Nickel allergy--nylon strings on an octave dulcimer?

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
one month ago
66 posts

[quote="NateBuildsToys"]

[quote="shanonmilan"]

[/quote] Does it also make it sound better that you use a specially coated string?

[/quote] 
Shanon, each material sounds slightly different, but I don't personally think any sound better than any others.Some are magnetic, which is useful for a dulcimer with electric pickups. Some use fancier metals under the premise that they sound better, but I personally like the different sounds of all string types. Maybe a more refined ear would hear more of a difference.
Nate

[/quote] 

That's a pretty comprehensive explanation on how stuff works.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
5 months ago
252 posts

[quote="shanonmilan"]

[/quote] Does it also make it sound better that you use a specially coated string?

[/quote] 
Shanon, each material sounds slightly different, but I don't personally think any sound better than any others.Some are magnetic, which is useful for a dulcimer with electric pickups. Some use fancier metals under the premise that they sound better, but I personally like the different sounds of all string types. Maybe a more refined ear would hear more of a difference.
Nate

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
5 months ago
66 posts

NateBuildsToys:

I often use mandolin strings on my dulcimer, which are phosphor bronze. At my local music shop, they are only a dollar more than the pack of dulcimer strings but come with 2 of each gauge. They are basically the same gauge as dulcimer strings, and the extra 2 thickest strings can be tuned a fifth lower than the root note, so with one pack you could string up a 4 string dulcimer Dadd and a 3 string dulcimer AEa, or whatever tunings suit your VSL. 

Nate

 

NateBuildsToys:

I often use mandolin strings on my dulcimer, which are phosphor bronze. At my local music shop, they are only a dollar more than the pack of dulcimer strings but come with 2 of each gauge. They are basically the same gauge as dulcimer strings, and the extra 2 thickest strings can be tuned a fifth lower than the root note, so with one pack you could string up a 4 string dulcimer Dadd and a 3 string dulcimer AEa, or whatever tunings suit your VSL. 

Nate

Does it also make it sound better that you use a specially coated string?

grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

No, it's pretty well integrated.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
8 months ago
252 posts

Thats pretty interesting. Does the red rub off on your finders while practicing?

grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

They feel like plastic, but with a matte texture. If you run your finger along a string there's a slight sound, like with a wound string except much softer.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
8 months ago
252 posts

I hadn't heard of the

"Aquila 11B red series" but the product description says "Nylgut made firstly elastic and then added with red copper powder in order to increase the density to about twice that of standard white Nylgut"

which I found really interesting. Id be curious to know whether they feel like metal or plastic to the touch.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 months ago
2,263 posts

If you are going with nylon strings, I really would recommend Nylgut brand, their set for "classic" banjo. Dulcimers and banjos have similar scale lengths and sometimes tune to the same octaves and notes. I've used both steel and various gut and nylon strings on all my banjos for about 25 years. I've found that on banjos, other brands and types of nylon strings feel overly bouncy, take a long time to 'settle', and tend to break too often. The worst in my experience were fishing line, and the Aquila nylons. The Nylgut strings have a nice tension, settle within hours, and very seldom break for me. They were a game changer.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
8 months ago
1,732 posts

Whenever I change steel strings I manually stretch each one repeatedly over the first few hours of play, re-tuning with each stretch.  It helps them "settle" faster.  I assume the same technique would work with nylon.




--
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
grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

I'm now on the "Aquila 11B Classic Banjo Normal Tension Red Series" and I'm really liking them. They sound and feel about right to me. The only downside so far is they take a few days to settle into their tuning.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
8 months ago
252 posts

I often use mandolin strings on my dulcimer, which are phosphor bronze. At my local music shop, they are only a dollar more than the pack of dulcimer strings but come with 2 of each gauge. They are basically the same gauge as dulcimer strings, and the extra 2 thickest strings can be tuned a fifth lower than the root note, so with one pack you could string up a 4 string dulcimer Dadd and a 3 string dulcimer AEa, or whatever tunings suit your VSL. 

Nate

grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

Funny thing about cobalt and gold strings: I'm also allergic to gold and cobalt. Apparently when you combine gold with titanium dioxide (found in sunscreen) you can be allergic to it. The patch test on my back was a non-itchy red postage stamp for a year, I kid you not.

I don't have to be wicked careful about any of these allergies--it took a week of consistent practice to remember I have the metal allergy, and then it was just a bit of irritation on the fingers (like mild poison ivy). 

Silver-plated should be good, though. I'll likely end up with them, once I finish a tour of non-metal options.


updated by @grysbok: 09/28/23 11:58:25AM
NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
8 months ago
252 posts

In general an instrument built for steel strings will have less volume and sustain when using nylon strings. This is because nylon strings are typically at a much lower tension, and dulcimers made for nylon strings are typically lighter, in order to be more responsive. The strings will eventually stop stretching and will keep their tune. If youre not happy with the tone you might be best off sticking to metal strings. I do like silver coated strings, as well as plain steel. I dont know much about nickel allergies and how careful you have to be, but I also used cobalt strings one time and gold coated strings another and found the tone nice for both.


updated by @nate: 09/28/23 11:07:51AM
grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

Update: I've put baritone ukulele strings on my dulcimer. It's playable. Much less sustain. I'm not thrilled with how long it takes nylon strings to settle in--it feels like I have to retune every time I pick it up.

I'll have to double-check the package, but I think the strings were D'Addario Clear Nylon (EJ65B).

I'll live with these strings for a few more days, then try out another set I got.

grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

Good call, I forgot about the frets. I'll test them with that nickel-detecting liquid that turns pink when it touches nickel.

My full-size dulcimer uses the black coated strings from folkcraft and they're pretty nice.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
8 months ago
1,097 posts

I found a good bit of discussion about nickel allergy on guitar player websites. I found many alternatives including plain stainless steel strings (although some may contain small amounts of nickel). One item that folks often did.not consider is that the frets on the instrument often contain nickel. For someone with a nickel allergy the frets may need to be replaced.

A consideration for strings is to use coated strings like Elixirs although after a while the coating will wear off.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."


updated by @ken-longfield: 09/25/23 12:52:10PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
8 months ago
1,732 posts

I'm curious how this goes, @grysbok.  A woman who comes to my local dulcimer club also has a metal allergy. I have encouraged her to try nylon strings, but so far she just plays wearing gloves and a face mask.

Please keep us posted.  I fear the dulcimer will not sound as nice with nylon strings (those octave dulcimers can chime like little bells!), but given your allergy you don't really have a choice.  My hope is that it will still sound decent.




--
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
grysbok
@grysbok
8 months ago
7 posts

I'm thinking about swapping my octave dulcimer over to nylon strings. Now that I've started practicing regularly, I've remembered I have a nickel allergy. I figure nylon strings will let me just sidestep the whole messiness of finding nickel-free strings.

My instrument's vibrating string length is 19 inches. I aim to tune in DAD, an octave above standard.

Any words of warning? I know it'll likely be quieter, I'm cool with this. I also know the strings will be a different diameter, so my bridge and nut may need to be replace. Happily, they aren't glued in and I have

  • spare walnut board
  • a fine-tooth saw
  • a dremel, and
  • some gumption
  • no restraint with regard to starting new projects

On order:

  • baritone ukulele strings,
  • treble set of nylon guitar strings
  • set of silver-plated steel strings (as backup)

I'm not too worried about achieving a certain sound, I just want to have fun plucking around. The dulcimer feels like an anarchy instrument--there's no wrong way to be a dulcimer (and now I want a peanut butter cup.)