Fred Martin dulcimer help, please

9 months ago
14 posts

Rob and ken,

thank you for the help and insight.

i will start this project when i return from vacation.

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
9 months ago
460 posts

Congratulations on finding a Fred Martin.  My first was a Fred that I bought from him in 1987 or 88.  Yes, they were all 4 equidistant strings.  The bridge and nut are plastic.  I broke the nut on mine and Keith Young made a new one for it.  I agree with Ken's choices for strings, although I think I do have 09s on mine.  Fred, however, used very heavy strings and tuned them D A d d.  I used to cringe every time I changed the tuning and needed to go back up to d on the melody strings.  I also agree with Ken on Murphy's Oil Soap.  Then either a light coating of Martin Guitar Polish or Dr. Duck's Axe Wax.  I just starting using Dr Duck's and am impressed with it.  I wouldn't sand and refinish it.  Scratches give an instrument some character!  As for the pegs you can either spit on them or use some chalk ( i prefer billiard chalk.)  Fred was pretty good at fitting pegs so you shouldn't have much problem.  Oh, Fred didn't use a noter so get to working out those fingers.  LOL

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
9 months ago
552 posts

You can use this website to calculate the string size: It tends to be a little on the light side. When I did the calculations, I came up with D = 0.018, A = 0.012, and d = 0.0090. I would suggest trying 0.020, 0.014, and 0.010. When you take the strings off, you can use a small block of wood and hammer to knock the pegs out if they do not come out on their own. You can clean them off with a mild soap. Murphy's Oil Soap works well. A small amount of peg dope available from a violin or music shop can help lubricate the pegs for easy turning and grip. I also use the Murphy's for cleaning the entire instrument. Where the scratches are, you might need to sand them out and refinish the area. It depends upon how much you want go get rid of them. Best wishes on your project and the new (to you) dulcimer.


"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

9 months ago
14 posts

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9 months ago
14 posts


I found a beautiful, but filthy, Fred Martin dulcimer at Goodwill and need help in learning how to clean it, how to string it (what gauges would be correct for this dulcimer, wound bass or not?), and how best to get the most out of the tuning pegs.

The dulcimer has 29" scale.

Per label it is made of native black walnut back, sides and headstock (how about that eqyptian??? What a beauty!), maple soundboard and tuning pegs, oak fretboard.

The string pins are dowels angled into the tail.

the nut and bridge feel like bone, not a highly polished or glassy dense bone, but something more akin to the way cuttle bone feels. Anyone know what he and or edsel used for their nuts and bridges and whether they did set up four equidistant or not? The bridge is REALLY high (suspension bridge high, and no way to play above seventh fret without bodybuilding first)

I had originally hoped to find both an edsel and a fred martin more for the woodworking, americana aspects than for playing, especially since i cannot play a long scale in my preferred style.

BUT, i have tuned the greasy gunky awful old strings to CGC and given it a quick run at rosin the beau and am pleasantly surprised. The pegs are holding the tuning pretty well, and intonation is far better than i expected. So it looks like I will be learning noter drone. 

So, oldtimers and seasoned pros..

how do I clean the wood (prior owner braided a hunk of baling wire to make a very primitive strap, some of the broken wires scratched the back of dulcimer and i would like to clean that up if possible)

How do i get the pegs turning and tuning properly...very afraid i am going to break one as i tighten strings. What gauge strings should i be using? How do i properly lower the bridge so that strings are in same zipcode as frets?

is there anything else i need to know?

thanks a million for your help in preserving, and playing this nice bit of history.


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