Adding frets

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Adding frets

Postby DulciBob81 » Sat Dec 03, 2016 11:10 pm

I have a question regarding adding frets. I am still just learning the instrument. I play a little student model Applecreek. (not the best, I know, but it suits me for the moment.) I don't have the funds to get something else right now, but I have heard a lot about adding extra frets for more notes. Can someone explain this to me, such as where to purchase frets, the best way to attach them, and where to place them on the fretboard?

Also, on a side note, can anyone give me insight on refinishing a dulcimer? It may not even be something worth doing on what I have, but I do think it would be cool to have, for example, a blue or black distressed dulcimer.

For the record, my long term goals include owning a professional model diatonic as well as a chromatic. I'm also intereseted in buying a kit and try my hand at building.

My previous musical experience is on trumpet, on which I'm pretty proficient. I also have a rudimentary level of skill on bass guitar, mandolin, and harmonica. I have very broad musical tastes and have been in love with dulcimer music ever since I heard Craig Duncan's Smoky Mountain Christmas tape as a kid. It thrills me to finally be taking on this instrument and I'm excited about exploring its possibilities. Sorry for the lengthy post.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby KenH » Sun Dec 04, 2016 1:00 am

Hi DulciBob;

It's not quite as simple as just buying some random frets and sticking them on.

"Extra" frets go in the wide spaces between certain existing frets. You've no doubt noticed the wide spaces between the first two frets compared to the narrower space between the 3rd and 4th fret. The wide and narrow spacings give us the Diatonic scale -- the white keys on a piano. Your dulcimer no doubt already has one extra fret -- the 6+ fret between the diatonic 6th fret and 7th frets.

If this is all Greek to you, perhaps you should start with the article I wrote here a number of years ago, called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What? It is an illustrated glossary of dulcimer terms, plus answers to many beginner questions about the tuning, playing, care and feeding of your instrument.

http://www.everythingdulcimer.com/files ... _hulme.pdf

My article about Modes may help explain the wide and narrow spacings, compared to the spacings of a guitar, mandolin and other Chromatic instruments.

http://fotmd.com/forums/forum/dulcimer- ... dal-folker

First, you should define what kinds of music you want to play on the dulcimer. Americana tunes? Blues? Jazz? Rock & Roll? Contemporary and classic hymns? Anglo-American Folk? Bluegrass?? Olde Tyme?

Second, you should really justify -- at least to your self -- that you actually NEED extra frets. Why, except "because", do you want extra frets?? Have you discovered -- through extensive playing and experimentation with temporary paperclip frets -- that you simply cannot play the songs you want without always having around those extra notes which an additional fret or two can provide??

The precise location (to the nearest 1 millimeter) has to be located (and it differs with every VSL). The location isn't exactly half way between two existing frets. The location has to be accurately marked, and cut with a special saw to the appropriate depth. Then the new appropriate fret (not all frets are the same height or width) has to be hammered or pressed into place without busting things up. After that, you may need to use a fine file to adjust the height of the new frets.

To experiment with adding frets, you can use a large diameter paperclip and some masking tape. Locate where the new fret should be -- say the 1+ fret. Moving an unfolded paperclip across the space, and using your electronic tuner, locate and mark precisely where the new fret should be. Tape a length of paperclip across the fretboard in the appropriate location. If, after six months of playing you find that the temporary fret has become extremely useful (in say 80% of the tunes you commonly play) then I would consider adding a fret in that location

Of course you could have a luthier install new frets for you, but since all you've got is an inexpensive Applecreek, the added expense -- say $10-20 per fret -- may not be worth it.

Refinishing a dulcimer is relatively simple. Use fine sandpaper to remove the existing finish to bare wood. Then paint, stain, distress, or otherwise decorate as desired.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby DulciBob81 » Sun Dec 04, 2016 2:21 pm

Thank you for the informative reply KenH. I had figured it wasn't as simple as just getting some frets and sticking them on. I also figured the extra frets would go in the wider spaces. I do have some knowledge of everything already. For instance, when tuned to dad tuning, on the top d string fret 2 is f#. I would need the 1+ fret to get f natural. I also read your article, "I Just Got a Dulcimer, Now What." It's a great article. I will read your one about modes. I was just wanting sound advice on the matter. Thanks for the info. I will definitely try the paperclip thing.

As far as what I want to play, like I said, my musical tastes are pretty broad. I already know how to play several hymnals and Christmas tunes. My primary interests are christian folk and rock. Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson, Third Day, Crowder, Mitch McVicker, and Zach Williams are some of my favorites. But I also plan on experimenting to a degree with everything from classical, to pop to jazz to bluegrass.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby GrantOlson » Sun Dec 04, 2016 7:14 pm

Everything ken said is good advice. I used a paperclip fret for a while and then took it to the same person who built my dulcimer. That's mabye not a big deal, but at least then you know it will be the same.
Grant
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Re: Adding frets

Postby DulciBob81 » Mon Dec 05, 2016 5:15 pm

I agree. He did give me some really great advice. I'm hoping to acquire even more great tips and insight as I go along and post my questions on here. I doubt I'll be having extra frets put into my current dulcimer, but do plan on trying out the paperclip fret on one or two spaces.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby Strum-Numb » Mon Dec 05, 2016 6:45 pm

I wouldn't spend any money on that thing, as in like paying a luthier to add frets.
Embrace it for what it is and enjoy learning on it for now.
Later, when you can swing it, or you stumble across a killer deal on something nicer, and with extra frets, snatch it up.
Then, you can always still play the fully diatonic Applecreek for the fun of that.
For now, get awesome on it, you'll always look back on this time with relish and it also gives you something to look forward to learning when you do get your next instrument.

As for refinishing the one you have now... lightly sand it down carefully and have your way with it.
It's not like you're going to hurt the resale value of that thing. Paint or finish it however you like man.
Whatever makes you smile :D

And seriously, I wouldn't add frets to it. That way when you do get a new (or new-to-you) one with extra frets, you'll still have the straight diatonic one to play.

Enjoy, and let the good tunes roll!
- Tony

Edit: Re: Refinishing - You probably know this, but just to clarify... do not paint, shellac, varnish or otherwise put any coatings on the fretboard. Just oil it... lemon oil, or baby oil or walnut oil, etc. Refinish and do as you wish to the rest of the wood, but be sure not to get anything on the fretboard. If you do, it'll surely wear, peel, gunk or funk.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby strumelia » Tue Dec 06, 2016 8:52 pm

DulciBob81 wrote: For instance, when tuned to dad tuning, on the top d string fret 2 is f#. I would need the 1+ fret to get f natural.


Bob, most folks are playing in the key of D when tuned to DAd. In the key of D you'd normally need the F# rather than the F natural. You may want to consider experimenting with a few basic tunings to 'magically' have access to missing notes in various modes or keys- tunings like DAd, DAA, DGD, and DAC as some examples.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby kwl » Wed Dec 07, 2016 11:34 am

I disagree with Tony somewhat on the fret board advice. If you have an ebony or rosewood fret board, I agree that no finish be put on it. On most of the dulcimers I've made, I use a walnut fret board. In the early days I coated them violin varnish. Now I used Deft spray lacquer. Once the coating is dry I spray it with some Martin guitar polish. It makes for a really nice, fast fret board. I am guessing on an Applecreek, the fret board has the same finish as the rest of the instrument.

Ken
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Re: Adding frets

Postby Strum-Numb » Wed Dec 07, 2016 1:17 pm

Good point Ken.
And if that fretboard does already have lacquer or some such on it, I sure wouldn't attempt to strip it down with the frets in place.

I think the best way to polish a fretboard is by repeated pressure in the areas under each string and just to the left of each fret wire. Using fingertips covered in callouses as buffing devices, applied frequently and at least daily if not more. :D

I think I'll go make some shiny spots right now!
See ya!
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Re: Adding frets

Postby DulciBob81 » Sat Dec 10, 2016 4:12 pm

strumelia wrote:
DulciBob81 wrote: For instance, when tuned to dad tuning, on the top d string fret 2 is f#. I would need the 1+ fret to get f natural.


Bob, most folks are playing in the key of D when tuned to DAd. In the key of D you'd normally need the F# rather than the F natural. You may want to consider experimenting with a few basic tunings to 'magically' have access to missing notes in various modes or keys- tunings like DAd, DAA, DGD, and DAC as some examples.


I get what you're saying, strumela. I was just giving a for instance to explain my understanding of the concepts. However, in what little bit of classical experimenting I've attempted, there were a couple of tunes it would have paid to have the f natural in d tuning.
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Re: Adding frets

Postby DulciBob81 » Sat Dec 10, 2016 4:20 pm

I want to thank everyone for the advice. Weighing in all the information I've received, I don't think I'm going to make any significant changes to my instrument. I am going to experiment some with paperclip frets, but keep my focus on sharpening the basics. Once I feel more developed in my playing, I am going to start chromatic dulcimer shopping.
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