I'm not sure that the average person could hear the difference between nickel-silver and stainless steel frets, or even bronze.  The material of the nut and bridge do affect the sound, but again, only if you have very sensitive ears.  Those sorts of changes readily show up if you use acoustic metering equipment to look at the sound waves produced, but often are barely, if at all discernable to the ordinary player.  The differences would be only a "cent" or two on a tuner, less than a tenth as much as say the difference between an F and a F#.


updated by @ken-hulme: 03/19/17 06:13:57PM
majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

Dusty, thanks for the suggestion to check the action but I don't think that is the problem since there isn't very much room to lower the action on the nut end where most of the wear is taking place.  I will have it checked out but I was sort of under the impression that McSpaddens don't usually have this problem and are known for their playability. But, it could be an issue and I will have it looked at.

One of the people in our dulcimer group brought in a dulcimer and said she was having problems playing it.  It was sort of a souvenir dulcimer she had bought in Branson.  It had a very high action and very small gauge strings.  You could almost cut off your fingertips trying to play it.  I suggested having a luthier lower the action or buy a new dulcimer.  She had the same problems finding a luthier as I did and bought a different dulcimer.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
4 months ago
900 posts

Another issue to think about.

I'm not a builder, so I have no real expertise in this area. But I would assume that the lower the action the less wear on the frets.  Lower action is also easier on the fingers and facilitates faster and easier playing. It might be that you are pushing down hard because your action is high.  Maybe you could look into adjusting the action in addition to get new frets.




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

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Matt Berg
@matt-berg
4 months ago
27 posts

Ebony makes very good nuts and frets.  Personally, I prefer bone as I believe it produces a cleaner tone.  Whenever you use ebony, consider the following link:http://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/ebony-dark-outlook-dark-woods/ .

majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

Thanks for the comment Matt.  I guess I assumed a fret was a fret was a fret and the only difference the material made was in how long the fret would last.  I never thought the material would affect the sound.  I really like the sound of my instrument and would hesitate to do anything that might change it.  I will check into the issue further but may just end up re-fretting with the original material.

As for the nut and saddle (bridge) they are both ebony.  

Are there lots and lots of good luthiers?  I would have no idea of how to check whether one good versus mediocre.  The only person I know who has had work done on his instruments sent them to Folkcraft for it even though they weren't Folkcraft instruments.

dulcinina
@dulcinina
4 months ago
30 posts

This is a timely discussion for me because I was just thinking about my frets yesterday.  I have a beautiful FolkRoots dulcimer with a rich sound that I love.  I've had it less than a year.  But when I slide across the strings it feels like I'm going over speed bumps.  I am a beginner/intermediate player and working hard to play smoother.  So maybe I need to think about having the frets replaced/lowered. 

I live close to Warren May but don't know if he'd work on a dulcimer he didn't make.  Any comments from you experienced players?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Berg
@matt-berg
4 months ago
27 posts

Frets are one part of the whole system that makes the sound you hear when you play.  A general rule is that that stiffer the material used, the brighter the tone.  A maple soundboard will produce a brighter tone than spruce.  The same holds true for your frets, but to a lesser degree.    Brass is softer than stainless and will (modestly) soften your sound.  Whatever frets you choose, you will eventually need to replace them.  Once you find a good luthier who can talk to you about fret material, choose the fret material for the sound you wish to produce rather than how long the fret will last.  (While you are at it, talk to the luthier about the saddle and nut material you are using.  These will also have an impact on the sound your instrument produces.)

majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

I try to practice a lot since I am not a very good player. Still improving but it is very slow going.

i will look around for a luthier.  I only mentioned McSpadden because we spend 4 to 6 weeks in Mountain View AR listening to and playing music.  Figured that Jim Wood could re-fret my dulcimer while I was there because his name is in the instrument  But, he doesn't do stainless.

I know of only one luthier in the Phoenix area and it is a long haul for me.  Don't know of any in central WI.  Couldn't  even find any dulcimer players there.  Anyway, thanks for the comments. I was sort of hoping this was a relatively common problem but from the reactions of a couple of professional players I figured it was idiosyncratic to me.  I will find someone to re-fret for me and in the meantime will try to chord lightly and vertically.

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
1,487 posts

There are hundreds of luthiers who use a variety of fret materials, you don't have to have McSpadden replace the frets.  Ask around and see who uses stainless, and how much they would charge to re-fret your dulcimer. 

David Pedersen
@david-pedersen
4 months ago
34 posts

Glad to know I'm not the only one. Really am trying to lighten up.

 

Strumelia
@strumelia
4 months ago
1,789 posts

majajog:

Play an Hour or two a day, 4-6 days a week. 

That's quite a bit of playing.  If you push the strings sideways while fretting, it does dig in more too.

Pro players i suspect get their frets worked on somewhat regularly every few years.

I'm no pro, but I have banjos with frets I probably ought to replace...dug my way down.  ;)

 




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

Thanks Ken.  I guess I do press hard, will try to lighten up.  Play an Hour or two a day, 4-6 days a week.  I am thinking to have the frets, replaced just wish McSpadden would do stainless.  ugh.

Bob
@bob
4 months ago
118 posts

I am using brass frets on my newest dulcimer. I had a question about their longevity and I spoke with a pretty noteworthy luthier supplier who said they should last a good long time, not to worry, if they are the style you are looking form. They do look nice on the Bolivian Rosewood fret board.

Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 months ago
512 posts

Frets wear due to the pressure of the strings on them. Do you press really hard on the strings? If so, you might notices some grooves in the fret board as well. Another factor is the amount of playing time. Do you play 23 hours a day, seven days a week? I have not used stainless steel frets, but I understand that they hold up to even the toughest playing. I'm not familiar with the Evo fret material. I have no experience with it. If you can't adjust your playing pressure, you may need to try the harder frets.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

majajog
@majajog
4 months ago
18 posts

My dulcimer is 5 years old and I have had to have the frets dressed the last two years.  I am guessing that I am a sloppy chorder, pushing the chord down and sideways rather than just down.  I am trying to correct this but not sure how much success I am achieving.

It might be easier to replace the frets with a harder material.  McSpadden uses German Silver but also offers EVO which is 25% harder.  EVO is sort of gold colored which I am not sure i like but could accept if I wanted to change to it.

Blue Lion offers stainless steel frets which are 50% harder than German Silver.  McSpadden does not offer stainless steel.  Does anyone have any comments, suggestions or preferences about fret materials or suggestions about how to reduce the wear and tear on the frets?