Does size really matter? 28.5 vs 26

Gail Webber
Gail Webber
@gail-webber
5 years ago
70 posts

I've had a McSpadden 28.5 and currently have 2 McSpadden 26s.  I have very small hands and find the 26 inch scale much easier to play.  I can't tell a lot of difference in the sound.  My 26" walnut with a redwood top has a very warm sound and the sustain seems to be fine.  I personally wouldn't have one over 27". 

 

Annie Deeley
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
5 years ago
49 posts
And, Jan, your playing is lovely 😊.
Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
5 years ago
411 posts

I'm very fond of dulcimers with a shorter VSL (no longer than 26.5 if possible).  The ease of making the chords has really improved my playing over the past few years!




--
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
Annie Deeley
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
5 years ago
49 posts
Interesting. I noticed a comment that longer VSL gives more tension with the same gauge strings...
But longer dulcimers use heavier gauge strings, yes? My experience going from 26 to 28.5 VSL is more mellow tone and sweetness, along with being able to tune all over the place (several times whenever I play) with no broken strings in the year I've had the dulcimer. Thank you Ron Gibson!
Just my 2 cents worth.
Enjoy your day, all!
Bob
Bob
@bob
5 years ago
86 posts

I am glad to learn this information also, thanks for the question and the responses.

I am  personally learning by experience the variations, with my newest 25" VSL and the other  26 1/2" ones. They each have lovely tones and it will be interesting to know what one I favor most (nt yet sure!). I may do a 25 1/2" on the one I am making now....

D. chitwood
D. chitwood
@d-chitwood
5 years ago
139 posts

Thank yall so much. That is all some great information! 

 

Brian G.
Brian G.
@brian-g
5 years ago
94 posts

If using the same gauge strings, those on a dulcimer with a shorter VSL will require less tension to reach a given pitch than one with a longer VSL.  This helps playability not only because frets are closer together making it easier to chord down at the first few frets, but also because bending notes is easier, vibrato is easier, and playing in general is just easier with less string tension. 

But there *are* definitely well-known effects on sound as well. String tension and length affect overtones and harmonics.  The greater the string tension, the greater the higher overtones produced. Longer string lengths also give more space for harmonics and overtones to “breathe” (ie, sound separate).  With shorter scale lengths there is less separation. As a result, longer VSLs will give more brightness, clarity and definition in the tone, while shorter ones will give a “sweeter” sound with more warmth/darkness, less clarity and fewer overtones. Longer VSLs and their increased string tension tend to give you more volume and attack also, and more of that twangy “silvery-ness” traditionally associated with a mountain dulcimer.     

Many guitar builders will tell you that the tone begins with the string and everything else is a modifier; that you start with the scale length and then go from there, choosing woods, body shape, body volume, type of pickup, etc. to get the tone you are looking for.

Incidentally, if you don't want to believe me, there are plenty of well-respected dulcimer builders who have written about scale length and its effect on tone before (Jerry Rockwell and Janita Baker come immediately to mind, for example).


updated by @brian-g: 05/06/17 09:15:32PM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
5 years ago
1,988 posts

VSL only affects the distance between the frets, not the sound

 

Dist from Nut

28” VSL..............26” VSL

1. 1-19/32........1-29/64
2. 3-7/64.........2-27/32
3. 4-17/32.......4-9/64
4. 5-7/8..........5-23/64
5. 7-5/32.........6-33/64
6. 8-11/32........7-39/64
7. 9-31/64........8-41/64
8. 10-35/64.......9-5/8
9. 11-35/64........10-35/64
10. 12-1/2..........11-13/32
11. 13-13/32.......12-15/64

Paula Brawdy
Paula Brawdy
@paula-brawdy
5 years ago
53 posts

There are more variables and that is the wood...   It also has a volume difference.  

John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
5 years ago
39 posts

Hi D, I am glad you asked that question for I have wondered about this myself. I understand the total size of the dulcimers is the same. I think the advantage would be in the fact that the frets would be slightly closer together which would help in playing chords.  

D. chitwood
D. chitwood
@d-chitwood
5 years ago
139 posts

I have decided to lose all of my longer vsl dulcimers. The Mcspaddens have that traditional 28.5 and the Folkroots has 29 (I think). I do love the sound of the Mcspadden though. I just can't do that longer vsl anymore.

I'm wondering how I would like a 26" Mcspadden. For those who have heard the standard vs the 26" of the Mcspadden, what are your thoughts? Big difference in sound, or just better playability?