Fred Martin dulcimer, help please

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Fred Martin dulcimer, help please

Postby clouwho » Wed Apr 19, 2017 3:38 pm

I have also posted this on FOTMD in hopes of getting some help.

Greetings!

I found a beautiful, but filthy, Fred Martin dulcimer at Goodwill and need help in learning how to clean it, how to string it (what gauges would be correct for this dulcimer, wound bass or not?), and how best to get the most out of the tuning pegs.

The dulcimer has 29" scale.

Per label it is made of native black walnut back, sides and headstock (how about that eqyptian??? What a beauty!), maple soundboard and tuning pegs, oak fretboard.

The string pins are dowels angled into the tail.

the nut and bridge feel like bone, not a highly polished or glassy dense bone, but something more akin to the way cuttle bone feels. Anyone know what he and or edsel used for their nuts and bridges and whether they did set up four equidistant or not? The bridge is REALLY high (suspension bridge high, and no way to play above seventh fret without bodybuilding first)

I had originally hoped to find both an edsel and a fred martin more for the woodworking, americana aspects than for playing, especially since i cannot play a long scale in my preferred style.

BUT, i have tuned the greasy gunky awful old strings to CGC and given it a quick run at rosin the beau and am pleasantly surprised. The pegs are holding the tuning pretty well, and intonation is far better than i expected. So it looks like I will be learning noter drone.

So, oldtimers and seasoned pros..

how do I clean the wood (prior owner braided a hunk of baling wire to make a very primitive strap, some of the broken wires scratched the back of dulcimer and i would like to clean that up if possible)

How do i get the pegs turning and tuning properly...very afraid i am going to break one as i tighten strings. What gauge strings should i be using? How do i properly lower the bridge so that strings are in same zipcode as frets?

is there anything else i need to know?

thanks a million for your help in preserving, and playing this nice bit of history.
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clouwho
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Re: Fred Martin dulcimer, help please

Postby dholeton » Wed Apr 19, 2017 10:32 pm

For strings, you might try .012, .012, and .021 for melody, middle and bass if you're going to tune CGG or DAA. You might want to go .010, .012, and .021 if you're going to tune CGC or DAD.

For cleaning the wood, if the dulcimer has a lacquer finish it might clean up with some 000 steel wool (rub very lightly). Buff with a soft cloth (old tee-shirt) after rubbing with steel wool. If the scratches are real deep, it may need to be sanded and refinished.

For the bridge, if it will come out of it's slot easily (big IF), you can use a sanding block to sand the bottom of the bone (or whatever material) of the bridge to lower the action. Before sanding, use a yard stick to make sure the fret board is perfectly flat. If it has a high spot, that will require the action to stay high. If it is perfectly flat or has a slight dip in the middle, you can sand the bridge carefully to lower the action. Sand a little, then recheck the action. If possible, you might be able to sand it until a couple of coins just fit under the highest fret without touching the strings (use dimes, pennies, or nickels, depending on your preference for action and as needed to provide clearance for any frets that might be high).

If the tuning pegs will hold the dulcimer in tune, I suggest not doing anything to the pegs. If the pegs won't hold tune, there might be several recipes for applying compounds to the pegs to allow them to keep the instrument in tune. One home-made suggestion is soap and chalk. A local music shop might have some store-bought compounds for friction pegs (violin peg dope).

I hope this helps. Best of luck with this dulcimer.

Dave
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Re: Fred Martin dulcimer, help please

Postby clouwho » Thu Apr 20, 2017 9:29 am

Thanks, Dave. This is helpful.
The only reason I was going to mess with the pegs is to get into the hollow that is filled with the yuckiest gunk you could imagine. It REALLY needs cleaning, and i dont see anyway to thoroughly clean that area without removing pegs. It isnt gunk that can be removed with compressed air.
Since the back is scratched I guess i will start with it and test cleaning it there first.
I have been able to tap out and break the glue seal on other glued nuts and bridges, so feel good about gently attempting it on the martin as well.
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Re: Fred Martin dulcimer, help please

Postby dholeton » Thu Apr 20, 2017 4:26 pm

If the bridge is held with glue, you might try using a hair dryer to soften the glue before trying to remove the bridge.

Cleaning a buildup of goo on the pegs is something I haven't done before. Maybe steel wool with some mineral oil. Again, use with moderate pressure and moderate mineral oil. If it doesn't look like it is working, stop and find some other way.

Dave
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Re: Fred Martin dulcimer, help please

Postby Strum-Numb » Mon Apr 24, 2017 9:23 pm

Scratches and such, as you describe on the back... leave it.
Age and character are fine things, don't fret over that.
The value is better on a scratched original than on a refurbished makeover, in my own opinion.

New strings, just standard D'Addarios or whatever your own preference should be fine.

Cleaning... maybe some 0000 steel wool, or just a soft cloth and a bunch of elbow grease.
You could try some lemon oil, or if you can ascertain what the original finish was, that would help decide what cleaning material and technique would work. Rubbing alcohol is a gunk solvent that is usually safe on most finishes.

Congrats, sounds like a wonderful find.
Best wishes,
- Tony
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