Question about the 6 1/2 fret

jost
@jost
one month ago
77 posts

Great story of Richard Fariñas 6+ fret. 

I don't know anything about pre-revival dulcimers with extra frets. Some of it's European precedessors might have them though. If I recall correct some Epinettes used to have extra fr
hink and strumelia mentioned that there are icelandic langspils with and without chromatic fret layout (see here: https://fotmd.com/strumelia/group_discuss/2169/icelandic-langspil

Last but not least the hungarian citera has up to 15 dron strings without frets but also four melody strings with a chromatic layout (two for the diatonic layout like the dulcimer, and two for the extra frets completing the chromatic layout): https://www.klangwerkstatt.de/ungarische-zither 

So I wouldn't rule out the possibility that some early dulcimers were chromatic as well (maybe made by an hungarian immigrant? Who knows...). It wasn't the norm though.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
one month ago
1,732 posts

Supposedly, so the story goes, Richard Fariña had a luthier install a 6+ fret in a car on the way to a gig so that he could perform a song he had just written, which makes me think he was tuned DAA and/or playing with a noter.  Had he been in DAd, he could have gotten the C# on the 9th fret of the middle string instead of the 6+ on the melody.  Either way, the story demonstrates that the 6+ fret is useful not only for tuning DAd and playing across the 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
NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
one month ago
252 posts

This was a really cool learning opportunity

Thanks for suggesting this topic

Nate

Jerry Posner
Jerry Posner
@jerry-posner
one month ago
9 posts

Ken Longfield:

Jerry Posner:

 My question is ... when did the 6 1/2 fret become popular?

 

I started building dulcimers in 1974; 50 years ago. At that time none one plans I found had a 6 1/2 fret. So, become popular? I guess sometime in the early 1980s or perhaps even the late 1970s.

Precursors of the mountain dulcimer, those built like their European ancestors, sometimes had "odd" fret patterns. These patterns sometimes represented a different starting place for the "do" of the scale. Sometimes they just represented the "bad" ear of the builder.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

Thanks, Ken!

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
one month ago
1,097 posts

Jerry Posner:

 My question is ... when did the 6 1/2 fret become popular?

 

I started building dulcimers in 1974; 50 years ago. At that time none one plans I found had a 6 1/2 fret. So, become popular? I guess sometime in the early 1980s or perhaps even the late 1970s.

Precursors of the mountain dulcimer, those built like their European ancestors, sometimes had "odd" fret patterns. These patterns sometimes represented a different starting place for the "do" of the scale. Sometimes they just represented the "bad" ear of the builder.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."


updated by @ken-longfield: 04/17/24 10:59:16AM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
2,126 posts

I have a friend who built a fretboard so that the Nut was 4 notes below the normal Open notes of DAA.  

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
one month ago
252 posts

Dusty, the link between using the 6.5 fret and also fretting on the middle string is exactly what I was thinking. 

Ken, that is cool and informative I had never even considered that other fret layouts could be used.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
2,126 posts

Not sure about staple 6+ and 1+ frets but there certainly were some unusual fret patterns used by some builders, certainly!  For example fret patterns to play the Major DAA Scale from the Open fret not the 3rd fret.

1-5-8 is the numeric designation for Mixolydian Mode tunings, so yes, it was used ages  before the 6+ fret came along.  Those of us without plus frets  change tunings from Ionian to Mixolydian to Dorian or Aeolian and the other Modal tunings simply, by changing the open note of the melody string(s).   'Way back, many of the old timers tuned to either 1-8-8 (bagpipe tuning) or 8-8-8 (unison tuning with all strings the same gauge, all tuned to the same note -- a.k.a. Galax tuning.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
one month ago
1,732 posts

NateBuildsToys: are there any historical examples of dulcimers with partial/staple frets that also include a 6.5 or 1.5?
 

I doubt it. But that's a good question.

NateBuildsToys: Also, was 1-5-8 in use before the 6.5 was added?
 

Yes. Absolutely. You cannot play tunes based on the mixolydian mode otherwise. So "Going to Boston" and "Old Joe Clark, " for two common examples, necessitate a 1-5-8 tuning.  My guess is that people referred to the tunings by common tunes. So 1-5-8 might have been referred to as "the Old Joe Clark tuning" and 1-5-7 might have been "the Shady Grove tuning."

More generally, I think you are right to connect full-length frets with extra frets.  The 6.5 fret allows the 1-5-8 tuning to get the major 7th note of the major scale, but melody notes below the tonic have to be played on the middle string.  So the 6.5 fret alone would not necessarily allow a drone player to play in the ionian mode.  (Not trying to scare anyone with fancy terms, plagal melodies require using the middle string in 1-5-8 but authentic melodies do not.) My point is merely that only if we are fretting across the strings can we make full use of a 6.5 fret.

Having said that, some drone-style players do indeed make use of extra frets.  Don Pedi has both a 1+ and a 6+ on his Modern Mountain Dulcimer dulcimer, although he often uses more traditional dulcimers for demonstrations.




--
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
NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
one month ago
252 posts

A related question I have is: are there any historical examples of dulcimers with partial/staple frets that also include a 6.5 or 1.5? Also, was 1-5-8 in use before the 6.5 was added?

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
one month ago
1,732 posts

Jerry, I don't think there is a specific time.  It was a slow evolution. According to dulcimer lore, sometime in the late 60s Howie Mitchell and Richard Fariña both independently put 6+ frets on their dulcimers. Slowly over the next 40 years or so, it became more popular and is considered standard today. 

I wonder if the same evolution will happen with the 1+ fret (which I use).  It is still in the minority now, but some luthiers are offering their standard dulcimers with the 1+ and 6+ frets, and you have to specify if you want a traditional diatonic fretboard.

I once asked Neal Hellman when he started using the 6+ fret and he couldn't even remember.  He acknowledged that his first dulcimers were all diatonic and that his later ones all had the 6+ fret, and yet he couldn't remember when he first starting using the fret.  Apparently the change for him was no big deal.

I hope this conversation can stay focused on the timing of this change rather than turn into a debate on the merits of different fret systems and styles of 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
Jerry Posner
Jerry Posner
@jerry-posner
one month ago
9 posts

Hello friends!  Most of the dulcimers in my collection are "traditional" -- that is, without the 6 1/2 fret, and I've never felt shortchanged, because I mostly play noter style, with a little bit of chording (kind of like Richard Fariña). My question is ... when did the 6 1/2 fret become popular?