Is the strumhollow redundant?

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@natebuildstoys
4 days ago
19 posts

Corvus:

The strumhollow is certainly not redundant, in fact dozens of thousands of players pick & strum in that area. That area provides a slightly stronger and brighter tone which is precisely what many dulcimer players want.

A huge majority of dulcimers are built with strumhollows & that is driven by public demand. If nobody wanted strumhollows then builders would not build strumhollows.

Hello Corvus. The best I understand it is that the stronger and brighter tone noticeable over the strumhollow is due to picking/strumming near the end of the string length, not the hollow itself. An easy demonstration of this is if you strum the open string all the way at the top just above the first fret, the tone is nearly identical to over the hollow. This leads me to believe that the same tone could be accomplished without the hollow. It's also worth noting that the demand for strumhollows does not imply an actual utility function to them. A couple builders have already mentioned that they don't consider it functionally important, but know that their customers want it. It is aesthetically nice, and more importantly it is the norm, but is it actually useful?

Corvus
Corvus
@corvus
one week ago
8 posts

The strumhollow is certainly not redundant, in fact dozens of thousands of players pick & strum in that area. That area provides a slightly stronger and brighter tone which is precisely what many dulcimer players want. Other players will use both the strumhollow & fretboard area & some players use the fretboard area exclusively in order to get a more mellow tone and for other reasons.

It's important for us to remember there is no correct way and no wrong way. No superior way and no inferior way. If it works for you then 'your' way is what you should use.

A huge majority of dulcimers are built with strumhollows & that is driven by public demand. If nobody wanted strumhollows then builders would not build strumhollows.

Brian G.
Brian G.
@brian-g
2 weeks ago
99 posts

I'd like to respectfully disagree with Dusty on one minor (yet still important, in my opinion) point.  While I certainly agree that one should not be "going so deep into the strings that you hit the fretboard" I do not agree that you should be "gliding along the top."  That depends on the tone you desire.  For the fullest tone, the dominant direction of the pick (or finger) should actually be *into* the fretboard (without going so deep as to hit the fretboard), rather than across the strings parallel to the plane of the top of the fretboard.  This is easier for many people to do with their fingers than with picks, and when playing individual notes or chord-melody style vs when strumming, but angling the pick as Dusty suggests actually helps facilitate this "down toward the fretboard" angle.

As always, these are *choices* available to the deliberate player.  Try adjusting the angle of your pick, sure, but also try adjusting the direction of your picking (towards the fretboard vs. parallel to the fretboard plane) and see what gives you the sound you want for the piece you're playing.  There's no "one size fits all."

Just my two cents.  :)

Kind regards,

Brian

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 weeks ago
1,254 posts

There are two different reasons for pick clack. One is the sound of the pick flipping as it strikes a string.  That sound is much more pronounced with thinner picks than with heavier ones.  And some pick material also makes less noise than others.

The other sound is the pick hitting the fretboard.  But that is why people talk about technique.  Your pick should not be going so deep into the strings that you hit the fretboard. Rather, you should be gliding along the top. Addiitonally, angling the pick so it is not parallel to the string but only hits it on the side (for righties, that means the left side going out and the right side coming in) also reduces the noise the pick makes and helps avoid getting in between the strings to hit the fretboard.

Personally, I enjoy heavy picks that allow for much greater timing accuracy, so I have little problem with that first sound.  And when I record or perform I use a ridiculously expensive pick that someone gave me which produces almost no sound at all.

But I still sometimes get sloppy with my picking and hit the fretboard, especially if I get to playing pretty fast. That's one reason I like my McCafferty with the extended strum hollow since I don't have to worry about my less-than-perfect strumming technique.

There's nothing wrong with adding some percussive sounds as we play, but it ought to be on purpose, and as Irene says, we might not want it on every song we play.




--
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
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
2 weeks ago
171 posts

@Irene asked "Tell me how you can play with a pick and NOT get that flappy flap flap?  It's great percussion, but I don't want percussion on all my music with the dulcimore."  @ken-hulme gave a method, but if that doesn't match the way you strum it could be hard to change habits.  Felt picks don't make sounds on songs that don't fit percussive pick noise.  

(I know, I know, it's not strumhollow related & I was treading dangerously outside this discussion's topic.)duck  

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@natebuildstoys
3 weeks ago
19 posts

Yes, unfortunately I had my doubts that the spaces would be big enough, though I would say it may still be useful for picking styles where the pinky is used to anchor the hand in place. Of course I eventually intend to practice enough that it stops being a concern, but since I build all my own dulcimers, I frequently indulge on 'crutch' modifications that help the sound along in the meantime. Not to correct the mistakes in my technique, but to correct the sound even in the event of a mistake so that it's more appealing to listeners while I am still learning and often mess up! 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,254 posts

Terry McCafferty makes what he calls an "extended" strumhollow.  Bascically he cuts off the fretboard a few frets early to creater a longer and more usable strumhollow.  How many of us actually fret those little tiny frets above 14 anyway?  Take a look at his instruments and you'll see what I'm talking about.  I love playing with the extra long strumhollow.

It might be that @Natebuildstoys saw Stephen with one of Terry's dulcimers.  He's been playing them a lot the last few years.

 




--
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
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,735 posts

I think you're tilting at windmills here. 

Dishing out between frets to make 'strum-able' spaces has been tried; and not very successfully.  The lengths of the spaces are too small and it's too hard to stay in that space as you strum.  Hardly anyone keeps their strums within a one inch zone! 

If it were worth the time and effort, you'd see all kinds of builders using the idea in their builds.  

IMHO it's also gonna be ugly.  Also, to me, it's too much work for virtually no gain.  "..consistent sound quality with less effort and technique... would maybe reduce the damage" Consistent sound quality is the result of good strumming technique.  Sloppy technique results in damaged fretboards and tops.  Learning how to hold the pick and strum with it is the second most important skill to learn with the dulcimer, or other stringed instruments.  First skill is learning to fret the string(s) cleanly.  No facet of instrument design can truly compensate for poor playing techniques.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@natebuildstoys
3 weeks ago
19 posts


I saw a Stephen Seifert video where he showed a dulcimer made for him that had a strumhollow which went all the way up to the 14th fret (16th literally) and he explained it was made this way because that was where he preferred to strum. I have attached an image. What do y'all think of the idea of hollowing out one of the spaces between two of the frets low down the fretboard? For example, if there was a strumhollow between the 8th and 9th frets, another between the 12th and 13th and another just past the bottom frets? Then while playing the top of the fretboard you could use the top strumhollow, while playing the middle you could use the middle strumhollow, and when playing way down the frets you can use the traditional strumhollow. Maybe this would be structurally weak or ugly, but I would expect that it would be more practical for consistent sound quality with less effort and technique and also would maybe reduce the damage over time caused from the pick hitting the fretboard.

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Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,735 posts

Irene -  to play with a pick and not get flap, you have to slide the pic across the strings at an angle in each direction, not hold the pick rigidly vertical at right angles to the plane of the strings.  On the outstroke the angle is like this / but a shallower angle.  On the instroke the angle is opposite \ again again even more shallow.  if you keep the pick vertical | you get a distinct 'click' as the pick releases each string in turn.  But if you angle the pick it just slides from string to string.  The trick is learning to turn the wrist and forearm as you strum.   That's how I learned from Robert Force anyway...

IRENE
IRENE
@irene
3 weeks ago
154 posts

Thanks Lois.   Well, I can see folks playing here and on youtube....playing on the 12 fret or there abouts....with using their hand and not a pick, then the sweet tone is there for sure.  I watch Kendra Ward play, always in the strum hollow....she uses a corset stay.....that would make a quick mess of fret boards up higher.  I can also see that's it's  a bit hard when it's on the lap.....so the flappty flap flap is copied.  Tell me how you can play with a pick and NOT get that flappy flap flap?  It's great percussion, but I don't want percussion on all my music with the dulcimore.   As others have said many times here, there's no right or wrong way to play a dulcimore....there's just  the joy of playing music alone or with others.  So thank you other lutherers out there that made a strum hollow....I use 'em.  aloha, irene

Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
3 weeks ago
171 posts

At the risk of leaving the point of the discussion, since the strum hollow seems a bit of protection from picks . . .

IRENE:

Well, now, I must say something here.   Being that I had NO ONE to teach me in Hawaii 35+ years ago, I learned from Jean Richie's books.   Then when I met some wonderful folks in Southern Oregon 20 years ago.....they played all over like you talk about here.   Weird for me....I didn't like the FLAP FLAPITY FLAP with the picks on the fret board. I really LIKE playing at the strum hole.   HOWEVER, I've also watched so many videos on this site and those that play without picks and with chording..............finger dancing all the way.....I love the sound as well.   It's that FLAP FLAPTIY FLAP....and maybe only for me.............distracts from the beautiful melodies and or chords folks use when they play.  Yes, Ken, there is a sweet sound in the middle....but I often play way up high on the fret board....so for me............I stick to playing at the strum hollow.   aloha, irene

Tend to agree, @Irene.  Picks cramp your hand and, unless I specifically want the percussion, I, too, am no fan of the FLAP FLAPITY FLAP.  As to where to play, I probably need to pay more attention.  I remember being surprised when my husband asked why I didn't use the strum hollow.  Never noticed.  Had more important things to pay attention to and now this discussion's got me noticing a bit more.

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
3 weeks ago
251 posts

I add a strum hollow on all the dulcimers I build. I assume my customers expect it. And it looks cool. But do you need one? I would say no. Personally I never play over the hollow. Usually it's over the twelfth to sixteenth fret area. But I can see it's usefulness with finger picking. Metal finger picks especially.... Robert.

John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
3 weeks ago
206 posts

My belief is that strum hollows are not necessary.  I think many new builders (in the 60's and 70's) followed the Kentucky tradition of Ed Thomas.  They saw many photos of these dulcimers, to the exclusion of older Virginia dulcimers, and just thought that was "the way they were supposed to be built".  I certainly didn't see any examples back then of dulcimers without strum hollows.

Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
3 weeks ago
135 posts

Rob, I had a Hughes dulcimer from the 80's, and it did have a strumhollow...and, I lived in Colorado at the timewhistle ...I don't know about any of their dulcimers  before that.

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
3 weeks ago
445 posts

When I got my 1st dulcimer nearly 40 years ago I thought you should play over the strum hollow most of the time.  I learned quickly that sul tasto (toward the nut) and sul ponticello (toward the bridge) would do the same as on the guitar: a sweeter sound toward the nut, a more metallic sound near the bridge.  Like others I used them to vary the sound as I did on the guitar.  However, you can do the same thing without a strum hollow.  Here's a pic of my Heatherwood, which has no strum hollow:

I believe the Hughes dulcimers were made the same way.  Maybe that was a Colorado thing? 

That being said, you can see by some old dulcimers without strum hollows people wore down the part of the fretboard over which they were strumming.  My problem is not that but wearing the top from vigorous strumming and fingerpicking.  My Rockwell is going to look like Willie's Trigger in about a year if I don't watch it.  LOL.

 

 

IRENE
IRENE
@irene
3 weeks ago
154 posts

Well, now, I must say something here.   Being that I had NO ONE to teach me in Hawaii 35+ years ago, I learned from Jean Richie's books.   Then when I met some wonderful folks in Southern Oregon 20 years ago.....they played all over like you talk about here.   Weird for me....I didn't like the FLAP FLAPITY FLAP with the picks on the fret board. I really LIKE playing at the strum hole.   HOWEVER, I've also watched so many videos on this site and those that play without picks and with chording..............finger dancing all the way.....I love the sound as well.   It's that FLAP FLAPTIY FLAP....and maybe only for me.............distracts from the beautiful melodies and or chords folks use when they play.  Yes, Ken, there is a sweet sound in the middle....but I often play way up high on the fret board....so for me............I stick to playing at the strum hollow.   aloha, irene

Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
3 weeks ago
135 posts

"Is the strumhollow redundant?"....Yes...and no.  About the only reason for having one may be to provide an area on the fretboard to protect it from the wear caused by the plectrum or quill hitting it during play. 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,735 posts

IMHO, yes, the strumhollow is unnecessary.  Yes, the ideal place to strum is half way between where the string is fretted and the bridge -- which of course changes constantly as you play.  Most players strum somewhere around fret 12-14, some up as far as fret 8.    I strum in different places depending on the effect I am trying to achieve -- from brash down around the bridge to mellow at the half-way point of the vibrating string. 

Hollowing the fretboard for its entire length will definitely remove more wood than carving a strum hollow, especially with the wide modern fretboards.  Rather than a strum hollow, I prefer to simply round-over the edges of the fretboard between the last fret and the bridge.

The fretboard holes on that diatonic stick aren't so much for reducing weight as they are for adding more sound-hole to the construction.  Some dulcimer builders, following older traditional instrument designs, drill one or two 1/2" or 5/8" holes through the fretboard (hollowed or no) all the way into the soundbox.

Dan
Dan
@dan
3 weeks ago
110 posts

Not really needed. I make my staple boards with them on the Kentucky pieces because the old masters did. Like Bobby said, we strum about staple 14, a few inches beyond the hollow.


updated by @dan: 05/03/20 12:33:46PM
Slate Creek Dulcimers
Slate Creek Dulcimers
@slate-creek-dulcimers
3 weeks ago
16 posts

I have no use for strum hollows. I build traditional Virginia dulcimores and they didn't have them is one reason. The other reason is I never strum there so there's no sense in going through the extra work to add one if I don't strum there. 
However I think a lot of fingerpickers do use the strum hollow area. So I reckon it would come in handy for them.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@natebuildstoys
3 weeks ago
19 posts

I built my first dulcimer before I had ever seen or heard any played, after reading a page in a homesteading book on how to build them. I sort of just assumed the strumhollow is where you strum. Once I watched a couple videos about antinodes I realized I should strum in the middle of the string, and once I watched some dulcimer videos I realized most players strum about 1/4 the way up the string from the bridge. Most players agree the strumhollow is just not the sweet place to strum. For a while I stopped adding them, and instead would just hollow out the channel on the underside of the fingerboard all the way down to the bridge. It worked terrifically and probably was much more structurally sound than a strumhollow due to the shape. Sometimes on quicker builds I will even just drill a few holes where the strumhollow would be, to reduce the mass of the neck without sacrificing so much structural integrity. What do y'all think? is there any value to a strumhollow other than just to reduce some of the wood off the fingerboard? Is extending the channel on the underside just as effective as adding a strum hollow? Is drilling holes like on this strumstick as effective?

dulcstrumstick.jpg
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