4 equidistant strings/McCarty tulip dulcimer

Jim Hedman
Jim Hedman
@jim-hedman
3 years ago
25 posts

Okay, caught my breath.  I'm happy the warning was unnecessary!


My exercise was based on the premise that the fret placement discrepancies were "errors" relative to equal temperament intonation (call it my hypothesis, if you wish), and the purpose was to determine to what extent these "errors" might be somewhat optimized (as you correctly understood) by moving the nut, and accordingly, the saddle/bridge.


As I said in a previous post, this exercise with its underlying assumption proved very useful with a courting dulcimer as the only significant error after an initial saddle/bridge adjustment was the nut placement.  But in the case of my Maxwell and your Tulip, one look at the initial "error" plot shows that the discrepancies are far and away beyond what one would expect from a respected builder.  I went on with the exercise and plugged in the data for a nut and bridge correction anyway.  While the theoretical correction "averages out" the discrepancies okay (the R-squared value of the regression showing the residual linear trend was now insignificant), the discrepancies remain intolerably large. Put another way, a nut adjustment would adjust the slope of the trend line but essentially do nothing in regard to the error variance about the corresponding trend line.  This came as no surprise, plotting a theoretical correction was purely an academic exercise.  The initial plot alone made it clear that the corrections required to nut and saddle/bridge would be much too large to be practical and would do far too little to resolve the intonation issues.  So the only path to correct equal temperament intonation would be a complete re-fretting job, a path I'm not in the least inclined to take (although I am aware that others have).


At this point, I wondered if I'd have to relegate the Maxwell to being a "wall hanger" aka "DSO" (dulcimer shaped object) or if something else is afoot that could prove my original premise invalid.  Enter "Just Intonation".  When Ken Hulme essentially said in a post early on in this tread that the intonation of the tulip dulcimer might have been set "by ear", I knew he was referring to just intonation.  I had seen other references to it (hard to avoid) but had not read anything that provided enough meat to wrap my head around.  Because I was aware that just intonation poses some limitations on play-ability and the fact I had no just intoned instruments (at least not until I acquired those Maxwells, it seems) it was not something that I was inclined to research.  In hindsight, I guess I should have been more attuned to the role of just intonation in the history of the mountain dulcimer but my initial interest in the instrument, way back when, was focused mainly on integrating it with contemporary music. After a few years that first dulcimer became a mantle piece mostly, taken out only to dust off, perhaps humidify and (just maybe) strum a little.  That changed a couple years ago when I started playing more regularly and then was struck with the dreaded "DAD" (dulcimer acquisition disease).  My Maxwells are party to that affliction and my concerns about their intonation coincidentally coincided with Bridge's reported issues with his tulip dulcimer.  My initial efforts to seek remedy were based on a false premise - its like I was trying to grade apples with a standard applicable only to oranges.


Right on cue Strumelia suggests I should investigate just intonation (already in my mind) and also provides some useful references - alluding to Robin Clark in the process.  Then BAM!  In comes Robin Clark with a mini-thesis on just intonation.  The fog starts to dissipate, especially after viewing Robin's excellent video "Equal Temperamant v Just Intonation v Meantone on McSpadden dulcimers" (

).


@bridge - What blew me away in "running the numbers" for the tulip dulcimer was how well the data correlated with the data for my Maxwell.  Robin obviously saw it too when he said:

Robin Clark: Jim - That's a great piece of work!  Very interesting how many makers ended up with JI, either because they set their frets by ear or because they copied the fret pattern from another maker who did.
Robin provides an audible demonstration of this sort of correlation when comparing a Homer Ledford with a McSpadden, both in just intonation.


Summing up its become clear we're into the realm of human perception versus physics, thus just intonation is something where art meets science.  So my future path will be to return my Maxwells to their original state, except for new strings set to an appropriate tuning, then explore noter/drone playing style to see if I can develop greater appreciation for it. Should intonation issues become apparent in that context at least it will be clear that any effort at setup must be carried out with a just intonation "reference standard" in mind.


 


updated by @jim-hedman: 05/05/18 05:35:35AM
Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

Jim Hedman:

Bridge:

Does the line above suggest that simply placing the bridge at 702mm will "fix" or at least optimize how the notes will sound? I'm skeptical re that.

YOU SHOULD BE SKEPTICAL!  DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING YET!

Sorry for the shout, but you're misinterpreting the results.  If you base any nut adjustment on what those results imply, things will only get worse!  I'll explain more fully in another post - but for now I just want to prevent you from wasting time chasing your tail or worse yet modifying your instrument.

Don't worry, Jim. I will not be modifying the instrument at all. If I make a secondary nut, it will just sit there where the screwdriver was and be easily removable. Just a thin piece of bone. I am NOT going to change the instrument in any way. I have respect for the instrument and its builder.  :-)


updated by @bridge: 05/05/18 01:54:46AM
Jim Hedman
Jim Hedman
@jim-hedman
3 years ago
25 posts

Bridge:

Does the line above suggest that simply placing the bridge at 702mm will "fix" or at least optimize how the notes will sound? I'm skeptical re that.

YOU SHOULD BE SKEPTICAL!  DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING YET!

Sorry for the shout, but you're misinterpreting the results.  If you base any nut adjustment on what those results imply, things will only get worse!  I'll explain more fully in another post - but for now I just want to prevent you from wasting time chasing your tail or worse yet modifying your instrument.


updated by @jim-hedman: 05/04/18 03:59:15PM
Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

Jim Hedman:

Well, I ran the numbers for Bridge's tulip dulcimer and man was I blown away!  I added Bridge's data to my own example of a Maxwell and took special care to scale the charts the same to facilitate comparisons.  I'll let the spreadsheet speak for itself except to say this has become an investigation into a comparison of equal temperament versus just intonation, and forever I will avoid blatantly calling their discrepancies "fret errors".

VSL
698.098
684.049
-14.049
 
Bridge
702.217mm (± 0.5mm)
 

Jim, thanks for plugging in those numbers. Does the line above suggest that simply placing the bridge at 702mm will "fix" or at least optimize how the notes will sound? I'm skeptical re that. I'll try it after I finish my morning coffee (but not before) and report back. I was telling Robin that I will probably make a tiny second nut out of some bone blanks I have and place it upstream of the zero fret.

Does it seem odd that the strings at the nut are pushed toward the melody side of the fret board? Look at the photo I sent of the screwdriver and note where the cuts are in the wood.

Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

Robin Clark:

Bridge - Your issue is simply that the zero fret is in the wrong place.

 

I will try what you suggest, Robin, though I think I will need to buy some single strings in other gauges before really drawing any conclusions. Clearly, this thing sounds much better with the "nut" in a different position, but the general build quality suggests that the zero fret was intentionally positioned where it is rather than that it is where it is by error.

I get the impression that this instrument was designed to play in two configurations. I even have a sneaky suspicion that there was a free-floating nut that has disappeared over the years. I think I will try to make a tiny nut out of some bone blanks I have using my nut files. That will at least keep me out of the bars and racetracks for a day or two. ;-)

Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

Randy Adams:


Ok.... I don't know nothing about nothing except for this. I made a dulcimer and set the frets by gosh and by golly. Strived for pure 5ths and octaves and 6ths, etc. like whatever I knew sounded good. I tune it DAA, DAd, mostly DGC. Every time I change tunings or change pitch much I have to move the bridge back or forth so things are right. Usually have to compromise on the 1st fret and here and there. I get over it! I jiggle it until I get it to where I can live with it. I can set an equal temperament by ear on a piano but I'm not as particular with the dulcimer as I used to be... and that's a good thing to be free of.


 


You have always explained things so well Robin.



@randy-adams


I hear you, Randy, but there are limits to how far out of tune you can get before EVERYTHING sounds awful.  ;-)


We're trying to understand what the builder intended for this instrument, and it has been very interesting and instructive, so far. Enjoy!

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
3 years ago
237 posts

Bridge - Try DAAA with the melody A string, when played at the 3rd fret, matching the bass D string but an octave higher.  The A melody string will end up sharp of A at the zero fret.  Now you can place your screwdriver 'nut' under just the melody string and adjust it until the open A matches the middle drones while keeping the 3rd fret 'd' an octave above the bass string.  The instrument was built to be played melody against drones with only the melody string fretted to play a tune (either with a noter of a finger).  Your issue is simply that the zero fret is in the wrong place.

Your DAAd tuning will exacerbate the issue of the 1st fret position.  These fret patterns are supposed to have the 1st fret sounding the 6th of the scale (naturally 182 cents above the 5th).  Your DAAd tuning makes the 1st fret the second of the scale (naturally 204 cents from the root note) - hence you probably have the screwdriver placed too far left.  DAAd will sound OKish but you are actually not getting the best from the dulcimer as other frets further up will be thrown out.

Jim - That's a great piece of work!  Very interesting how many makers ended up with JI, either because they set their frets by ear or because they copied the fret pattern from another maker who did.


updated by @robin-clark: 05/04/18 05:03:30AM
Jim Hedman
Jim Hedman
@jim-hedman
3 years ago
25 posts

Well, I ran the numbers for Bridge's tulip dulcimer and man was I blown away!  I added Bridge's data to my own example of a Maxwell and took special care to scale the charts the same to facilitate comparisons.  I'll let the spreadsheet speak for itself except to say this has become an investigation into a comparison of equal temperament versus just intonation, and forever I will avoid blatantly calling their discrepancies "fret errors".


updated by @jim-hedman: 05/04/18 02:55:14AM
Randy Adams
Randy Adams
@randy-adams
3 years ago
89 posts

Ok.... I don't know nothing about nothing except for this. I made a dulcimer and set the frets by gosh and by golly. Strived for pure 5ths and octaves and 6ths, etc. like whatever I knew sounded good. I tune it DAA, DAd, mostly DGC. Every time I change tunings or change pitch much I have to move the bridge back or forth so things are right. Usually have to compromise on the 1st fret and here and there. I get over it! I jiggle it until I get it to where I can live with it. I can set an equal temperament by ear on a piano but I'm not as particular with the dulcimer as I used to be... and that's a good thing to be free of.

You have always explained things so well Robin.


updated by @randy-adams: 05/03/18 09:18:28PM
Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

@strumelia @ken-longfield @jim-hedman  
@robin-clark

I'll have to figure out whether I need to do all of the @s or if you will all just check back from time to time! ;-)

Well, I tuned it to DAAd with the strings that are on it with no great sing of improvement. All of the fretted notes were still very flat compared to the open strings. For the heck of it, I tried increasing the distance between the zero fret and the first fret by putting a very small screwdriver under the strings beyond the zero fret. The screwdriver lifts the strings over the zero fret. With the screwdriver about 9mm "north" of the zero fret and lengthening the VSL by moving the bridge away from the zero fret to get an octave where it should be, voila! All the notes sound quite close. I will plug the numbers into the fret spacing tool and see what it says, but the fret-to-fret spacing seems fine - except for the zero fret. I still don't think the builder made a gross mistake, but there is more to learn and understand about this...

After I took the screwdriver out, it occurred to me that the action was actually extremely low using just the zero fret. It's reasonable toward the right end. I'm wondering if there was some sort of long lost bridge above the zero fret that would raise the action and clear the zero fret. The other interesting thing is that there are two sets of registration marks for positioning the bridge, almost as if the instrument code be quickly changed to operate in either of two modes.

The picture below is where the bridge is with the screwdriver; note registration marks. When using the zero fret, the bridge must be set at the forward set of registration marks.

d3.jpg
d3.jpg  •  147KB

d2.jpg
d2.jpg  •  111KB


updated by @bridge: 05/03/18 08:34:55PM
Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
3 years ago
237 posts

Following my tuning suggestion you are likely to end up with DAA drones and A slightly sharp as the melody string if you aim to have that 3rd fret 'd' on the melody matching the bass drone (but an octave higher).  And, yes, 3 drones and one melody was fairly common.  Jean Ritchie had her dulcimer set up like this from around 1960 onward, so many folks would have been influenced by her.  Your string gauges should be fine for the tuning.

Thanks for the measurements.  I have measured my Ledford and Warren May (setting the ruler so that the 7th fret was at 335) and what you have is a very close copy of those fret patterns - Except - your zero fret position lines up with the front edge of the nut slot on those instruments.  The string release point on those nuts is a good 2 mm closer to the pegs, and the nuts are high.  There's the cause of your flat scale.  Your first fret is also slightly too close to the nut compared to the Ledford or May.  The rest of your frets are spot on or within .5mm of those makers (just intonation).  So I suggest that this was a copied fret pattern but the use of a zero fret rather than a high nut has introduced an error.

You will have a job trying to match the scale to an electronic tuner because the 3rd, 6th and 7th of the scale fall naturally flat of equal temperament.  But if you tune the melody string so that the 3rd fret sounds 'd' (the open string will be slightly sharp of A) the instrument should play OK except for the open note (and possibly the 1st fret may be a little flat).  However, you can find that open note in tune on the middle drones. 

Jim Hedman
Jim Hedman
@jim-hedman
3 years ago
25 posts

@bridge

I'm strapped for time at the moment but the 7th fret on the StewMac calculator is we'd call the 6+ fret, thus the calculator's 8th fret is we'd call the 7th fret.  In my spreadsheet the "Reformat" tab shows raw data just imported from the calculator.  In that scratch-pad sheet I'd delete line 12 (containing the irrelevant 6+ fret data), moving line 13 to line 12, then I'd replace the "8*" fret identification with "7".  How many frets input into the calculator is irrelevant - for this exercise you only need data for the first 8 (to account for that "extra" 6+ fret). I'd also delete all lines containing data beyond the first octave and those two blank columns.  Finally, I'd copy the two columns containing the fret and "from nut" data and paste them into my main page.  Either before or after this copy and paste operation pad any output under 100mm with a leading zero (e.g. in your case that 59.5mm should be changed to 059.5mm) such that all measurement data has three characters before the decimal.  On the main page the StewMac text data is extracted into the "Extracted & Measured Data" section with the MIDs function - the zero padding was required to allow one formula to cover all data.  If you are not familiar with Excel, I've probably lost you already, so I'll stop here except to say that I'll be happy to grind this data for you and post the results in another reply.

@strumelia

Thanks for the references and information.  Trust me I appreciate what I have.  Everything I've done can be undone - and it seems clear that's the way I'll be going.

@robin-clark

Wow!  I've read may references to just tuning but nothing to date has come close to explaining it in the way you did.  I really appreciate your effort!

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 years ago
812 posts

I didn't check this, but I seem to recall on the Stew-Mac calculator it automatically calculates the position for the 6 1/2 fret but designates it the 7th fret making the 8th fret the 7th fret. So, using their terminology, the 8th (7th) fret would be the octave.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

@jim-hedman @robin-clark Okay, Jim and Robin, I have some data we can work with. I tried plugging this into the StewMac calculator, and it keeps telling me the 8th fret is the octave. Maybe they are counting the zero fret. Anyway, from the zero fret to the 7th is 335mm. If you double that to place the bridge, the end of the wooden bridge assembly lines up exactly with a couple of pinholes that were clearly put there by the builder. (There is a second set of pinholes about 1/4" frther from the zero fret, but that's something for later.)

Here are my measurements, all with reference to the zero fret in millimeters:

z-1   59.5 mm

2   129.5

3   164

4   222

5   267.5

6   292

7   335

8   370.5

9   404.5

10  421

11  448.5

12  472

13  486

14  506

In the StewMac calculator, I inputted a 670mm VSL, 14 frets, and selected Dulcimer. Should I be doing something different?

A couple of notes concerning Robin's post...

- I don't think anyone has changed the action on this instrument.

- On a 4-equidistant dulcimer, would the first string be considered the melody string and the other three drones?

- "Tune to D,A,A for your drones then tune the melody string so it sounds a 'd' note at the 3rd fret an octave above the bass string.  Play the scale on the melody string against the drones.  If it sounds OK (see below) except for the open melody string sounding sharp then your problem is simply the zero fret position.  My guess (and it is just that) would be that the maker took a fret template from an older dulcimer with a bridge but fitted a zero fret.  A bridge in the same position as that zero fret(particularly a high one on an old dulcimer) would have made those first half a dozen frets pull sharper."

Can you suggest typical string gauges? Just best guess and estimate.

I apologize for seeming dense, here, but would what I would tune to be DAAd? I have a fairly light gauge set of John Pearse strings on this dulcimer. Perhaps I should have something like 12-14-14-22 on this one.

 


updated by @bridge: 05/03/18 05:49:36PM
Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
3 years ago
237 posts

Well, this 'problem' fretting on older dulcimers can have many causes - and it often takes a little investigation to get yourself into the mind-set of the maker.

Firstly - let's assume that there are no construction errors and talk briefly about setting frets.  It is impossible to set frets by ear to equal temperament without an external reference (such as an electronic tuner or precision tuning forks).  It is easy to set frets by ear to just intonation using an open string as a reference note.  So, this second method is how many early dulcimer makers would place their frets.  One string would be tuned to 'a good note' and a second string would be tuned a 5th above or to the same note.  A piece of wire would be slid along the fretboard under the melody string to each point of least dissonance sounding between the open string and melody string (starting with the low hanging fruit like the octave 5ths, 4ths and 3rds) and the position marked.  If the maker had tuned root and 5th for his two strings the 6th of the scale (the 1st and 8th frets) will be flatter than if the maker used unison strings.  You can spot this visually on old dulcimers.  For example the John Maxwell in Jim Hedman's post below was probably set or derived from a root and 5th by-ear fret set.  Whereas a Pressnell or Melton was fretted from unison.

Secondly - Fret patterns set by ear are string gauge, tuned pitch and action dependant.  You cannot effectively copy them from one dulcimer to the next without keeping all these criteria the same.  Yet many maker did just this.  They would take a template from one dulcimer and use it for the next.  Nut position and height are particularly crucial with little margin for error.  String gauge and tuned pitch can also have a large effect; normally because the original instrument was running a high action and high string tension (as was the norm on early dulcimers).  I have come across many old dulcimers that were well out of tune because the action had been lowered and thin strings fitted.

Thirdly - The frets on old dulcimers are set just for the melody string(s).  You cannot fret a string tuned to another pitch alongside the melody string.  So playing chords in DAd will give you 'off' notes.  It is this issue that equal temperament solves!

Fourthly - On the Tulip dulcimer below it looks like the 3rd and 6th of the scale are flattened (1st, 5th, 8th frets), which suggests a 1-5-5-5 tuning rather than unison.  You say the notes are flat up to the octave 7th fret with the bridge set correctly?  Then that suggests that the zero fret is a little off.  Set the bridge so the 7th fret plays the octave.  Tune to D,A,A for your drones then tune the melody string so it sounds a 'd' note at the 3rd fret an octave above the bass string.  Play the scale on the melody string against the drones.  If it sounds OK (see below) except for the open melody string sounding sharp then your problem is simply the zero fret position.  My guess (and it is just that) would be that the maker took a fret template from an older dulcimer with a bridge but fitted a zero fret.  A bridge in the same position as that zero fret(particularly a high one on an old dulcimer) would have made those first half a dozen frets pull sharper.

Fifthly - The difference between equal temperament and just intonation:  In equal temperament the gap between each semitone is adjusted to be 100 cents (an octave being split into 1200 equal parts).  However, perfect intervals are formed from the physics of string movement.  For example: if you half a strings length you get an octave; two thirds of the length will sound a 5th, a three quarters of the length will sound a 4th; four fifths of the length will sound a 3rd etc.  These perfect intervals are how we naturally sing and how we naturally blend notes to make harmonies.  They differ slightly from the maths of equal temperament but are much easier to find by ear.  However it does mean that notes 'move'.  So the note B in the key of G is actually different to the note B if you sang it in the key of E.  The piano and guitar (plus other instruments that modulate) cannot cope with this!!!  So equal temperament evens up those difference by placing every note just a little out of tune.  It is mathematically perfect but does not equate to natural sound vibrations.  So it is not possible to set frets by ear to equal temperament because you can't hear when the notes are 'right' because they are actually 'wrong'!!!.  Following the natural harmonies is much simpler, which is why old dulcimers tend to be fretted in just intonation. 

 

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 years ago
2,013 posts

Jim Hedman: Hopefully, you are enough of a geek to ferret out that for this particular dulcimer the required nut and bridge adjustment for "correction" is impractical and the residual random fret placement errors (now sharp and flat) would still be troublesome even if attempted.

As Bridge just hinted at with his 'gut feeling' comment, the problem here could be that you are expecting equal temperament sounds on an older dulcimer that may have been fretted in just temperament.  This would result in an instrument that not only sounds badly intonated when in DAd tuning, but even in DAA tuning when chording it across all strings.


Our member Robin Clark has written extensively over on the ED forums about equal vs. just tempered scales on older dulcimers.  I don't know how much you guys already know or don't know about this subject, but here are a few of Robin's posts on it over on ED (which will sadly shut down at the end of this month):


http://everythingdulcimer.com/discuss/search.php?st=0&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&author_id=6698


There are also a lot of great discussions here on FOTMD concerning the equal vs. just temperament factor with older dulcimers:


https://fotmd.com/search/results/all/1/25?search_string=just+temperament


One thing I would say is that many folks wind up thinking their old dulcimer was improperly fretted and they proceed to pull out all the original frets and refret it in equal temperament. This is a disservice to irreplaceable older dulcimers and will immediately and severely devalue them forever (that's assuming they were not actually badly fretted by an inexperienced maker).  If one needs an equal tempered scale due to how one wants to play (intended repertoire, playing style, tunings), one would do far better to simply use a more modern equal-intonated dulcimer.  The old just-intonated dulcimer fret spacings sound sweeeeet when you play noter style in ionian tuning, as they were designed to be played.  


Again, I do NOT know if a just temperament is the cause for the frets being 'out of tune' in this instance, and I don't know anyone's expertise or knowledge level here.  But any time an old dulcimer is involved and thought to be badly fretted, the intended fret scale should be high up on the list of factors.  


I'm hoping Robin Clark will jump in here, since he has done a lot of research and experimentation on the subject.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

@jim-hedman     Jim, I am once again grateful for your help on this. I have been swamped with tasks these last two days, but I should be able to look into this in the afternoon. My gut feeling is that they guys who made these instruments knew exactly what they were doing and why. Some of us latter day dulcimists are demanding different things from the instrument and just don't quite grasp what they were doing. The action on my tulip is just about where it should be and slightly lower than some dulcimers I have seen. It's about the same as my McSpadden M12w. I'll contact you in a few hours.

Jim Hedman
Jim Hedman
@jim-hedman
3 years ago
25 posts

@bridge

Bridge, your reply inspired me to fast track an examination of a near-mint Maxwell I recently acquired (see attached photo).  After replacing the notoriously high Maxwell nut and bridge with a trial walnut nut and bridge providing more reasonable action I tested the intonation at one and two octaves and in both cases the pitch was within a cent or two of the open string pitch (it runs somewhat sharp with the original stratospheric Plexiglas ones).  Overall intonation did not noticeably improve however - the lower frets were quite flat, although there was some improvement as one approached the seventh fret.  Does this have a familiar ring? {pun intended}

Well, it seemed a good exercise to dope out nut and fret placement errors.  The attached Excel file (zipped) shows the results of those efforts.  Hopefully, you are enough of a geek to ferret out that for this particular dulcimer the required nut and bridge adjustment for "correction" is impractical and the residual random fret placement errors (now sharp and flat) would still be troublesome even if attempted.

I'll be dealing with this dulcimer and its five-string brother in a future dedicated thread, so I won't be going into any specifics here.  I'll see if I can find the data derived from my Carstanjen courting dulcimer as an example of where this nerdy exercise pays off.  Hopefully, the results of your exercise will be in the promising vein should you attempt to pursue it (that "zero fret" might be a deal-break though).


updated by @jim-hedman: 05/03/18 06:28:03AM
Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

@jim-hedman   Jim, thank you very much for this detailed response. Some very useful info here. I will spend some time with the dulcimer and get back to you when I have gathered the appropriate information.

Jim Hedman
Jim Hedman
@jim-hedman
3 years ago
25 posts

Bridge, I was in a similar fix with my Carstanjen courting dulcimer.  An invaluable tool for doping out the intonation problems was this fret position calculator:  http://www.liutaiomottola.com/formulae/fret.htm#mozTocId169477.  There are a number of calculators on that web page.  The one you want is titled "Calculating Fret Spacing for All Frets".

The calculator is set up for a chromatic fret board so the fret numbers are actually semi-tones and you'll have to adjust to accommodate the diatonic scaling of your fret board (e.g. the first fret is 2 semi-tones, the second is 4 semi-tones, the third is 5 semi-tones etc.).  The equivalents for the first octave are as follows: 1~2, 2~4, 3~5, 4~7, 5~9, 6~10, and 7~12.

The StewMac web site has a similar fret position calculator ( http://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator) that additionally provides fret to fret measurements. With this calculator you can specify "dulcimer" as a parameter input and doing so will restrict the output to the diatonic scale of your instrument - well, except it includes the 6+ fret which it labels fret #7 and calls the octave fret #8.  An advantage of this calculator is that it is easy to cut and paste your data output into a spreadsheet or print out.

For the "scale length" (i.e. VSL) measure the distance from the zero-fret to the seventh fret and multiply by two, which will give you the uncompensated VSL for the instrument.  Adjusting the bridge position by finding a true octave at the seventh fret gives you a compensated VSL that factors in the effect of the string tension increase caused by the act of depressing the string to the fret.  A compensated VSL will be slightly larger than an uncompensated VSL and it is the latter that we want to work with - at least for now.

Once you've entered the VSL measure the distance from the nut (or zero-fret) to each of the seven frets and compare them with the calculated values and look for discrepancies (i.e. errors).  The seventh fret VSL will of course be spot on automatically because that measure was the parameter used to determine our scale length input. What we want to look for is a pattern in the errors for frets 1 through 6.  For example, do all errors in frets 1 to 6 come up short?  I suspect they would if frets 1 to 6 play flat as you described.

Where we go from here is dependent upon the error findings and to cover all possible outcomes and remedies would make this reply overly long (if it is not already).  So if I've tweaked your interest, provide feedback on what you find and I'll try to dope out a solution - if there is one.

If you use Excel or another spreadsheet program, that would be a good vehicle for keeping your notes and for doing some later data manipulation, hopefully leading to a solution of the intonation issue(s).

 


updated by @jim-hedman: 05/01/18 06:22:42AM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 years ago
1,859 posts

Could it had had the frets set by ear, rather than tuner -- say Just Intonated?  I've seen several "tulip" dulcimers from that era.  I think Wilfred in Germany has one, and there's one pictured in one of the early books -- Michael Murphy's Dulcimer Book perhaps or the early edition of the Mel Bay Learn To Play (I don't have them handy)

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 years ago
2,013 posts

This is cool.

I did however, move this thread to the "Instruments- luthiers/instruments Forum because it's about a specific maker and the issues effecting the instrument's playability.  howdy




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
jeffrey charles foster
jeffrey charles foster
@jeffrey-charles-foster
3 years ago
8 posts

what do they call that body style Rob ? is it a flying V ?

Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

@rob-n-lackey

@ken-longfield

I just pulled it out and experimented. I have been positioning the bridge so that when you play the octave fret the note sounded is one octave higher using a digital tuner (and my ear). When I have that satisfied and play notes up the fret board, they are flat until I reach the octave fret I used to position the bridge. It would seem that the frets are not the proper distance from the zero fret, but I'm finding that hard to believe give the general quality of the instrument. The strings are all properly seated and are vibrating between the zero fret and the fret serving as the bridge.

I wondered if string gauge and tension might have an effect, but I don't think so. The bass string is a .023, and it acts the same as the unwound strings. The action is properly set and not so high as to affect the note sounded (and it would also be sharp, not flat). At the first fret, I have to bend the string about 1/8" to bring it up to the proper pitch. I've recently read an online article about different tuning "modes" and some of it went over my head. The writer was talking about some notes being flat or sharp when "in tune." Couldn't quite wrap my head around that one, but it seemed authoritative!  ;-)


updated by @bridge: 04/30/18 08:14:38PM
Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 years ago
812 posts

From what I can tel from the photos, the first piece of metal after the peg head is a Zero fret. The next is one and so on. Measure the distance from the middle of the zero fret to the middle of the seventh fret, double it and you have the place where the bridge (in this case another fret) should be. It is difficult to see, but do the strings pass along the slots in the tail piece? It was also constructed before the 6 1/2 fret became popular, so I would place it nearer to 1963 than, say, 1975.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
3 years ago
413 posts

Interesting instrument.  I don't know either if it's a tulip or lyre, but my money's on tulip.  I know where Volga is, but don't know anyone who lives there.  In fact, it's not far from here in Barbour County.  I have an hourglass made in the county seat of Barbour Co. and it's 4 independent strings as well.  Have you started with the bridge set the same distance from the 7th fret as from the nut to the 7th and see how close the intonation is.

 

Bridge
Bridge
@bridge
3 years ago
17 posts

@rob-n-lackey

This might be better posted in another forum, but this topic line fits it perfectly. These are photos of a West Virginia 4-equidistant-string dulcimer I recently bought in Cleveland, OH for $75 while visiting my son. I'm not sure if it is supposed to represent a lyre of a tulip! I cleaned it up and put some standard strings on it. Sounds nice, and "shimmering" seems to fit it. The label inside it reads as follows:

No. #33

Russell W. McCarty

Volga, W. Va.

I've done some light investigation on the web, and I believe I have located some members of Mr. McCarty's family, but I have not yet tried to contact them.

Based upon my limited experience, this seems to be a pretty unusual instrument. I don't know how old it is, but it must have been constructed after 1963 and before people started printing labels on computers since the address contains a zip code and the label was done on a typewriter.

Since restringing the instrument, I have not been able to get it to play properly. The bridge is adjustable fore and aft, and I can get it to sound the right notes at the octave or middle fret, but it is as if the frets are not spaced properly when you play up and down the fretboard. As I go up the fretboard, the notes are flat until I hit the octave fret. I do NOT believe the instrument is improperly constructed, but I have yet to figure out why it seems to be so far off. I haven't really spent much time on it, and I might even be using the wrong fret for positioning the bridge if it doesn't have half frets. There are some very small pin holes that seem to hint at where the bridge should be placed; they are obviously there for that reason.

Anyway, that's a project I am working on.

I've posted below a link to some photos at the Google Photo site. I've made them accessible to all, but I may remove that link if I find that it compromises my my security there. First time I have done this...

https://photos.app.goo.gl/YtZR1fFgw4fSkJ9R6

t4.jpg
t4.jpg  •  132KB

t3.jpg
t3.jpg  •  73KB

t1.jpg
t1.jpg  •  128KB

t2.jpg
t2.jpg  •  135KB

t5.jpg
t5.jpg  •  117KB


updated by @bridge: 04/30/18 07:27:03PM
Dave shattuck
Dave shattuck
@dave-shattuck
3 years ago
24 posts
Thanks
Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
3 years ago
413 posts

Well, Dave, they can be tuned numerous ways.  When I got my 1st it was tuned DAdd.  Now, I usually use DAAd.  However DAdc is a good one for minor key tunes (Aeolian mode.)  Then there's always DAdA, the Jean Ritchie tuning.  Have I just confused you to no end?  Well pick either of the 1st 2 and start playing.  There were no beginner's books for 4 independent strings when I started, and I don't know of any now, either.  Janita Baker has some books for 4 strings using her tuning DABbd (I think.)  Seems like it would be a cool tuning for solo fingerpicking like she does.

 

Dave shattuck
Dave shattuck
@dave-shattuck
3 years ago
24 posts

How are they tuned, and any suggestions on a beginner book for that?


updated by @dave-shattuck: 10/27/19 12:02:25PM