Yeah, Ken, I suppose that would only be of interest to me, really😀 I just sent an email to Bill and I‘ll reply with the eventual outcome.
.00001 or .00002 … rounding up/down the 5th decimal is not really relevant. String gauge recommendations are not set in stone. Going up or down a gauge or two is very, very common. There are no String Gauge Police! We all start with some recommendations, and then go up or down experimenting to find what works best for your on a particular instrument.
For example, I build and play traditional dulcemores, and do not use wound bass strings at all. The Olde Tymers didn't use wound strings -- that is a mid-20th century "guitar" affectation more or less, which makes the overall sound less "high silvery" than a traditional sounding instrument.
Remember too that string gauges vary with the VSL of the instrument. 26" VSL dulcimers use different gauges than a 29" VSL instrument to reach the same tuning.
Funny thing about my string measurements - I had rounded down the fourth digit of 5 on all of them, but I see that Bill’s vid on restringing shows him using .024 (wound)/.009, .013, .011/.011. If I had rounded up instead, my measurements would have matched the proper string sizes. So this appears to be his stock setup😀
Thanks for your help folks, and I will make this thing better! It does otherwise seem like a nice instrument IMO, and there’s certain aspects that I like better than a guitar for me - lighter string pressure, quieter, smaller, etc., and it is something new to try. For some silly reason I’ve always preferred the more hourglass shaped ones, but I can get over it😀
Having all strings in tune when open but all sounding sharp when fretted... in this case with the photos I think it's fairly obvious that two factors are causing this- the action is too high (causing the strings to overbend and pull sharp when fretted), and the nut (and maybe bridge too) is leaning in towards the center (causing the scale to be artificially shorter while the frets remain in the same place, causing sharp fretting). The pix show poorly fitted nut and bridge that were put in later, perhaps the originals had their slots altered too much and messed up. The dulcimer is a Berg and thus highly unlikely to have its frets in the wrong position.
This dulcimer deserves to have a nice well fitted new nut and bridge. And of course lovely new strings once that's done. :)
Glen, because you can tune the open strings to sound correct yet when you fret them at the 1st fret they sound sharp, will almost certainly mean the action at the nut is too high. Lowering the nut action so that the action is low and easy at that end of the fretboard will instantly get rid of this note sharpness problem in that area of the fretboard. The only thing that would prevent this simple solution from working is if the nut is incorrectly positioned and even more so if it's incorrectly positioned in combination with an incorrectly positioned saddle/bridge. All this is assuming the frets are correctly positioned, if they are not then that would complicate things a great deal.
Also, it's probably best to not rely too much on tuners for tuning, other than tuning one initial open note in order to set the pitch. After you get that open note accurate then tune all other notes via your ear taking into account the relationship of the subsequent notes to each other and to the initial note.
And one final fact, no fretted stringed instrument can be tuned perfectly for everything. Perfect tuning requires specific fret placement combined with specific tuning techniques, and those placement and techniques differ depending on the music played. In other words, what's perfectly in tune for one type of music can be quite imperfectly out of tune for other types of music. That's why throughout the cultures around the world there's many different and complex approaches to fret placement.
The nut/bridge position could be an issue with sharpness; but it is more commonly from bending the strings down from a very high action when fretting.
You could be seeing minor inaccuracies, Or you could be experiencing the "golly-gee that's neat" phenomena of using something more accurate than a tuning fork!!
A few cents sharp here and there are no big deal, really; and only someone with perfect pitch will be able to hear it. Sharp pitches will slack slightly during play anyway as the strings stretch from being used.
Some of us, myself included, tune everything a tad sharp. With traditional violin type wooden tuners I find that that works best.
Hi Ken, thanks for the reply! The nickel & dime info from your article is why there was no doubt in my mind because armed with that info, this one was obvious to me😀 Good thing I asked here about the nut and bridge before I started adjusting the action and changing the strings. I tend to be fussy about stuff like this and try to consider “going with what I was dealt” to compensate. It could have been some sort of traditional craftsman technique for all I knew🙄
I will contact Bill for his advice/help as you suggest.
I am enjoying getting to know the dulcimer as I try accurate tuning with a Korg CA-1 tuner and the PanoTuner app. The last time I tuned my guitar it was with an “A” tuning fork - times have changed😀 Per chance, could inaccuracy in nut position cause what I have already noticed with all strings: if I tune the string naturally, and as accurately as possible, then any fretted notes are a tad sharp (OK, almost all of them). I was wondering about this before I got here because after tuning the D and then fretting it to use it for tuning the A, I noticed the result was a tad sharp every time. Just a little. For fun I tried nudging the D to be a tad flat in order to make its fretted notes a bit more accurate. Perhaps I am just seeing trivial inaccuracies in this instrument with these accurate meters.
The wedged in nut and bridge which lean into the center are NOT "standard stuff". They don't have to be 'hammered-in tight' or glued in place, but should not need wedges to hold them either. Neither should the lean in to center, although the tops can be angle cut so that they are thinner on the outside, and may appear to be leaning... Looking at the photos -- that poor of workmanship in the fit of the nut and bridge is not something that Bill would allow out of his shop! My guess is that someone (naming no names) lost the original nut and bridge (perhaps by replacing all the string at once instead of one-by-one) and what you see are improper replacements...
You might call or email Bill, give him the model number of the instrument and explain the situation. Give him the slot measurements and ask him to send you a new nut and bridge. His contact info is on his website:
The wooden dowel is what we call a Noter and is used to fret the melody strings in the traditional style of dulcimer play called Noter & Drone.
On a 5 string setup, it is not uncommon for the bass couplet to consist of a Dd pair rather than a DD pair. The octave bass couplet gives a richer overall sound. Although I would have used another .010 string rather than a .008 and I believe that is what Bill uses. Perhaps your friend broke the thin bass string and replaced it with what he could find. Overall the other gauges seem fine for that tuning.
No reason you can't change over to a 4-string setup. Just don't put a string on the outer-most of the melody couplet tuners.
Action -- a generally good place to start with the action is what we call the Nickel & Dime. Lay a dime next to the first fret and lower the strings (by sanding the bottom of the nut) until the strings just touch the dime. Then balance a nickel on top of the 7th fret and this time lower the strings by sanding the bridge until the string just touch the coin.
Fretboard 'bow'? I don't see enough there to be an issue as long as it doesn't cause any fretting issues. Most folks don't play as far up as fret 14 anyway!
Hi folks, I inherited an older friend’s 5-string Berg dulcimer via his widow asking me if I would ever want to play it. And 5 or 6 years later I have finally pulled out to get acquainted, along with my decades’ ignored guitar. And guess which one fascinates me at this time😀 Ken’s “I just got a dulcimer.....” article was most helpful and has got me off to a good start.
There is no doubt in my mind that the action is too high. There was a wooden dowel with the dulcimer, so I guess my friend was using that to play because it would have otherwise been too tough on his fingers. The nut and bridge are narrower than than the slots provided and they are held in place with outboard wedges that appear to be the same wood as the fret board. I am guessing that this is standard stuff? But are the wedges generally reusable? The nut and bridge lean over towards the middle a bit.
After I am satisfied the with lowering of both the nut and bridge, I will replace the strings. I confess that if this was a 4-string I would have purchased a D’Addario string set on Amazon and been done with it. My friend had apparently only recently purchased this before he passed and I might assume that the string setup would be original, but who knows, eh? The 27.5” (vibrating) string setup diameters and rounded Hz as measured by me are:
D: .022” 147 Hz
d: .008“ 294 Hz
A: .012” 220 Hz
d: .010” 294 Hz
d: .010” 294 Hz
I was surprised that the one “d” was smaller than the other two. The 4 strings off Amazon.ca are .012, 012, .014, .022 and I am happy to mail order elsewhere.
Also, I notice a slight bow in the fretboard mainly around the 14th fret (model aircraft builder, can’t help it, hehe). Hopefully not significant.
Any advice would be appreciated and yeah, I get somewhat wordy, LOL. Existing string sizes, setup OK? Leaning nut/bridge normal?