Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

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Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby Merlin » Sat May 13, 2017 4:03 pm

If someone is getting into dulcimer to explore noter/drone, is there an advantage to having his/her first instrument have full frets or frets only for the melody string? Most new ones are obviously fully fretted, while most old noter/drone era dulcimers all seem to have staples only for the melody. Thank you.
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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby KenH » Sat May 13, 2017 4:51 pm

It has only been the last few years that you could find a builder willing to put in staple type frets. You don't find conventional dulcimer builders putting staple frets on an average dulcimer; they are primarily on the narrow/thin traditional type dulcimers rather than those with deeper, more mellow sound.

Most of us started with full-with frets, but really the choice is yours. You'll find less instruments available with half-width or staple frets, but you will have a really special dulcimer if you go that way. DanC, Frimp, Kevin Messenger, and several others are top-notch builders of trad dulcimers. Check them out here and on FOTMD.com

If you're really convinced that traditional Noter & Drone play is the way to go, then I say go for a traditional instrument! I've been playing N&D for 40 years on a wide variety of instruments, and over time came to love the "high silvery" sound of a traditional dulcimer compared to the more mellow baritone-ish sound of dulcimers like McSpaddens and Yockeys and MMDs and such. I do like Galax dulcimers and TMBs, but to me they are more "special purpose" instruments like a banjimer.
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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby kwl » Sat May 13, 2017 9:21 pm

I don't see a problem with full frets for noter/drone style playing. I did that for many years. Having made several dulcimers (C.N. Prichard reproductions) and a couple of Pennsylvania German zithers with half frets, I prefer to play N/D on them.

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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby danc9 » Sat May 13, 2017 10:23 pm

It's all personal preference. The reason I like staples is the fact they are clear of the edge and you have a smooth surface to slide across........


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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby Merlin » Sun May 14, 2017 11:41 am

Thanks for the great info, gents!

KenH, what/where is a Frimp dulcimer?

danc9, I had a chance to check out your site -- your instruments look and sound great! Your reasons for using staples makes sense to me plus I like the look. Do you often have student models in stock or do you assemble them in batches? Thanks...
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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby danc9 » Sun May 14, 2017 2:25 pm

Merlin wrote:Thanks for the great info, gents!

KenH, what/where is a Frimp dulcimer? http://johnkluthier.webs.com/

danc9, I had a chance to check out your site -- your instruments look and sound great! Your reasons for using staples makes sense to me plus I like the look. Do you often have student models in stock or do you assemble them in batches? Thanks...


I have two left from the last batch, yes I make them six at a time, email me for more information dulcimoredan@gmail.com

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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby Banjimer » Sun May 14, 2017 2:57 pm

Unless you have a need/desire to play historically accurate dulcimers, I'd recommend you go for the full-width frets. Your instrument will have more versatility when you want to try chording, fingerpicking, etc. It will also be easier to sell since there is a larger market for full-width frets. The staple-style frets are for somewhat of a niche market.

Having said that, you will probably end up with more than one dulcimer eventually, so which you start with is a matter of personal choice. You can always buy one with the other style fretting when you are compelled to buy the next one.

If you decide to go with staple-style frets, you can't go wrong with any of the builders that have been recommended. Dan Cox, Kevin Messenger, and John Knopf all make instruments you will be proud to own.
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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby strumelia » Sun May 14, 2017 6:42 pm

One issue I've encountered more than once, so I'd like to bring it up:
Staple frets bend/slope down on each end, and on the side closer to the player they (necessarily) end in their hole a little ways short of the edge of the fretboard. In contrast, pressed-in normal frets extend almost to the exact edge of the fretboard before being slightly 'dressed' down to meet the edge.
The problem comes when the nut and bridge have 'standard' slot positions, positioning the melody string (closest to the player) the same distance from the fretboard edge whether the frets are full width guitar-type frets or staple frets. This creates a tendency on staple fretted instruments for the string be too close to the near edge of the staple, so that the string slips down off the bent staple end when fretted, either with finger or noter. This is very frustrating and makes for unpleasant sounds.
I believe dulcimer makers who use staple frets should take this into account better and make sure they position the melody string just a bit further in from the edge of the fretboard so that the melody string(s) are better centered over the flat part of the staple fret- well away from the edge of the staple.
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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby danc9 » Sun May 14, 2017 8:21 pm

strumelia wrote:One issue I've encountered more than once, so I'd like to bring it up:
Staple frets bend/slope down on each end, and on the side closer to the player they (necessarily) end in their hole a little ways short of the edge of the fretboard. In contrast, pressed-in normal frets extend almost to the exact edge of the fretboard before being slightly 'dressed' down to meet the edge.
The problem comes when the nut and bridge have 'standard' slot positions, positioning the melody string (closest to the player) the same distance from the fretboard edge whether the frets are full width guitar-type frets or staple frets. This creates a tendency on staple fretted instruments for the string be too close to the near edge of the staple, so that the string slips down off the bent staple end when fretted, either with finger or noter. This is very frustrating and makes for unpleasant sounds.
I believe dulcimer makers who use staple frets should take this into account better and make sure they position the melody string just a bit further in from the edge of the fretboard so that the melody string(s) are better centered over the flat part of the staple fret- well away from the edge of the staple.


Agreed!

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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby Frimp » Mon May 15, 2017 10:19 am

If you look at old photos of staple-fretted dulcimers, you'll sometimes see that the melody string is more or less centered over the staple fret, and the two drones are close together at the far side of the fretboard. This makes playing N/D style easier, and it's how I make my Thomas dulcimers.
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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby JohnH » Mon May 15, 2017 11:56 am

One additional, perhaps minor point, related to staple part fretted instruments is that some dulcimers may be found with the fourth fret extending the full (relative) width of the fretbrd, thus enabling the instrument to be tuned to itself (1 5 5 ) ie. Melody and middle strings tuned to the bass held down on the purpose placed fourth fret ! And I agree with Frimp, in 'off' setting the strings to allow a positive position for the melody on the 'part' frets, while at the same time allowing a tad more space for the noter to work in .

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Re: Best Style Frets for Noter/Drone?

Postby Robin the Busker » Mon May 15, 2017 5:26 pm

Ed Thomas - music wire frets.jpg


One advantage for noter drone playing that I have found with staple frets is that they last longer than modern guitar frets, particularly those staples made from spring tempered music wire. The Precision Brand .041" seems particularly robust. You will need to set your action a little higher and so compensate your bridge position (and perhaps first fret if you have a high nut) because staples do not sit all at exactly the same height (unlike guitar frets), so a little more 'room' is needed. This is not a problem when playing noter drone, in fact it is an advantage due to increased volume and allowing a broader range of tunings without buzzing.

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