Which dulcimer to tune to GDG?

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 years ago
1,724 posts

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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
UserNo4
UserNo4
@userno4
4 years ago
30 posts

Well, that calculator is interesting. I plugged in the length of the shortest dulcimer (25.5 inches) and it said that for the bass string I need a diameter of 0.15. The thinnest one I have is 0.20. The steel one I had tried the other day broke. Tonight, I put on the 0.20 in bronze, and it took.

I was able to tune up the middle string that was already on the instrument, whatever that was. Then I put on a 0.8 (which is what the calculator said) for a melody string.

About 30 minutes of playing later, it works. I've got a dulcimer tuned to GDG (G3, D4, G4). 

UserNo4
UserNo4
@userno4
4 years ago
30 posts

Thanks for the info on where to place the capo. I'll have to keep that in mind. And the gauge calculator will probably be useful.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 years ago
1,724 posts

Remember when using a capo that you have to push down evenly and with some force on the top before you tighten it. The strings have to be depressed as though you were fingering them or using a noter.  It might take a few tries before you get the hang of it. 

And I should specify that if you put it on top of the fret, it should be barely on top, meaning the fret should still be visible from the side of the capo. The majority of the capo should still be to the left of the fret wire. Don't put the capo centered right on top.  If I had better cameras and editing capability I would make a video about how to do that.

Tuning up is safer than tuning down, for the worst that can happen is that you'll break a string!  I use a wound .020 as the bass string on both my smaller dulcimers made by Ron Ewing.  One is an octave dulcimer tuned to D and the other is what Ron calls a "baritone dulcimette," which is about the size of a Ginger and tuned to G or A.  But they are both significantly smaller than a standard dulcimer, so I am not surprised your string broke.

If you are trying to tune a standard dulcimer to tonal ranges it was not originally intended, you might consult the Strothers String Gauge Calculator . You indicate the VSL and the note you want and it determines the correct gauge for you. It errs on the light side, so feel free to go one or two sizes heavier.




--
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
UserNo4
UserNo4
@userno4
4 years ago
30 posts

I'm hoping to tune up. I think that would match a mandolin. A ginger would be a logical choice, but ... more money. So right now, I'm seeing if I can get by with some new strings, and talking with some string vendors.

The capo makes my instruments sound awful. But maybe I'm doing something wrong. Now having watched your video, I'll have to try again by placing it directly on the fret. Oh, and I love the 7th sound that a 1.5 fret has, too. I've enjoyed having it on two of my instruments and will have to try it on the third by placing the cap on the 4th fret.

Carrying three dulcimers isn't that big of a deal; it's less weight than my hammered dulcimer. Still, I'd expect to carry just two.

Yes, I suppose I could learn how to tune more quickly. I'd probably stay in C or G as the default; in the bluegrass group, we don't use D that often.

Thanks for the reply!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 years ago
1,724 posts

@Userno4, I have two dulcimers currently tuned either GDG or AEA.  One is a baritone dulcimer, so it is tuned a fourth or fifth below a standard dulcimer.  It is a larger instrument with extra bracing inside.  The other is 3/4-size instrument about the size of the McSpadden Ginger.  It is tuned a fourth or a fifth above a standard dulcimer.

Depending on whether you are trying to tune above or below a standard dulcimer, you will want a smaller instrument (above) or a larger instrument (below).

I would suggest keeping a tuner on your instrument and learning to retune quickly; that way you can move from D to C and back quickly enough to join songs in either of those keys. And you should be able to retune between G and A quickly as well. It's only three strings and one step.

Let me also offer another possibility for G and A: use a capo. Tuned to D, you are in G with the capo at the third fret and in A with the capo at the fourth fret.  So with a single dulcimer, you can get to C, D, G, and A pretty easily.  Here's a video I made for another discussion here at FOTMD about using a capo.

Also, the 1.5 fret aids in getting other keys. If you are tuned to D, you can also play in G with that 1.5 fret since it gives you the C natural you need.  Between the extra fret and the capo, more keys are at your disposal out of a single tuning than you might think. You don't really want to carry three dulcimers to every jam you attend, do you? It takes just about as long to put one instrument into its case and take another out as it does to retune your three strings.




--
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: 03/05/20 02:10:11PM
UserNo4
UserNo4
@userno4
4 years ago
30 posts

I have three dulcimers. Which one should I tune to GDC?

Dulcimer 1: A Roosebeck that my mother bought me about five years ago. It's 25.5 inches from nut to bridge. I think that the 1.5 fret I had someone put in has risen a bit, which explain the tinny sound I sometimes hear. (Yes, I know it's imported from Pakistan, which brings out the haters.)

Dulcimer 2: This one is made by Michael Sanderson of Harbor Springs, Michigan, going under the name of Sylvan Music. The distance from the nut to the bridge is 26.25 inches. It's got a more mellow sound than the Roosebeck. This is the one I usually take to a dulcimer club, where everyone tunes down to to CGC. It has a 1.5 fret, which has been well-behaved.

Dulcimer 3: I bought this one at a Goodwill auction last week. It's a TK O'Brien mode 36. Like the Sanderson dulcimer, it was made in early 2011. It's 25.875 inches long from nut to bridge. It has a 6.5 fret but not a 1.5. It has a very sweet sound, especially when I strum around the 4th or 5th fret. It's probably the quietest of the three.

I'd like to move one of these to GDG because I'd like to have one for a bluegrass jam session I go to on a regular basis. I expect to take two with me, actually, one tuned in C (our autoharp player likes to play in C) and one in G (since it's a bluegrass group).

I bought some banjo strings (.20, .11, .09) and started to restring the Roosebeck with the .20. The string snapped, so I called GHS strings, the maker, and he said there must be a defect and will send me some new strings, including some thinner ones.

Any suggestions?