What's the exact difference between a dulcimore and dulcimer

Richard Streib
Richard Streib
@richard-streib
4 months ago
239 posts

    Thought I’d add my observations to this discussion. I like to use the analogy of how we label automobiles.
    An SUV, a sports car, a sedan, a coupe, a minivan, a hot rod, a convertible, and an EV are all automobiles. Yet we use descriptive terms as those cited to further identify models with specific traits, shapes, and features.
    It is much the same with the Appalachian dulcimer.  We can say that the traditional dulcimer, the post-revival or transitional dulcimer, the modern dulcimer, the baritone dulcimer, the bass dulcimer, the chromatic dulcimer, and the electric or amplified dulcimer are all in the family of dulcimers. It is just that some who have a personal preference for the traditional dulcimer choose to use the descriptive term “dulcimore” based upon the traditional dulcimer’s history, style, features, and construction, differentiating it from the other styles of the dulcimers in the marketplace today. For those individuals, “dulcimore” describes a traditional style instrument with a pure diatonic scale, staple frets under the melody string, a light weight body of native woods, and a high silvery tone.
    When I refer to my instrument as a dulcimore, I want people to be able to envision its features, and not have to wonder if it has guitar style frets or a large body made of some exotic wood from Africa or what it sounds like.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 months ago
1,123 posts

Thanks, Wally, I misunderstood you. I have Chet Hines' book and quite a few others books like it. I'm sad that I never met Patty Looman but I do have a few tabs Patty made for some of her workshops.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 months ago
1,744 posts

Dan:
Dusty Turtle: I think Ken's correct.  It's pretty clear that all those different spellings of what we now refer to as a dulcimer -- delcymore, delcimer, dulcimer, dulcimore, dulcymore -- reflect local or regional pronunciations of the word.  Especially among people with low literacy rates, few people would have seen the word in print, so there was nothing like a "standard" pronunciation.  In the same way that folk songs varied from one region to another, so would the pronunciation of a word vary.
 

Would doctors and educators be folks of low literacy? Why would they use the term "dulcimore"? 

 

Dan, I seem to have offended you, and for that I am sorry.  I do not consider "dulcimore" a "term" but rather a local pronunciation of the word whose spelling has now been standardized as "dulcimer." All those variants that I list above are clearly different local or regional pronunciations of the same word.  These pronunciations most likely developed in the late 19th century before free and compulsory education in most of the country, so spelling would not have been standardized. But all those variants were clearly referring to the same instrument.

It makes perfect sense that you use the term "dulcimore" for your traditional builds as a way to differentiate them from the modern dulcimers I play (with frets across the entire fretboard, large boxes for a guitar-like sound, extra frets, electronic pickups, etc.). But in 1890, when one person pronounced the word "dulcymore" and another in a nearby region said "delcimer," they were referring to the same instrument.




--
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: 04/02/24 11:31:43AM
Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
4 months ago
75 posts

Well, Bill did a lot to spread the "dulcimore" labels with his books and festivals. I wasn't trying to suggest that he originated it.

There is also "How to Make and Play the Dulcimore by Hines, Chet" from 1972 with several copies currently on eBay.. Again, I think, an attempt to create a trade identity. There were other other "how to make/play a dulcimer" books.

Our local (deceased) guru Patty Looman did an LP with "Dulcimore - Sweet Music" as the title, but that was the hammered variety, and dulcimer was used in the description. She was, by the way, a school teacher as well as a dulcimer teacher.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 months ago
1,123 posts

Dan, my comment about Thomas calling them dulcimers comes from a conversation I had with Mike Sloane. Also, both Ralph Lee Smith and Jean Ritchie refer to Thomas as making and selling in dulcimers. I think if he used another name for the instrument that would have appeared in their writings. If there is a specific reference to Uncle Ed using another name, I haven't seen it.

Wally, the name "dulcimore" appears in writing way before Bill Schilling started his club. I think Kimberly Burnette-Dean found that spelling in estate lists she found while researching dulcimer history in southern Virginia and western North Carolina.

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
4 months ago
75 posts

The label "dulcimore" is sometimes used in the manner of a brand or trade name - i.e. "Dulcimore Dan." His instruments are sold as Dulcimores and should be referred to as such.

Some responsibility might be placed on Bill Schilling and his friends. There are some very well educated and skilled people in that bunch. See the Dulci-More webpage https://www.dulcimore.org/

Dulci-More: Folk & Traditional Musicians is a club that started in January 1993, at the First United Methodist Church of Salem. The purposes of the club are to have fun with folk-style music and to share that music with others. The club meets at 7:00 pm on the first Tuesday and Third Tuesday (note: it was the third Wednesday until January, 2000) of each month just off the sanctuary by the Unity Classroom of the First United Methodist Church of Salem, 244 South Broadway, Salem, OH 44460 (see calendar link for summer meeting locations). All levels of acoustic instrumentalists and singers are always welcome at the meetings to jam, to learn, to listen, or to perform. Meetings are generally run as song circles with most songs or tunes chosen from the Dulci-More Public Domain Songbook with everyone joining in, .....

They are MORE than dulcimer players.

As I have said before, I think much of this confusion is probably from SPOKEN language being moved into print.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
2,137 posts

"Duckslammer, IIRC comes from a Tom & Missy Strothers ancedote about someone mis-hearing "dulcimer".

Dan
Dan
@dan
4 months ago
185 posts

Dusty Turtle:


I think Ken's correct.  It's pretty clear that all those different spellings of what we now refer to as a dulcimer -- delcymore, delcimer, dulcimer, dulcimore, dulcymore -- reflect local or regional pronunciations of the word.  Especially among people with low literacy rates, few people would have seen the word in print, so there was nothing like a "standard" pronunciation.  In the same way that folk songs varied from one region to another, so would the pronunciation of a word vary.


As for dulciwhacker or duckslammer?  confusey


 


Would doctors and educators be folks of low literacy? Why would they use the term "dulcimore"? 

Dan
Dan
@dan
4 months ago
185 posts

Ken Longfield:

As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between a dulcimore and a dulcimer. They are different names for the same instrument. C.N. Prichard call the instruments he manufactured "The American Dulcimer." J. E. Thomas called the instrument he made a dulcimer. As to where the name originated, it is anybody's guess. One theory is that mountaineers familiar with the King James Bible new the list of instruments in Daniel. One instrument on that list was dulcimer. Since no one knew what a dulcimer was, they adopted the name for their instrument. (Biblical scholars think the instrument called "dulcimer" is really a reed instrument like a clarinet.) Strumelia already mention that the name may have derived from the Latin for sweet (dulce) and the Greek for sound or song (Melos). Who knows for sure? Pretty much all of the early scholarly literature and much of popular literature refers to the instrument as "dulcimer."

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

I've had the opportunity to go through my records and can't find the reference of Uncle Ed using the term "dulcimer". Please share your reference?

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
4 months ago
1,445 posts

In her HomeSpun instructional recording, Jean lists many names for the lap-held zither and says its names come from the parts of the country in which you find it.  She goes on to say that for her lessons she's just going to call it a dulcimer.  

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
4 months ago
2,278 posts

Although I agree with some of your points Wally, as a native born Brooklyn girl raised in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s, and my parents having been 'Bohemians' there who regularly had gatherings of musical friends at home... I must maintain that not a soul ever uttered a word like " Dul-sim-o-wah". duck   Though I've heard many a Brooklyn and Bronx accent while growing up, nobody we knew ever would have said that word remotely that way. I must object!  Your examples sound to me a bit more like maybe.. Bostonian?  😹
Any Appalachian dulcimers in the Greenwich Village or Brooklyn areas in the 1940s-early60s would have been traced either directly or indirectly to Jean Ritchie's arrival in NYC in 1946 from Kentucky (after getting her college degree), and her influence in introducing the humble rural instrument to the modern urban folk revival setting. Even 'Uncle' Ed Thomas (1850-1933) and Jean Ritchie's father Balis and their whole family in the Kentucky mountains called their instruments "dulcimers".




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 03/27/24 10:30:54AM
Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
4 months ago
75 posts

In addition to differences in spelling, there were differences in pronunciation of the name of our instrument. This almost certainly resulted in differences in how it was written.

Some of our earliest references to the instrument come from estate and sales records in county courthouse archives. I can imagine that one of these might well have resulted from a visit to a deceased's home. Looking over the fireplace, the local says "One pit-chuh of the fahm, one of Unkel Har-rah, an' a dulcimah." The town raised attorney writes "1 large painting - $4, 1 small portrait - 45¢, 1 dulcimer - $1.25" the later based on his knowledge of the King James bible, not the object. The written note is in pencil and later transcribed in ink to the public record book.

I can imagine the use of "dulcimore" as having come from the early 1960s folk culture through some proponent in Brooklyn or Grenwich Villiage calling his pride and joy a "Dul-sim-o-wah."

Oral language variations are what they are.

Do we actually have any evidence for early use of the name "dulcimore" by our pioneer scholars? Jean Ritchie's first work is "The Dulcimer Book." Skimming through Ralph Lee Smith's "The Story of the Dulcimer" (2nd ed.) I don't see the word. I don't have a copy of Allen Smith's "A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers" at hand, but his preference is clearly shown in the title.

By the  way, I just noticed that the spell-checker for this website flags "dulcimore" as a potential error.

MacAodha
MacAodha
@macaodha
4 months ago
33 posts

Excellent Strumelia.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
2,137 posts

Dusty's right.  In English there were no standardized way to spell anything until some years after the Oxford English Dictionary was completely published (1884-1928) and accepted as the standard (taught in school).   Basically between WWI and WWII. And the farther from mainstream society folks were, the more those spellings seem to have varied.  

For example, my Scottish Clan name -- Home -- dates back to 1225 -- has at least 28 ways to spell Home, and people with all those different surnames are genetically related!

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
4 months ago
2,278 posts

The Appalachian dulcimer is a folk instrument that evolved in the US from various folk instruments familiar to immigrants, such as hummel, langelik, langspil, scheitholt, epinette, etc. The earliest currently known dated Appalachian dulcimer has a date from I believe the 1830s, but doubtless they were being made in the US somewhat earlier. There are some good dulcimer history books out there that should be read by anyone interested in the background of dulcimers, as currently known.

The fact is we will likely never know exactly when/where/bywhom the American lap dulcimer was precisely 'invented'. Such records were never officially kept by anyone, and folk instruments can be fragile or be stored in barns- many have not survived as long as instruments like violins or pianos that were considered more valuable and thus were better cared for over time. Compared to more widespread commercial instruments, the surviving documentation on mtn dulcimers is sparse.

As to names, like Dusty said there are regional variations in spelling and pronunciation, especially when it comes to informal folk culture. The 'dulcimer' in St James Bible likely refers to ancient instruments that were more like psalteries or hammered dulcimers, or perhaps even bagpipe-like.
There is no Official Rule Book that governs how mountain dulcimers should be called, played, or tuned. Instead, there are musicians, scholars, online fans, and builders who all have their own preferences and ideas on classification, tradition, and features of the instrument. The mtn dulcimer is definitely classified in the broad zither family as opposed to the necked 'lute' family, but beyond that people get into classification and feature preferences that can be relative according to their own ideas.

If I started posting regularly about distinct characteristics of the "Dulcimonium"... then after a few years everyone might well consider that to be a verified and distinct variety of mountain dulcimer, not to be confused with Dulcimores or Galax dulcimers or box dulcimers or modern dulcimers. I could go on about how this or that feature makes something a Dulcimonium or not a Dulcimonium... a dulcimonium must have gut strings, six of them, and have a long triangular body shape and must have wooden frets and zither tuning pins... or else it's not a true dulcimonium.
What I mean is that there is no actual official 'Bible' or rulebook of mountain dulcimers. With enough repetition and enthusiasm, anyone could make Dulcimoniums 'happen'.

BTW please excuse my evening ramblings, ..and know that i certainly don't intend to offend anyone!




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 months ago
1,744 posts

I think Ken's correct.  It's pretty clear that all those different spellings of what we now refer to as a dulcimer -- delcymore, delcimer, dulcimer, dulcimore, dulcymore -- reflect local or regional pronunciations of the word.  Especially among people with low literacy rates, few people would have seen the word in print, so there was nothing like a "standard" pronunciation.  In the same way that folk songs varied from one region to another, so would the pronunciation of a word vary.

As for dulciwhacker or duckslammer?  confusey




--
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 Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 months ago
1,123 posts

That's a good question Nate. I wish I had a good answer. I don't think it is a stylization. You may be closer with your second suspicion. Perhaps these various names came about by spelling out the name of the instrument spoken in different dialects. It would probably take a linguistic study to confirm this. I'm not a linguist and have idea how one would go about doing this.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
4 months ago
278 posts

Something I've wondered for a while is, if dulcimer is written in the Bible spelled 'dulcimer', are different spellings a stylization of the word done on purpose or just a product of limited literacy in the deep mountains? 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
2,137 posts

Three years ago this was asked by @shannonmilan  "Do you mean to say they also differ on their tuning?"    
"They"  being dulcemores and dulcimers.

Yes and no..   What I said was  " The most common tunings <for traditional dulcemores> seem to have been Unison (all strings the same gauge and same high note -- d-d-d) or Bagpipe (middle and melody strings an octave higher than the bass string D-d-d), with 1-5-5 tunings a close third."

So Yes, they do differ
-- traditional dulcemores  are/were most commonly tuned to ddd or Ddd and other key equivalents
--modern dulcimers are most commonly tuned to DAA, DAd and other Modal tunings (DAG, DAC, etc) and their key equivalents 

and No
-- in that dulcemores and dulcimers can be tuned to exactly the same tunings

.  

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
4 months ago
1,123 posts

I can't speak for what Ken Hulme meant, but I would say that the popularity of tunings differed by regions. What was popular in southwestern Virginia (bagpipe or unison) may not have been what was popular in Kentucky or North Carolina. Tunings were selected to suit the voice of the player if she/he was singing with the dulcimer. In a 1-5-5 tuning the bass string was set to "a good note" and the other strings a fifth above it. A good note being one that suited the singer's voice. Tunings also depended upon what suited the song, e.g., major or minor scales. Accepting a "standard" tuning allows folks to play together. When I first started playing it was CGG and moved to DAA and then to DAd. If you listen to other dulcimers players today, you will find many playing in other tunings when the perform solo.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
4 months ago
67 posts

Ken Hulme:

"Exact" is such a hard word!   As Dan sez, back in the day there was no standard spelling for dulcimer/dulcimore/dulcemore, and there were numerous regional names for the instrument as well. 

Today many of us use the dulcimore/dulcemore spelling to distinguish instruments made in a more traditional, less modern way.  Our "bible" as it were is L. Allen Smith's landmark book Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers.  Hundreds of traditional designs to replicate or emulate.

Here are a few characteristics which a number of us use to distinguish between a modern and traditional "dulcimer".

  • With few exceptions, Traditional instruments have partial width staple frets, not full-width modern 'mushroom' frets.
  • Traditional instruments use woods native to the Eastern US (notablyu polar) ,  not the Western US or 'exotic' woods
  • With few exceptions, Traditional instruments do not have mechanical tuners; they use violin type tuners or autoharp type tuning pins
  • Traditional instruments have purely diatonic fret layouts -- no "plus" frets at all,
  • Traditional instruments have full-length fretboards.
  • Traditional instruments have no wound strings
  • Traditional instruments almost always have overhanging 'fiddle edges' rather than flush top/side joints
  • Traditional instruments were almost invariably played in the Noter & Drone or Fingerdancing styles, without fingerpicking, three-finger chords, or DAd tuning (unless the song absolutely required Mixolydian tuning).
  • The most common tunings seem to have been Unison (all strings the same gauge and same high note -- d-d-d) or Bagpipe (middle and melody strings an octave higher than the bass string D-d-d), with 1-5-5 tunings a close third. 

 

Do you mean to say they also differ on their tuning?

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 years ago
1,123 posts

As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between a dulcimore and a dulcimer. They are different names for the same instrument. C.N. Prichard call the instruments he manufactured "The American Dulcimer." J. E. Thomas called the instrument he made a dulcimer. As to where the name originated, it is anybody's guess. One theory is that mountaineers familiar with the King James Bible new the list of instruments in Daniel. One instrument on that list was dulcimer. Since no one knew what a dulcimer was, they adopted the name for their instrument. (Biblical scholars think the instrument called "dulcimer" is really a reed instrument like a clarinet.) Strumelia already mention that the name may have derived from the Latin for sweet (dulce) and the Greek for sound or song (Melos). Who knows for sure? Pretty much all of the early scholarly literature and much of popular literature refers to the instrument as "dulcimer."

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 years ago
2,137 posts

"Dulce melos" is French with Greek/Latin roots, meaning "sweet song".  There was an old key-hammered zither called a dulce-melos or douchmelle in the 15th century.  

IIRC, "dulcimer" came to prominence in the King James Bible translation where it was incorrectly used as a term for a wind instrument. Also found (again mis-used) in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan -- "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree...

   A damsel with a dulcimer

   In a vision once I saw:

   It was an Abyssinian maid

   And on her dulcimer she played,

   Singing of Mount Abora."

Dan Cox has been the leader in assigning the term dulcimore (I spell it dulcemore just to be contrary) to those Appalachian fretted zithers built originally prior to the Dulcimer Revival -- in particular those instruments detailed in L. Allen Smith's  landmark thesis and book A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers

John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
3 years ago
404 posts

Hear, hear!  Bravo, Dan!

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 years ago
2,278 posts

Corvus:

From the pictures I've seen they both seem to be extremely similar indeed. Do you know who invented the word dulcimore, and who invented the word dulcimer?

The Latin root 'dulci' means sweet. Nobody knows who exactly invented the words dulcimer or dulcimore. It goes far back in time, to medieval references to hammered dulcimers. 'Dulcimore' is simply one of various old fashioned variations of names for the same or similar instruments.

Dan:Don't know there is any thing exact in the tradition. Some (I included) use the term Dulcimore to differentiate the traditional  pieces from the contemporary pieces. "Dulcimore" was just one of several regional names assigned to an Appalachian folk instrument some 150 year ago? Hog fiddle, scantlin', music box, harmonium to name a few, and those had varying regional mountain pronunciations too!

Right, Dan! So many quaint old names for mountain dulcimers were in use years ago in the US.   Indian walking stick, dulcerine, duck slammer, even sometimes just called a Music Box.
I first noticed the particular name 'dulcimore' being used much more frequently by Dan Cox just a few years ago. Before that (for the 30 years i have studied and discussed dulcimers), we all simply talked about 'traditional mountain dulcimers' and 'modern dulcimers'. 'Dulcimore' rarely came up except in online conversations where we were listing quaint old fashioned historic or regional names for our instrument.
Whether Dan intended it or not, I consider him to have spearheaded a movement where now it seems to be pretty much standard procedure to refer to traditional mountain dulcimers as 'dulcimores'.  Since it's handy to use as a shorter name than constantly saying or writing 'traditional dulcimer', and has a lilting quality, I'm all for making things simpler when discussing our favorite instrument.  But I do think that Dan deserves the credit for 'reviving' the name 'dulcimore' into now common usage and understanding.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 years ago
2,137 posts

IMHO  Makeshift instruments are one thing, and Traditional instruments, particularly dulcimers/mores another thing entirely.

Nothing wrong with makeshift -- "necessity is the mother of invention", after all.  That's how instruments were invented -- plucking rhythms on an archer's bow string is the ancestor of all stringed instruments, hollow logs the ancestor of drums, rocks or sticks clicked together the ancestor of all rhythm instruments.  Makeshift or improvisational music making is a multi-thousand year old tradition in it's own right.

Traditional, in the dulcimer sense, is a specific definable set of characteristics which separate pre-1960 instruments from later ones --  in particular how the dulcimer has changed in the past 50+ years.

The Ozarks have at least one Traditional dulcimore -- the so-called Indian or Ozark Walking Stick or Cane --  which can be more or less described as a narrow teardrop shape with sharp corners at the widest part of the bout rather than curves.  Some describe it as a Coffin shape.  That instrument was invented as a specific design by John Mowhee (or Mawhee) back during the Civil War.  Like other instruments of the era it has the same characteristics as other Traditional dulcimores.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 years ago
278 posts

On the topic of defining a trad dulcimer vs a contemporary one, my early experiences with dulcimers long before I started playing or building were those that old timers out in the Ozarks played. These were very folksy instruments made out of all kinds of creative materials. I was led to believe that this followed a tradition of makeshift instruments built by their ancestors out of a necessity for music. All instruments from fiddles to banjos to basses to guitars were built this way. Fence staples or fishing line, broom wire/tie wire, old posts/stakes and recycled boxes or random pots, pans, and cans.

I have definitely noticed that those who follow all sorts of different traditional designs tend to prefer alternate terms to 'dulcimer' which seem to imply that the instrument will have a style that is in some way or another not like a contemporary dulcimer. The oldest dulcimers I have personally seen in the Ozarks are very improvised, which I assumed to be characteristic of early dulcimers.
For what its worth, call it a fretted plucked box zither or a hog fiddle, but Ive always enjoyed the Jerry Rockwell coining of a 'musical possibility box.' Still I'd wonder if the dulcimers I make, which are in the style of my somewhat trashy ancestors who loved up-cycling, would be considered traditional by others. It does follow a very old musical tradition, but perhaps not the one most closely related with dulcimer specifically.

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
3 years ago
45 posts

I'm going to start telling people I play the Fence Scorpion.  kittywink

Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
3 years ago
143 posts

Here's another for your list, Dusty: Stringed Bagpipe

Tumbleweed
Tumbleweed
@tumbleweed
3 years ago
27 posts

Read the list.

My favorites are

Hog Fiddle and Harmony Box

Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
3 years ago
143 posts

Duckslammer, fence scorpion, waterswivel....my new favorites!...I especially like duckslammer! Thanks, Dusty!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
3 years ago
1,744 posts

In the folk tradition, we generally agree that isolating "who" originally did something is pretty tough indeed.  Instead we talk about different regional traditions that developed over time. As @dan and @ken-hulme have explained, today, people sometimes use the term "dulcimore" to refer to traditional, pre-revival (1940s) instruments or replicas of those instruments.

Just for kicks, a few years ago I collected the attached list of the various names that have been given to our beloved instrument.




--
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: 06/13/21 10:36:40PM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 years ago
2,137 posts

"Exact" is such a hard word!   As Dan sez, back in the day there was no standard spelling for dulcimer/dulcimore/dulcemore, and there were numerous regional names for the instrument as well. 

Today many of us use the dulcimore/dulcemore spelling to distinguish instruments made in a more traditional, less modern way.  Our "bible" as it were is L. Allen Smith's landmark book Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers.  Hundreds of traditional designs to replicate or emulate.

Here are a few characteristics which a number of us use to distinguish between a modern and traditional "dulcimer".

  • With few exceptions, Traditional instruments have partial width staple frets, not full-width modern 'mushroom' frets.
  • Traditional instruments use woods native to the Eastern US (notablyu polar) ,  not the Western US or 'exotic' woods
  • With few exceptions, Traditional instruments do not have mechanical tuners; they use violin type tuners or autoharp type tuning pins
  • Traditional instruments have purely diatonic fret layouts -- no "plus" frets at all,
  • Traditional instruments have full-length fretboards.
  • Traditional instruments have no wound strings
  • Traditional instruments almost always have overhanging 'fiddle edges' rather than flush top/side joints
  • Traditional instruments were almost invariably played in the Noter & Drone or Fingerdancing styles, without fingerpicking, three-finger chords, or DAd tuning (unless the song absolutely required Mixolydian tuning).
  • The most common tunings seem to have been Unison (all strings the same gauge and same high note -- d-d-d) or Bagpipe (middle and melody strings an octave higher than the bass string D-d-d), with 1-5-5 tunings a close third. 

updated by @ken-hulme: 06/13/21 01:37:43PM
Dan
Dan
@dan
3 years ago
185 posts

Don't know there is any thing exact in the tradition. Some (I included) use the term Dulcimore to differentiate the traditional  pieces from the contemporary pieces. "Dulcimore" was just one of several regional names assigned to an Appalachian folk instrument some 150 year ago? Hog fiddle, scantlin', music box, harmonium to name a few, and those had varying regional mountain pronunciations too! There will be several sages to enlighten you to the origins of the terms!

You might be better suited to ask the difference between the traditional piece and a contemporary?


updated by @dan: 06/13/21 12:55:59PM
Corvus
Corvus
@corvus
3 years ago
18 posts

From the pictures I've seen they both seem to be extremely similar indeed. Do you know who invented the word dulcimore, and who invented the word dulcimer?