Vintage dulcimer information sought

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
one month ago
1,089 posts

Art S:

Making progress! For clarification @ken-longfield, to set up the action, you put the dime on the fret board, and the nickel on top of the fret?

 

Yes

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Art S
Art S
@art-s
one month ago
21 posts

Making progress! For clarification @ken-longfield, to set up the action, you put the dime on the fret board, and the nickel on top of the fret?

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
2 months ago
62 posts

Ken Longfield:

Art, it looks like the tuning pegs are traditional violin pegs. When tuning you need to push the pegs in to the peg box as you turn them. They stay in place by friction. There are now geared violin pegs that look like the pegs you have. Do at search for Wittner violin pegs. Some of us who build and repair dulcimers use these measurements to set action: The strings should just touch the top of a dime placed on the bridge side of the first fret and top of a nickel placed on top of the seventh fret. I think Canadian coin are about same thickness as USA coins. If you haven't already done it, it would not hurt to make sure the contact point of the bridge should be the distance from the nut to the 7th fret doubled. The StewMac fret calculator says that the break point for the strings over the saddle (bridge) should be 72.159 inches for a non compensated bridge. I agree that eliminating the crude space would make the dulcimer look better. If you put notches in the bridge, just make sure to keep the touch point (break point) of the strings in line across it.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

I'll check out the Wittner violin pegs and consider the measurements you provided. Ensuring proper contact points and alignment across the bridge is key. I wonder what other parts are cross compatible to violins.

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
2 months ago
64 posts

Looking at the picture of the head which shows the pegs, I would say they were installed poorly and the strings are incorrectly installed, both in terms of the sloppy winding and on the wrong pegs.They also appear to be unevenly spaced.

Some of the holes are too big, as evidenced by the amount of peg extending through the hole and some may be too small, The pegs also look too short to me. They may be drilled in the wrong place.

Some of the string leads are incorrect. They should pull the peg into the hole, not out of it.

See the photos toward the end of 

The Best Way to Change Violin Strings [9 Simple Steps]

https://violinspiration.com/how-to-change-violin-strings/

I think a complete refit of the pegs is in order, perhaps substituting larger viola pegs for violin pegs.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
2 months ago
247 posts

Art S:

Thanks for the input Nate.

The bridge is actually set into the fretboard in the traditional way. It looks like it has feet because it is wider than  the fretboard. But it is loose enough to shift if the strings didn't come in square and it was notched. Based on that, I think I will leave it alone and install a new spacer bar using standard bridge material. 

I expect I will play it with a single melody string as I do with my current unit, but I was wondering if I could run a double melody through the same hole in the tail. At this point I have no interest in 4 string equidistant.

 
Ah, my mistake, the shape of that bridge tricked my eyes quite a bit lol. Sounds like a nicer spacer will work well. The tailpiece looks pretty sturdy so I would think running both strings through the same hole would work, but maybe someone with more knowledge could comment on that.
Nate

Art S
Art S
@art-s
2 months ago
21 posts

Thanks for the input Nate.

The bridge is actually set into the fretboard in the traditional way. It looks like it has feet because it is wider than  the fretboard. But it is loose enough to shift if the strings didn't come in square and it was notched. Based on that, I think I will leave it alone and install a new spacer bar using standard bridge material. 

I expect I will play it with a single melody string as I do with my current unit, but I was wondering if I could run a double melody through the same hole in the tail. At this point I have no interest in 4 string equidistant.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
2 months ago
247 posts

That is a really nice looking dulcimer Art.
I believe the little feet on the sides of the bridge are to brace it to keep it from slipping to either side from uneven tension of the strings. This feature is useful for dulcimers that can switch between 4 string equidistant and 3 course with paired melody strings. The four string anchors in the tailpiece of the instrument are equidistant.
If you wanted paired melody strings, because the string anchors are set up for 4 string equidistant, the inner melody string would want to pull the entire bridge sideways, and the little legs on the sides of the bridge would brace it to prevent this.
The only issue is you would need pretty deep slots so make sure the strings cant pop out of them.
The benefit of a spacer is that it has very deep slots so that the strings put tension on the sides of the slots and are already the correct distance apart before coming in contact with the bridge.
It might be worth considering to make a nicer looking, more precise spacer rather than not have one, if you are planning to play with a doubled melody string, and not 4 string equidistant. An advantage of having a spacer (and corresponding slots in the nut) is that you can switch between 4 string equidistant and paired melody strings more conveniently.
Also, as Ken suggested, you should check that the action height and bridge placement are correct, especially before reducing the height of your bridge by making slots. 
Good luck!
Nate

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
2 months ago
1,089 posts

Art, it looks like the tuning pegs are traditional violin pegs. When tuning you need to push the pegs in to the peg box as you turn them. They stay in place by friction. There are now geared violin pegs that look like the pegs you have. Do at search for Wittner violin pegs. Some of us who build and repair dulcimers use these measurements to set action: The strings should just touch the top of a dime placed on the bridge side of the first fret and top of a nickel placed on top of the seventh fret. I think Canadian coin are about same thickness as USA coins. If you haven't already done it, it would not hurt to make sure the contact point of the bridge should be the distance from the nut to the 7th fret doubled. The StewMac fret calculator says that the break point for the strings over the saddle (bridge) should be 72.159 inches for a non compensated bridge. I agree that eliminating the crude space would make the dulcimer look better. If you put notches in the bridge, just make sure to keep the touch point (break point) of the strings in line across it.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Art S
Art S
@art-s
2 months ago
21 posts

You are right Ken. That was one of the things I wondered about. 

My major question right now is the spacing of the strings. The spacer behind the bridge and the nut are notched for a double melody, but the middle string does not have a notch in the centre. I want to replace the rather crude spacer, but I wondered about eliminating it and notching the bridge.

While I am playing with the bridge, the action is significantly higher (5mm vs 2mm) at the last fret. I am assuming that is not ideal. The intonation gets progressively sharper as I go up the fretboard. The bridge itself is removable, but weirdly wider than the fretboard.

BTW, a neighbour makes guitars and will have all the tools we need for the above adjustments.

And lastly, for now, can someone comment on using the tuning pegs if you have them. Tuning it was a major task.

Thanks everyone for your input. This is going to be a fun journey.

Art

marg
@marg
2 months ago
616 posts

very nice

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
2 months ago
1,089 posts

I agree with John. Nice find. I suspect you will ask about the cracks in the back. Those can be fixed easily with some CA glue or wood glue and clamping.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
2 months ago
389 posts

That would work out to just about $95 in the US!  Talk about CHEAP!  You got a great value there, Art!  And an interesting piece of musical folk art.  I'm glad it plays well.  Good for you!

Art S
Art S
@art-s
2 months ago
21 posts

Hi again. I now have the instrument. I have roughly tuned it using the existing strings and it sounds wonderfull.It has a 27" vsl. The black bar is indeed the bridge. It has no groves cut in, and the piece behind it separates the strings. I took several photos which will not likely fit in this post, so I hope this link works

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1UfqabNZ7fpdn82s3u4COKXHrDiZf9auz?usp=drive_link

After you see the photos, I have a few issues to ask about.

Thanks for you interest.

Art

Art S
Art S
@art-s
3 months ago
21 posts

I paid C$129.00.(plus tax).

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 months ago
247 posts

I agree that the wood piece is meant to simply space the strings at the correct distance from eachother, and the dark colored 'bar' is the actual bridge. It would explain the extra notch. That would correspond to a "course" of melody strings, it if were strung '3 string equidistant with a melody course.' From the image, the dark colored 'bridge' seems to straddle the fingerboard, with small 'legs' that go down off both sides. I assume that piece of light colored wood was added specifically to modify it to be able to play 3 string equidistant.
Out of curiousity, I'd love to know how much this dulcimer cost at an antique shop.
Look forward to you learning more about it and sharing with us
Nate


updated by @nate: 02/01/24 02:23:22AM
Art S
Art S
@art-s
3 months ago
21 posts

Thanks for the feedback everyone. You have given me confidence that I may have a playable instrument. 

Btw: T and St meant Tone and Semi-tone, not Tall and Short. Sorry for the confusion.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 months ago
1,089 posts

Thank you for the additional information Art. We will all wait until you get the dulcimer and you have more of chance to examine it. It poses some interesting questions and I hope we will be able to find the answers. I'm sure you will be able to get it in to playing condition. I've seen thin pegs like that on other dulcimers.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 months ago
2,126 posts

*  I'm not sure either of those bridges is 'real'  -- they are both far too long and extend way past the sides of the fretboard, making it difficult to play without snagging yourself on the,
* If that first dark "bridge" is set into the fretboard I agree that is most likely the actual bridge; a simple test will prove it.
*  As Strumelia says, the top & back being wider than the sides is called a "fiddle edge" and is a common feature especially on older dulcimers.
*   The Wide and Narrow (not Tall and Short) fret spacing is a true Diatonic fret layout.  It's your dulcimer, you can of course add a 6+ fret..  But Why would you want to?  This dulcimer was obviously designed to be played in a traditional manner, not modern Chord-Melody style.  Why not appreciate it for what it is?


updated by @ken-hulme: 01/30/24 09:40:06PM
Art S
Art S
@art-s
3 months ago
21 posts

We are at a disadvantage as I walked away from the store, then bought it over the phone. When I get the instrument I will get and share more detail. The bar is in fact grooved, and I am beginning to think that the first crude "bridge" is there to raise the strings up to level with the fretboard. Note that the board itself drops away at the tailpiece.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 months ago
2,255 posts

It should be easy enough to test on just one string to find out which of the two 'bridges' is the true bridge that allows the current frets to play in tune for scale (the distance between nut and bridge. I suspect the black one is the true bridge since it matches the nut, and the crude stick with the notches was simply put there to keep the strings at certain distances from each other (since the bridge has no notches and string spacing was likely originally just provided by the string holes at the tail).  But I see that the nut provided an extra slot for making a double-course melody string pair spacing instead of 4 equidistant.

Looks like a nice dulcimer, with that fiddle edge overhang, and such nice wood!

@motormike, it looks like the black bridge is actually cut into the body.




--
Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 01/30/24 07:41:02PM
motormike
@motormike
3 months ago
16 posts

What I'm thinking is that object by the bridge is a simple "noter" shoved under strings for storage.

Art S
Art S
@art-s
3 months ago
21 posts

Hi Ken. I knocked the photos down to get a few into the forum. The pegs are wood. I don’t see any markings inside through the sound holes. The frets run T, T,St, T, T, St, T, T, T, ST, which I think I have seen before. Can I add a 6½ fret? The top and back are slightly wider than the sides. Again I've seen that before, but forget the term that is used. It is currently set with four equidistant strings, but the bridge and nut seem to be cut for an optional double melody, as there are five slots. Presumably as I replace them, I can do what I want. Not having played it, I have no idea how accurate the frets are. I took pictures and walked away from it, then called back the next day and bought it. So I don't have it in my hands yet.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 months ago
1,089 posts

There isn't enough clarity in the photos to really give an informed opinion. I agree that there are four equidistant strings. I have no idea what the function of the bar in the front of the bridge. It appears to be wood and fitted to the width of the fret board.  It could be that what we are calling a bridge is just to space the strings apart and the bridge is that dark wood and may be moveable. I am interested in the pegs.Are they wood or metal? Is there no builder's label inside the dulcimer?

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
3 months ago
389 posts

Art, that looks like a nice one.  Not sure of the bridge-bar either, but it may be an adjustable bridge, with the "real" bridge there just to set the height and spacing?  Like a zero-fret at the other end?

DavisJames
DavisJames
@davisjames
3 months ago
15 posts

Nice looking instrument,4 equidistant strings.The fact that you found it in St.Jacob's got me excited,laugh-a Mennonite-Pennsylvania Dutch dulcimer...No.It's a modern dulcimer and I bet it will sound great by the look of it...all the best.

Art S
Art S
@art-s
3 months ago
21 posts

I picked this up in an antique store in St Jacob's Ont. No markings. Very nice shape other than  the bridge and nut which I will replace, and some damage to the scroll head. I'm not sure what the bar in front of the bridge is all about. I've not seen that before. I hope the frets are correct.

Any information or comments would be welcome.


updated by @art-s: 02/29/24 06:34:49PM