I/ve built a couple "scheitholt" type instruments with split bamboo frets. Softer sound than metal frets, and quieter too.
Non-Metal Fret Material
It is not uncommon for the Norwegian langeleik to have wooden frets. Langeleiks are considered to be one of several traditional instruments that may be antecedents of the American mountain dulcimer.
Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
A closely related concept I am also curious about is the idea of using a different nut and bridge material for the drone strings than the melody string for an instrument intended to be played drone style so as to make the sound of the melody string more distinctive from the drones. For example, softwood for the drones and bone/metal for the melody, or vice versa.
Hello all, I am wondering if there is information on differences in tone between metal frets vs alternative materials and if there is any precedent for trading off the durability of metal frets for different tonal characteristics? I built 2 dulcimers using 80 lb test fishing line tied on as frets and both had a very soft tone. I am not sure if this is due to the very soft woods I used for them or if the fretwire played a major role.
I've noticed in fretless dulcimer videos by Randy Adams the tone seems to be softer than fretted ones, but this also may be due to other factors of construction.
I have also seen cigar box ukuleles with wooden toothpicks for frets but, again, I do not know if the soft tone was instead due to other aspects of the construction or the nylon strings.
I am aware that very hard woods or bone are the preferred material for nut and bridge, and have read that metal frets offer better projection than the gut frets of historical instruments.
The reason this came to mind is I built a dulcimer with a 0 fret but without noticing used a lower fretwire than the rest of the frets. I was about to pull it and replace it, but out of curiosity I folded up a piece of paper and placed it on top of the 0 fret under the strings and to my ear it sounded much more pleasant.
The difference between the folded paper and the first fret was that the 0 fret was noticeably softer, like a more subtle version of the difference between using a fingertip vs a pick. Since the strings dont bend or rub very much on the 0 fret I am planning to just leave it this way and see how long it lasts, however if i tried the same on any other frets it would most likely wear through very quickly.
This all makes me very curious about the idea of wooden frets, tied on gut or mono-filament frets, maybe even paper topped frets where some type of stiff paper is frequently replaced. It seems like the important thing would be making sure that the fret material can be easily replaced when it wears through.
Would love to hear some thoughts on this! Hope everyone is well