RobinNC
RobinNC
@robinnc
2 weeks ago
6 posts

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  Instead of crawling the mall or online shopping, I spent my Black Friday cleaning up the new-to-me dulcimer.  The top had separated from the sides a little, and there was a small crack in the headstock, so repairs were in order. With that done, I went on to the clean up process.  It was really gunky but cleaned up great.   I ended up making a new nut from one that came from a mandolin and adjusting the bridge.  It put me right where I need to be.   

The only problem I see now is that the frets are quite skinny (sorry no measurement here, but I'm familiar with fret size on mandolins and guitars and can tell relative size).  I am wondering if I should try to replace the frets with something a bit larger.  The frets also seem to be well worn and probably need to be replaced anyway.

The tuners were stiff and super gunky. I cleaned the buttons, cleaned the gears and posts, and oiled the gears. The tuners now turn smoothly and hold the tuning well. I'm pleased that they did work out okay since I figured I'd have to replace them.

After cleaning it all up, I researched wood and think it is made of honduran mahogany with a walnut fingerboard, and after further inspection think it may be solid wood.  The strings that were installed on the dulcimer were apparently guitar strings that were way too hefty for this 31 -inch instrument. I put on some d'Addario dulcimer strings tuned DAA, and now it has a resonant and mellow tone. 

For a free dulcimer I can't be more pleased.  Now to learn how to play it. I ordered a couple of Mel Bay books and will start on the learning process in the next few days.

Thanks for your insight and assistance with this.  You got me on the right track.

 


updated by @robinnc: 11/30/19 11:00:00AM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
2 weeks ago
1,647 posts

Not old, not a kit.  But I can't tell you right off which of several companies

built it. 

You can certainly play in DAd tuning on that instrument, but you cannot play both in DAd (called Mixolydian Mode, with the 7th note of the scale flatted) and play in DAA the Major Scale (called Ionian Mode).    Greg is correct that you will find it easier to play in DAA, which is actually used for about 95% of the folk and pre-20th century popular music in the world.


updated by @ken-hulme: 11/27/19 08:41:44AM
RobinNC
RobinNC
@robinnc
2 weeks ago
6 posts

Thank you.  You confirmed my suspicions it is diatonic.  I just ordered some new strings 12-12-22 and will restring in a few days.  In the meantime I'm going to start cleaning it up.  Have a good Thanksgiving!

Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
2 weeks ago
99 posts

From your picture, it looks like you have traditional diatonic fretting on your dulcimer.  In practical terms, that pretty much eliminates D-A-d tuning for playing a "D" major scale.  To play a major scale in D-A-d tuning, you would need a 6 1/2 fret (an extra fret not available on your dulcimer).  If you had that fret and tuned to D-A-d, the "D" major scale would begin on the melody string at the nut and go up the fretboard one fret at a time skipping the 6th fret and using the 6 1/2 fret instead.

Your diatonic fretboard will work best with D-A-A tuning.  In D-A-A tuning the "D" major scale would begin on the melody string at the 3rd fret and proceed up the fretboard to the 10th fret.  No extra frets are needed in this tuning.

D-A-d tuning could be used on your dulcimer to play in the Mixolydian mode, but as a beginner you are better off staying away from modes until you can play several tunes on the dulcimer that you have.  Modes can be somewhat confusing for beginners.  When you are ready to try out D-A-d and other alternative tunings, you can have a luthier install a 6 1/2 fret on your dulcimer, if you like.

RobinNC
RobinNC
@robinnc
2 weeks ago
6 posts

I hope this helps. I'm having trouble receiving the photos I sent to my computer, so maybe this one will help.

dulcimer.jpg
dulcimer.jpg  •  555KB

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
2 weeks ago
1,647 posts

Photos, Robin!  Photos!!  Overall, close ups of head and tail.  General descriptions are no real help in identifying a dulcimer.  Look inside the sound holes and see if there is a Maker's Label.  Overall length and depth of the box are meaningless measurements.  Round soundholes and good birch ply do not mean a kit.  

What do you mean by "The frets are really small"???  Length?  Diameter?  Height above the fretboard?  

The string gauges you choose depend on what "open" tuning you will be using -- most folks use DAA or DAd.  Go to the Strothers String Calculator and plug in the VSL and desired open notes, and it will tell you what you need:  http://www.strothers.com/string_choice.html

RobinNC
RobinNC
@robinnc
2 weeks ago
6 posts

Thanks for your helpful response.  I just checked Hulme's article for new players.  My action is too low on the middle and bass strings at the first fret. The melody string action is okay at the first fret.  There is plenty of room at the left of the second fret (using a nickel).  I assume that lowering the nut slots on the bridge for the middle and bass strings will help. Is that going to increase the space between the string and the fret?  I will have to get new strings first, for sure.  As to what tuning to use, what is the tonal difference between DAA and DAd?

 

Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
2 weeks ago
99 posts

The strings will depend quite a bit on the tuning you intend to use.  Most dulcimer players play in the Key of "D". The two most common tunings used are D-A-A and D-A-d.  For D-A-A tuning you will need a bass string with a gauge somewhere between .020 and .024, a middle string with a gauge of approximately .012 to .016, and a melody string with a gauge of approximately .012 to .014.  There are several brands of dulcimer strings that are sold in sets in these standard gauges.  

I tune in D-A-A for most of my playing and prefer .022, .012, and .012 gauge strings.  If I were going to tune in D-A-d tuning, I'd probably go with a .010 or .011 for the melody string, but the .012 will work fine on most dulcimers.

Before buying your strings, take a look at how they attach to the tail-end of the dulcimer.  Some dulcimers require ball-end strings.  Other dulcimers require loop-end strings.  And just to complicate things, some dulcimers can use either ball-end or loop-end strings.  If you aren't sure take your dulcimer with you when you go to the music store to buy your strings. If you are buying your strings online or through the mail, just be sure to order the strings that attach to the dulcimer in the same way as those currently on the dulcimer.

Other than that, welcome to our friendly forum.  You will find many helpful and friendly people ready to assist you.  When you have a question, someone will normally have the answer for you.  

 

 

RobinNC
RobinNC
@robinnc
2 weeks ago
6 posts

I'm a total newbie who was given what appears to be an older 3 string elliptical dulcimer.  I'd like some help identifying what I've got and what strings to use.  It's 30" overall, 1-3/4" deep in the box, has a metal staple style nut and I think a plastic bridge and  open gear tuners. I think this may be a kit build, because the sound holes are two simple circles and it may be  laminate. The strings are attached to posts on the top  of the fretboard beyond the bridge. I can't identify the wood, but it has a nice resonance and volume.

The frets are really small, which is why I think it may be an older instrument.  The VSL is 24".  What strings should I use on this? The ones that came on it are totally grungy.  

Thanks for any help you can provide.   If I can get my phone to send me a photo of it, I'll post a picture.