Dulcimer Project (Reasonably) Complete!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,139 posts

@cbrown, you might want to contact @bob-stephens. He is a luthier who had been making steel-string dulcimers for a while but recently developed a nylon-string model.  I think he tried unsuccessfully to simply put nylon strings on his older models so he designed a new model specifically for nylon strings. I don't know enough about instrument construction to understand the differences, but I think his nylon-string dulcimers have many different design elements, from bracing inside the box to the way the fretboard connects to the rest of the instrument.




--
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
cbrown
@cbrown
3 weeks ago
11 posts

Hm.  This one is built ultra light, so gut might be an interesting experiment.  

 

I ought to measure and compare it with my other dulcimer.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,628 posts

Two kinds of metal strings -- loop end and ball end.  Which you use depends on how your dulcimer is set up.  There are plain steel strings and wound strings.  Type of string is irrelevant, brand of string doesn't matter -- the gauge is the most important factor.

Some people have used gut or nylon strings.  Unless the dulcimer is built ultra-light, they tend to make too soft of sound.

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
3 weeks ago
968 posts

I buy metal loop or ball end strings, depending on the design of the tail of the dulcimer.  Just get an appropriate gauge and you're good to go!  

Some have experimented with gut/nylon strings with mixed results.  




--
Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
cbrown
@cbrown
3 weeks ago
11 posts

Main question remaining for me, then, and if this doesn't open a whole nother can of worms!, is the one of strings.  Are there "dulcimer strings" per se?  I just used what was handy, and that was guitar strings.

 

Does anyone use gut or nylon, or only metal?  (I've only seen dulcimers with metal strings!)

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,688 posts

How about we drop the debating and get back to simply discussing cbrown's instrument fixing project, which is the subject of this thread?  Thanks.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,139 posts

I won't enter into the fray about the origin of the scheitholt, but at least we know the epinette des Vosges is from, well, the Vosges.  smile




--
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
Bob
Bob
@bob
3 weeks ago
102 posts

Ken Hulme:

@cbrown said "... of course early on the name [scheitholt] was widespread enough in Germany..."  

This is simply not true .  The name was NOT widespread in Germany.  This is the "great mis-information" which has been accepted and promoted over and over again by dulcimer players who aren't interested in checking facts. 

 And of course, the scheitholt was not played by everyone; perhaps less than one in one hundred.

laughlaugh

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,628 posts

@cbrown said "...of course early on the name [scheitholt] was widespread enough in Germany..."  

This is simply not true.  The name was NOT widespread in Germany.  This is the "great mis-information" which has been accepted and promoted over and over again by dulcimer players who aren't interested in checking facts. 

The term scheitholt is specific to the Tyrol, a small part of Austria, not Germany, even in 1619 when Pretorious wrote about it.  Tyrol is analogous to Appalachia -- a large area of barely accessible mountains with a small and widely scattered population, whose inhabitants made and played an obscure musical instrument for self entertainment.  

Tyrol has an area of about 4800 square miles -- about the size of Connecticut -- and back in the 17th century it had a population of 30-40,000.  And of course, the scheitholt was not played by everyone; perhaps less than one in one hundred.

Pretorious' De Organagraphia was not a best seller in Germany or anywhere.  It was an esoteric scholarly treatise really only read by musical scholars.  Perhaps only a few thousand copies were originally printed in 1619.  

Even today Tyrol only has a population of about 700,000 -- about the same as Bucks County, Pennsylvania scattered over an area nearly 8 times the size of that county.  


cbrown
@cbrown
3 weeks ago
11 posts

Thanks for the clarification!

 

That's shift in language (and terminology) across two continents and half a millennium for you! 

 

Whatever name we want to apply to it, I've got it in my mind to make one now...

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
609 posts

My objection is that "scheitholt" refers only to a very small group of instruments in a rather narrow geographical region. Henry Mercer, it seems, discovered the illustration of the scheitholt in the Syntagma and applied the label to the instrument he had in front of him without further research. Within the Pennsylvania German communities where the instrument was found, the term "scheitholt" is unknown. People referred to instrument as a "zitter" or in modern language "zither." In Germany today most of these instruments are called hummels or hommels. When I speak of these instruments, I call them Pennsylvania German zitters. I think this is a more accurate label/description of what we find in the US.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

cbrown
@cbrown
3 weeks ago
11 posts

Oh, yeah!  I know what a scheitholt is and about the regional use of the name, though of course early on the name was widespread enough in Germany, as it has a section in the Syntagma. As far as this dulcimer goes, I'm just going on the information I've seen!  But now I'm curious: why are you (Ken & Ken) trying to "get away" from the scheitholt terminology?  Would you mind discussing the issue?

 

But thanks, Ken, for alerting me to the term "arched fretboard".  New word of the day!

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,628 posts

Truthfully, I would like to get away from the "scheitholt" terminology all together, but I realize I am fighting a losing battle there.

You and me both, brother! 

Most folks have no idea of what defines a scheitholt or how little used that word is/was outside of very narrow geographic areas.  They seem to think it's a European-wide generic term when it wasn't.

The term Scheitholt for a fretted zither was almost more geographically limited than the phrase Indian Walking Cane for a dulcimer  Scheitholt only in the Austrian Tyrol and Bucks County PA; and Indian Walking Cane in the Ozark region of Missouri/Arkansas

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
609 posts

That's Ken. It is the foibles of traveling. For some reason I wasn't getting the whole discussion on my phone. Now that I'm back on the computer I see those photos. The terminology being used is what confused me. I consider the fret board to be what was once the "scheitholt-on-a-box" feature of the mountain dulcimer. Truthfully, I would like to get away from the "scheitholt" terminology all together, but I realize I am fighting a losing battle there.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,628 posts

Ken; his original post -- down at the bottom -- has photos which show a dulcimer made with a Howie Mitchell cut-away tailpiece and an arched fretboard, which the Poster calls the "scheitholt component" of his build.  

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
609 posts

I am confused by this conversation. Is there any possibility of some photos?

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,628 posts

"...that bridge pier design of the scheitholt component... "

Actually, we call that an arched fretboard.  It's not a "scheitholt component".   A scheitholt is a specific kind of trapezoidal zither found primarily in Pennsylvania, and its ancestors found in the Tyrol part of Austro-Germany.  A scheitholt does not sit on top of a sound body -- it is a distinctive musical instrument having integral frets, tuners, etc without a raised central fretboard.

Arching is one of two ways to lighten the mass of the fretboard; the other being hollowing the underside. 

Some epinettes (not scheitholtz) -- notably the Epinette des Vosges -- use a constructed fretboard on top of the sound box, instead of the solid fretboard board normally used today.  -- a top and two sides, with two end pieces -- to make it a closed box.

cbrown
@cbrown
3 weeks ago
11 posts

Well, I consider the project now complete!

 

I messed around a little with different bridge & nut heights and decided that was a dead end.  I considered frets of various kinds (I do like Randy's wood fret idea, and will keep that in mind for an upcoming project) but decided in the end to leave this dulcimer fretless.  I honestly think it was intended to be fretless, though that could be just wishful thinking. I've never seen an old dulcimer or pictures of old dulcimers or scheitholts or epinettes that are fretless.

 

A serendipitous discovery!  Whether by conscious design or perhaps other musical forces at work, that bridge pier design of the scheitholt component actually turns out to be a spectacular visual cue as to where to place one's noter or finger.

 

From the nut end, it's a whole step to the beginning of the first arch, a whole step to the end of the first arch, a half step to the beginning of the second arch, a whole step to the end of that arch and so forth. 

 

IRENE
IRENE
@irene
4 weeks ago
120 posts

I've just spent the last hour viewing Randy's youtube videos.   And he plays those babies hard....and those frets last 8 years?   wow.  I'd like to learn more about this way of making frets.   I like the staple frets that Dan puts on his dulcimers too.  It would be cool to try different kinds.  I love what I learn here!!!   aloha, irene

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 weeks ago
609 posts

I have one of Randy's dulcimers and I can attest to the fact that the wood (toothpick) frets hold up under noter playing.

Ken
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Randy Adams
Randy Adams
@randy-adams
4 weeks ago
98 posts
I've used wood frets, toothpicks actually, successfully for 7 or 8 years. Top dress with thinned carpenter glue. Noter use. Last for a long time.
Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
4 weeks ago
968 posts

I look forward to seeing what you decide to do with the fingerboard!  Perhaps tied frets with Nylagut strings?  Fretless is darn cool, too.  




--
Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 weeks ago
1,628 posts

Tied frets (a la Lute) will be 'way too soft with metal strings, and they'll cut the frets.  If you want to use wooden frets, as Salt Spring suggests, use bamboo or ebony or Lignum vitae -- again, anything softer just won't work well; I know.... I tried.

A "removeable" fingerboard on top of that fretboard just isn't going to work.   99 and 44/100th percent of dulcimer builders decide well before hand what kind of fret setup they are going to use. 

Installing conventional "mushroom" frets involves sawing really thin, undersized slots in the fretboard and then hammering the frets into the slots so they stay by friction.  Installing traditional staple frets involves drilling pairs of teenie holes (.035" or so) and then bending large staples from oversize wire and hammering them into the holes.

Salt Springs
Salt Springs
@salt-springs
4 weeks ago
153 posts

Just wondering could you use wooden frets such as are used on some humle's........June Apple dulcimers has some pics of European zithers that use them and I suspect they are glued.........half the fret board for most of them if I remember correctly.

cbrown
@cbrown
4 weeks ago
11 posts

Aloha Irene!  Thanks for the encouragement!

 

I'm still considering whether or not to set any frets in there.  If I can get it play without, I'll just leave her fretless! ;)

 

Hm. A (thin) removable fretboard could be interesting; as could tied frets.

 

We shall see!

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 weeks ago
1,628 posts

I was wondering that too Irene.  Fretting a fretboard that is already installed is a major problem.  Even if you use staple frets, all that hammering can do a LOT of damage...

IRENE
IRENE
@irene
4 weeks ago
120 posts

this is coming along GREAT.....congratulations.   you've not put the frets on the fretboard yet?   hummmmmmm.   Will you put frets on another piece of wood THEN put that part on the dulcimer with glue?  ahhhhhhh, there are soooooooooooo many ways to make a dulcimer.   A JOY FOR SURE.   aloha, irene

cbrown
@cbrown
4 weeks ago
11 posts

Well, the dulcimer project is coming along nicely (I think)!

 

Bridge, nut, endplates, spacer, end pin and clip have all been fashioned and installed.

 

Am still playing around with fretted v. fretless.

 

 

An overall view of the front end:

 

Dulcimer 4.jpg

 

 

Nut:

 

Dulcimer 5.jpg

 

 

Closeup of the front end, showing a slight bowing up of the nose when strung up.  Right now it's tuned CGc.  The extra hitch pins and the fiddle end pin are intended to secure a wire clip that will clamp the floating bridge down when not in use, thus (hopefully) relieving tension stress on the sound board:

 

Dulcimer 6.jpg

 

 

A view down into the body from the scheitholt arcade.  As you can see, the fingerboard is hollow (hence the "scheitholt on a soundbox" description); and the sound board itself is wide open the whole length of the sound box, under the arcade:

 

Dulcimer 7.jpg

 

I know John C. Knopf noted that Howie Mitchell's design has been discredited, but I'd beg to differ.  While I don't know what the original concept for the design was supposed to be, I do know, with the nose pointing up that way you do get a nice bebung by pressing on the bridge!  That's a pretty cool feature.

 

Personally, I think this instrument sounds lovely, nice and resonant.  Though I'm still considering fretted v. fretless, I fear I made the bridge and nut too low --- anything but an open string sounds muddled. :/  I'm going to try raising up those two bits to see if I can get a clearer tone on the fingerboard.