Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

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Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby learis » Tue Feb 07, 2017 10:03 am

Hello, new to the forum. I've been doing some research on dulcimers. I accidentally bought the seagull merlin thinking it was a dulcimer, but I'm going to return that to get a real one now. I want to get an American made one and have narrowed it down to two models that fit my budget price range (<200$). Here they are:

1. Sweet Woods Instruments Student Model http://sweetwoodsinstruments.com/dulcimers.php (can be seen at bottom of the page)

2. Mountain Made Music Beginner Dulcimer http://www.mountainmademusic.com/dulcimer98.asp

Which of these dulcimers would you prefer? I think they're similar in that both are 4 string (double melody) dulcimers and have 6 1/2 frets.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby kwl » Tue Feb 07, 2017 12:49 pm

Never having played one of Bill Berg's instruments, I can't compare them. I have owned three Sweet Woods student dulcimers (keep selling them to students) and have found them to be excellent dulcimers. I don't know if Dave still has this offer, but at one time he offered a trade-up to one of his "better" instruments if you purchased one of this student instruments. Here, "better" refers to the materials used to make the instrument, not to the quality of construction. I am sure you can not go wrong with either instrument.

Ken
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby KenH » Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:40 pm

Like Brother Ken, I've not played a Berg, but I've owned a Sweetwoods Student Model that Dave slightly customized for me about 6 or 7 years ago. It's my go-to instrument when I need lots of volume.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby learis » Fri Feb 10, 2017 2:42 pm

Ok, so I've changed my mind a little bit. I want to get a chromatic dulcimer now. But I literally can't find any for sale besides a cardboard one from Folkcraft instruments. I'm contacting the designer from Sweet Woods Instruments to see if he can make a chromatic one for me. But does anyone know of any websites that are actually selling chromatics?
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby Banjimer » Fri Feb 10, 2017 3:51 pm

Most dulcimer builders can make you a chromatic dulcimer. However, chromatic dulcimers are not sold in high volumes and not usually in-stock items, so you will have to ask how much additional cost is involved in adding the missing frets to make your dulcimer chromatic. I know Blue Lion will make a chromatic dulcimer for you. Likewise Sweetwoods Dulcimers, June Apple Dulcimers, and probably McSpadden Dulcimers. Many one-man operations, like Ron Ewing, will also make you a chromatic instrument to fit your needs. Select someone whose dulcimers you like. Then ask them if they can make you a chromatic dulcimer. Expect to pay a little more for the added labor and the small amount of fretwire involved.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby kwl » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:27 pm

Folkcraft will do chromatic fretting on any one of their dulcimers. Just contact Richard Ash at Folkcraft. As Banjimer mentioned almost anyone building dulcimers today will do chromatic fretting unless they are building specifically for noter/drone style playing.

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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby KenH » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:56 pm

Chromatic dulcimers are sort of the "red-headed step-child" of the dulcimer world. As a beginner in the world of dulcimers, I urge you not to buy a chromatic dulcimer as your first instrument. Learn the true nature of the instrument first.

Traditionally the dulcimer had a diatonic fretboard, with the frets representing the white keys of the piano keyboard. In the 1970s there was a "dulcimer revival" during which some people became dissatisfied with the traditional instrument and started adding "extra" frets, notably the fret between what was the 6th fret and the 7th fret of the diatonic fret spacing. This became know as the 6+ fret. Over the past 40 years some people kept adding and adding until today you can find full chromatic fretboards. They are NOT common, but can be special ordered from many builders. Or just buy a cheap uke and lay it flat on your lap.

However -- some of the most talented and innovative dulcimer players of the 20th century did not need a bunch of extra frets -- Roger Nicholson, Robert Force & Albert d'Ossche, Jean Ritchie, Richard & Mimi Farina, etc.

Those of us who are hard-core traditionalists do not consider such instruments to be a true dulcimer. IMHO they don't sound the same as your fingers or a noter slide up and down the board, because you get odd tones from the "plus" frets that simply do not occur as you slide up and down a diatonic fretboard.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby Judy K » Fri Feb 10, 2017 11:14 pm

learis, I have a Sweet Woods chromatic dulcimer. Beautiful instrument, great tone. I asked David Lynch to deepen the sides to 'baritone' depth. He is wonderful to work with in designing a dream instrument.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby Strum-Numb » Wed Feb 15, 2017 8:36 pm

If it is a budget or monetary reason for buying a "student" or beginner model... then either of those first two you cited will be fine.

But... if you really intend to play... skip the trainer model and get a little better grade.
Either of those you cited will play fine and be wonderful instruments, I'm not saying that they are not good.
What I am saying is that buying a $140 instrument and then wanting to upgrade will cost you $140 more than just buying a nicer instrument straightaway.

Also... Chromatic sounds cool, and modern, and sexy, and all that...
...but honestly, you'd probably learn more and potentially be more satisfied with a straight diatonic or just with a 6+ fret on diatonic. Merely my own personal opinion of course. But I'll make a little confession... I just built myself a new dulcimer, and this time I went with straight diatonic and "Just Intonation" fret pattern... I could not be happier and it's the best thing I ever did for my playing and enjoyment. And that, from a guy that can have any style or fret pattern he wants.

I'm not much of a player. But I have been studying on noter methods that can really grab a wide variety of notes. From a personal outlook, I really do not need or want the extra frets. Now, 6 months ago I had an entirely different outlook. But luckily I've wisened up since then 8)

Ol' Ken there is really onto something with his old school ways. And that something is very good.

Whatever path you choose, I sincerely wish you all the best.
- Tony
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby strumelia » Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:04 pm

Learis, you haven't told us what kind of music you are most interested in playing- or whether you intend to play with other dulcimer players or other musicians on various instruments, or the setting (at home only, in a dulcimer club, in a public jam?). All these factors influence whether you ought to get a chromatic or diatonic or in-between dulcimer as a first dulcimer. Price is just one of several important factors to consider.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby learis » Thu Feb 16, 2017 8:20 pm

strumelia wrote:Learis, you haven't told us what kind of music you are most interested in playing- or whether you intend to play with other dulcimer players or other musicians on various instruments, or the setting (at home only, in a dulcimer club, in a public jam?). All these factors influence whether you ought to get a chromatic or diatonic or in-between dulcimer as a first dulcimer. Price is just one of several important factors to consider.


Well, a little late now as I've already ordered one... But I'll mainly be playing on my own, practicing in my room most of the time as I'm completely new to it. David Lynch is making me a chromatic version of his student model. I chose chromatic because I wanted to have access to all notes. I had a Merlin dulcimer a short while before returning it, and the one thing that irked me was that I couldn't play certain notes on it due to the fretting system. I figure I can play a chromatic in a similar manner to the traditional (not perfectly the same but that doesn't bother me), and I also have the freedom to play it however I want to. That's ultimately why I chose chromatic.
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Re: Help Me Decide Which Beginner Dulcimer to Get

Postby Judy K » Fri Feb 17, 2017 12:25 am

There is no right or wrong way to play a dulcimer, learis. The important thing is making music your way. Hope you have a great time with your chromatic when it arrives.

On second thought, it might inadvisable to try batting rocks over the hill with the dulcimer ... ;)
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