Dulcimer-Guitar Style Options?

Butch Ross
Butch Ross
@butch-ross
one month ago
10 posts

My stand up dulcimers was built for me by Jon Harris of Sweet Strings Dulcimers (you can see it in my profile picture). He built it based on the way I play, and God bless him, I didn't ask him to. It's very much a standard hourglass dulcimer except that one side is much smaller so I can get my hand around it, it also has a very short VSL (22" or 24", I forget) and because of that pretty heavy strings. Prior to that I was using a teardrop instrument.

Having played it for 15 years now, I can say that I agree with most of the things people have said in this thread. Anything with a neck is not a dulcimer, it's the body continuing under the fretboard that's partially responsible for what gives the dulcimer it's unique sound.

And also because the thing the way that sound is transferred from the strings through the body is different than on a guitar, mandolin or any other stringed instrument, the dulcimer has a unique voice. This is not true of any strumstick type instrument. And as mentioned elsewhere, the resonating cavity is too small to offer much volume, tone or sustain. I have a Strumstick, a Washburn Rover, and a couple of other things. The physics of building them render the necks too small to be useful. I've played the Woodrow Artist, and it's pretty cool and sounds great, but it's not a dulcimer. And Merlin was also a big disappointment.

Unfortunately, Jon Harris has stopped building. But Folkcraft once made me a dulcimer based on his specs. I don't think they keep them in stock (in the 15 years I've been doing this, you're the second person to have shown an interest in this style of playing). But I'm sure they'll make you one. Altho' I prefer the Jon Harris, I still use my Folkcraft pretty regularly.

I don't find myself limited by playing standing up, rather it's apples and oranges. There are things I can play standing up that I can't do sitting down and vice versa. I'll post a video.

Susie
Susie
@susie
one month ago
288 posts

I had the Olympia Walkabout Dulcimer for quite a few years, until I sold it to fund another instrument. Kevin Jones is great to work with and will build it to your specs. They are a little more, but you are getting a classy instrument that isn't tinny or toy-like. 3 2-course sets of strings, makes a beautiful, full sound.

https://olympiadulcimercompany.com/products/

In fact, here is a video of MY specific Olympia.


updated by @susie: 04/16/19 05:55:03AM
John Gribble
John Gribble
@john-gribble
one month ago
78 posts

Both those look like very nice instruments. The Merlin/Woodrow fretting system allows for two octaves (major scale only) when one plays across the strings. The low octave starts on the "bass" string, crosses over to the middle string on the fifth note for three notes, and ends on the high string. The second octave is entirely on the first string, one fret at a time, traditional dulcimer style, starting on the open string. One can do some nice chording with it, too.

As for Dusty's objection to no "6th" fret, but only a "6+" fret, the 6th fret would confuse the issue of a purely diatonic instrument. How it differs from the traditional dulcimer is with the number one note of the scale on the open string. As something of a traditionalist who likes the 5-5-1 tuning, I sometimes find the 6+ fret a nuisance.


updated by @john-gribble: 04/15/19 09:43:22PM
Salt Springs
Salt Springs
@salt-springs
one month ago
111 posts

I believe so................check out the you tube demo's etc. here...............there are a slew of tunes etc. on YouTube.........demos, lessons etc.

https://www.youtube.com/user/woodrowmusic


updated by @salt-springs: 04/15/19 07:55:49PM
kateharp
@kateharp
one month ago
6 posts

Salt Springs:

http://thewoodrow.com/

 

Worth a look.............

Wow!  These are amazing instruments!  I wonder if they are all dulcimer frets -- I need to check them out.

Salt Springs
Salt Springs
@salt-springs
one month ago
111 posts

http://thewoodrow.com/

 

Worth a look.............

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
one month ago
93 posts

I've been dreaming of an Olympia Walkabout dulcimer for years, but I haven't sprung for one yet. https://olympiadulcimercompany.com/products/

Many "cigar box guitars" have 3 strings and a diatonic fret pattern.  The easiest ones to build have no frets at all and you play them with a slide.  Anything is possible!  http://cigarboxguitars.com/

There are a lot of decent and inexpensive baritone ukuleles on the market now.  I got a Kala "Makala" for 80 bucks at Sam Ash and it plays great.  Warm tone, nothing like a banjo-ish strumming stick.  Four strings, 19-20" VSL.  Normally tuned DGBE (like 2/3rds of a guitar) but the strings will take DGAD and (usually) DAAD tunings.  Or just remove the G string and tune it DAD.  Nylon strings instead of steel, which is a plus ergonomically. 

The chromatic fretboard is a dealbreaker for some folks, but creative use of masking tape can mark the frets to ignore (or the frets to use) and sometimes that works well enough.  I think it's worth a try, given that diatonic guitar-neck instruments with a rich sound are hard to find, while bari ukes are everywhere.

 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one month ago
1,097 posts

I'm sorry to hear Ken's description of the shoddy construction of the Seagull Merlin.  I have a Seagull 12-string guitar that is very nice (exceptional for the price) and made in Canada. The only Merlin I played (for a total of 3 minutes) had a slightly bigger and warmer sound than other strumsticks, but it oddly has only a 6+ and not a 6 fret. And it only has a total of 7 or 8 frets, so you only have one octave to work with.  The price is about that of a student model dulcimer, so I don't see it as having much of a purpose at all. If, as Ken states, many of them are not playable due to misplaced frets, it's a real shame.  No wonder you see so many on Ebay.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
kateharp
@kateharp
one month ago
6 posts

I love all the ideas for modifying instruments.  This must be how new instruments get invented!

Slate Creek Dulcimers
Slate Creek Dulcimers
@slate-creek-dulcimers
one month ago
12 posts
Thanks for the plug Ken. Unfortunately I'm not building the Strumdrop American Cittern at this time. In my few years absence from building I have lost my jig/form for building them and haven't got around to making another.
John Gribble
John Gribble
@john-gribble
one month ago
78 posts

A modified octave mandolin/Irish bouzouki might be a possible solution. Unwanted frets can be removed and the slots filled. You could choose whether to modify the peghead or not--it wouldn't make any difference in playing. The nut and  bridge may need to be modified to accommodate whatever stringing configuration you settle on. If you can find a used instrument at a reasonable price, the cost of the modifications shouldn't be too high.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
1,527 posts

A great many of the Seagull Martin instruments have had serious fret problems -- missing frets, grossly misplaced frets, etc.  They appear to be made 'offshore' by factory people who don't know and don't care.  The company apparently makes pretty good guitars, but their 'stick instruments are just not very good.  I've seen 3.  One only had 6 frets (!),  one had badly spced frets, and the third was just OK.

The sound was typical 'stick instrument, certainly not 'guitarish' like the OP is lookin for.


updated by @ken-hulme: 04/15/19 07:06:11AM
Matt Berg
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
one month ago
50 posts

Perhaps a Seagull Merlin would be appropriate?  http://www.seagullguitars.com/en/products/m4

Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
one month ago
74 posts

I'm just speculating here, but perhaps you should consider a tenor guitar.  However, I'm not sure anyone makes one with a diatonic fretboard like a dulcimer.

Like many mountain dulcimers, tenor guitars have four strings.  You could always restring one to reflect your favorite dulcimer tuning.  The only hangup would be getting used to the chromatic fretboard, which would have both advantages and disadvantages.  

As KenH has stated, the more you modify the original design of the traditional dulcimer the more you move away from what would normally be called a dulcimer.  The changes suggested above would result in a hybrid instrument that is part dulcimer and part guitar.   It's already been done by combining dulcimer and banjo features into a "banjimer" or dulcimer and dobro features into the "dulcibro".  There's nothing stopping you from modifying a tenor guitar into a chromatic guitar-like dulcimer.  Good luck with your search and let us know what you decide and how it works out.   You may be on to something.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
1,527 posts

Bobby's Cittern has a diatonic fret scheme like the dulcimer.  American Cittern is a name that Bobby and I came up with for an instrument that he was designing and building.  He doesn't have anything on his site, but I'm sure he still has pictures of what he made.  Cittern is the name of an old Renaissance instrument with a diatonic neck that was not a proto-guitar, not a lute or any other instrument.  It has a nearly round body a couple inches deep and perhaps 14" in diameter.  

Matt Berg
Matt Berg
@matt-berg
one month ago
50 posts

The banjo-esque sound comes from the shallow body.  If you want a more rounded sound, look for a deeper body.  For example, compare the sound of a McSpadden v the sound of a Folkcraft or Blue Lion.  When playing an instrument in the underhand "guitar" style, you will find many of the chord/melody riffs of a mountain dulcimer impossible.  You simply do not have the same reach as the overhand dulcimer style.  Butch Ross gets around this by "playing in the box", similar to a classical guitar player.

Good luck and please post videos when you have settled on an instrument.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one month ago
1,097 posts

@Butch-Ross sometimes plays the dulcimer like a guitar.  He has a special dulcimer that only has half of an upper bout so that he can wrap his hand around the fretboard. Check out this video.  I think he had it custom-made, but I'm not sure.  He is a member here, so you might ask him.  If that design is something you're interested in, you might contact some of the luthiers here and see if they can make you a custom instrument.

I don't think putting heavier strings on a tin-sounding instrument like a strumstick will have more than a negligible effect. If you want a big, warm sound, you would generally need a pretty big box.

Let me add that I think your playing will be limited if you play by wrapping your hands around the fretboard. If nothing else, you eliminate the possibility of using your thumb.  Notice in the video of Butch Ross that although he plays standing up for that first tune, which mostly involves strumming chords to accompany his voice, in the next clip, which involves much more elaborate fingering, he is sitting down and playing a regular dulcimer. (You might also compare the 3rd and 4th tunes in the same video for the same contrast.)




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 04/14/19 03:49:50AM
kateharp
@kateharp
one month ago
6 posts

Ken Hulme:

ANY dulcimer can be played "stand up".  Look at the videos of Robert Force,  the grandfather of modern dulcimer playing.  He and his partner Albert d'Ossche more or less invented 'stand up' dulcimer.

But if you absolutely need a necked instrument for ergonomic reasons and you want something that is less 'banjo-like' sound, that's a tough one. 

A.  Because if it has a neck it really is not a dulcimer any more -- it's a diatonically fretted stick thing. 
B.  Virtually ALL stick things have very little sound box, and it is the internal volume of a larger sound box that gives you the more mellow sound of a dulcimer rather than the tinny sound of a banjo or stick thing. 

One possible solution is an American Cittern built by Bobby Ratliff of Slate Creek Dulcimers.  It has a relatively large body (much bigger than the run-of-the-mill stick thing) that is a nearly round teardrop shape, with a diatonic fretted neck.   Contact Bobby here:

http://slatecreekdulcimers.blogspot.com/

or through his Slate Creek Dulcimer Facebook page.  Tell him I sent you, what you're looking for, and see if he's interested.  He built a couple of these a few years back.  

 

Yes, the issues of a & b you mentioned - is exactly the obstacles I was running into. 

I'm interested in the cittern you mentioned (But I don't see anything on his website about it) - does that have the same type of diatonic fretboard as a dulcimer?  I looked at some youtube videos under "citterns" and the frets widths looked different than a dulcimer - so I wasn't sure. 

I would love to learn more about this instrument! :) Kate

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
1,527 posts

ANY dulcimer can be played "stand up".  Look at the videos of Robert Force,  the grandfather of modern dulcimer playing.  He and his partner Albert d'Ossche more or less invented 'stand up' dulcimer.

But if you absolutely need a necked instrument for ergonomic reasons and you want something that is less 'banjo-like' sound, that's a tough one. 

A.  Because if it has a neck it really is not a dulcimer any more -- it's a diatonically fretted stick thing. 
B.  Virtually ALL stick things have very little sound box, and it is the internal volume of a larger sound box that gives you the more mellow sound of a dulcimer rather than the tinny sound of a banjo or stick thing. 

One possible solution is an American Cittern built by Bobby Ratliff of Slate Creek Dulcimers.  It has a relatively large body (much bigger than the run-of-the-mill stick thing) that is a nearly round teardrop shape, with a diatonic fretted neck.   Contact Bobby here:

http://slatecreekdulcimers.blogspot.com/

or through his Slate Creek Dulcimer Facebook page.  Tell him I sent you, what you're looking for, and see if he's interested.  He built a couple of these a few years back.  

 

kateharp
@kateharp
one month ago
6 posts

What are the options for a dulcimer that is held like a guitar? So far I've found 1) Stick Dulcimers 2) Dulcitars and 3)Roosebeck Wildwood Dulcimer.  But I don't know the 'bigger picture' of what is available. I want to be able to wrap my fingers around the neck (for ergonomic reasons). Any direction you might point me? I prefer a deep rich sound (like a dulcimer) and less like a banjo. If I have to get a banjo-sound, is it possible to put thicker strings on it to make it less tinny?  I like to play slow, acoustic fingerpicking songs.