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An Interesting Dulcimer Experiment

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:03 am
by rtroughear
Hello all

I had cause to modify an early dulcimer, and took the opportunity to confirm something that I had suspected for a while. The dulcimer was not a particularly good one, but passable - OK as a giveaway, but not to sell.

Following on from the Soundboard Braces thread, I've uploaded a couple of files: a video to YouTube and an mp3 sound file.

Have a listen to:

[ 1.34 MiB | Viewed 10237 times ]

then have a look at:

The audio content is the same on both, but the video file was recorded on a digital still camera and the sound quality is poor. The mp3 file was recorded with a low quality mike, but closer.

For those interested we can discuss what this might mean after you've had a listen and look.

Richard T

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 9:07 am
by Thud
Okay, that kinda floored me. It's awfully convincing proof. I'll wait to say more until other people have heard and seen it.

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 10:50 am
by highnoonhunter
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm, vewy interesting!


PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 10:52 am
by Martin
That is pretty amazing. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

I think why I find this so interesting is I play guitar. And in the guitar-playing/building world, so much emphasis is placed on the top of a guitar. The back and sides of the guitar are also important, but from what I've read, many claim that 80% of the guitar's "voice" comes from the top. This is why so many lower-end guitars, although laminate sides and back, have a solid top.

With this said, I realize that guitars and dulcimers are not the same instrument. Both are built quite differently. I still find the video VERY interesting.

Thanks for sharing!

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:22 am
by paul c
What a clever and interesting and . . .well, shocking demonstration. When you started. . .well I won't spoil the effect for others.

I think what you've demonstrated is that you can use the material you did for a top and get a dulcimer. (And I did see braces running side to side,perpendicular to the fretboard, didn't I?) This isn't too surprising, since there are dulcimers with cardboard tops _and_ backs that sound pretty good. It doesn't say a great deal about what other possibilities might be available through manipulations of the top.

Somehow, this discussion has spun in an either/or direction that makes me uncomfortable. I'd like to re-state that I consider top bracing and non-bracing pretty optional--there are wonderful dulcimers made using both approaches. I've simply found that with the instruments I make, bracing plays a significant role--and I put it higher on the list than those who don't use it and haven't experimented with it.

One further thought I had while thinking about this topic--most dulcimers share more commonalities than differences. I tend to gravitate toward the maybe tenpercent difference in sound that distinguishes one dulcimer from another--and one builder's instruments from another builder's instruments. It's when approaching the small segments of the total sound that that makes instruments unique that these variations in structure and building techniques become important, I think.

Thanks again for a really remarkable video--(my wife happened to be walking by as I was playing it--she got pretty agitated and started saying "What is he doing--oh no oh no." Took a while to calm her down and explain what was going on.

paul c

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:40 am
by highnoonhunter

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:45 am
by harpmaker
Out of curiosity, how does it sound after the paper is removed? It appeared that the paper was fairly stiff....did you laquer or apply airplane dope to it?

BTW, did you happen to record anything before the modification?

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 2:44 pm
by Alanrichie
harpmaker wrote:Out of curiosity, how does it sound after the paper is removed? It appeared that the paper was fairly stiff....did you laquer or apply airplane dope to it?

BTW, did you happen to record anything before the modification?

I had similar thoughts . . . and reminded me of the Howie Mitchell experiments with various resonating materials . . .

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:02 pm
by Dave Sewell
Interesting? Most certainly.

Surprising? No, not to me.

As I have maintained here in previous posts, IMO - the terms 'soundboard' and 'top' are synonomous in guitars and other instruments upon which there is a fixed bridge and string saddle - but on dulcimers and other instruments with a continuous staff - the back is more a soundboard than the top is.

That said, I agree with Harp in that it would be interesting to hear this same instrument played with it in the condition it was at the very end of the linked video.


PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 6:12 pm
by Thud
This makes some sense, just based on possum boards and other things. If the back of the dulcimer is muffled, the sound is quieter -- if it's free, the sound is louder.

Could this be echo theory? It's not the things close to you that send sound back (as much), it's the far things. So on a dulcimer, it's not the top (which is closest to the strings) that matters as much, it's the bottom (like the far wall of a canyon).

Yours in pseudo-physics,

PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 6:46 pm
by folkfan
Would you have had similar results if your bridge wasn't located at the tail piece, but 4 or 5 inches into the body of the dulcimer? As I understand it, the soundboard plays more of a role in sound production then than when the bridge is on the tail piece.


PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2008 6:48 pm
by mike1952
It sounded pathetic even before I saw what it was (not the playing- the sound). It kind of sounded like something was missing. This was before I saw the joke at the end. It sounds terrible to me, like something's missing (duh). I can only comment as a player. It's up to you guys to analize it.