dulcimer setup help

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

dulcimer setup help

Postby dadroadie » Sun Jun 18, 2017 11:55 am

Hi to All,
I’m new to the forum and hope I can get some ideals about basic setup on a dulcimer.
I have been doing free clinics for many years locally to introduce people to the joys of playing a musical instrument. I have been doing a program for seniors introducing both guitar and uke but would also like to add dulcimer to the program. I’m a new student to the dulcimer but really enjoy it and believe many others would.
My instrument is a “First Act” dulcimer that was given to me by my kids and has a lot of sentimental value. I know it’s not a great instrument but I believe it represents what a lot of “starter” instruments would be like when purchased.
I show during the program what to look for in a starter instrument and give some recommendations on heights at the nut and bridge as a base. I have been able to find these recommendations for the guitar and uke but I’m having a lot of difficulty finding this information for the dulcimer.
My First Act 4 string (see photo) seems to play well for me but I would like to set it up to make it as easy as possible for a senior that may have some arthritis issues. I have our guitar and uke set up with a very low action. I have been doing guitar and uke repairs for many years and have the tools to be adjust the nut and bridge correctly.
Currently my dulcimer has the following heights:
At the Nut: (measured from the top of the fretboard at the nut to the bottom of the string) 4 & ½ 64th all 4 strings
At the 15th fret :( measured from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string) 8/64th all 4 strings)
At the bridge saddle: (measured from the top of the soundboard to the bottom of the string) 12/64th or 3/16th all 4 strings)
I could really use some guidelines of the best way to set this up with some recommendations of heights at the bridge and nut. I’m going to string this up with new strings, D’ADDARIO EJ64 (12-12-14-22W).
Any other suggestions for new users would be appreciated. I may share this information during these programs. I plan on mentioning this GREAT website as reference source. I never charge anything so no profit is being made and I don’t recommended any store or specific brand of instruments. It’s all generic and done because I enjoy introducing others to music.
Thanks in advance for any help!
All the Best!
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby dholeton » Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:23 pm

At the Nut: (measured from the top of the fretboard at the nut to the bottom of the string) 4 & ½ 64th all 4 strings

I'm not sure what this measurement means.

I would consider my dulcimers to have good action (not too low and not too high).
All of my dulcimers have zero frets, so the height of the fret is about .045 or 3/64 of an inch.
All strings measure about 3/16 of an inch above the 15th fret.
All strings are about 5/16 above the fret board at the bridge (saddle).

It appears your dulcimer is set up fairly low depending on the height at the nut. If it plays well and doesn't change pitch at the frets, it probably doesn't need much (if any) attention.

If you have had some success with guitar and ukelele with your group, I would expect more success with a dulcimer, especially with arthritis and other conditions. The dulcimer is just too easy to play, especially if just playing melody with the fingers or a noter.

I hope this helps.

Best of luck

Dave
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby dadroadie » Sun Jun 18, 2017 3:22 pm

Hi Dave,
Thanks for the reply. To explain: At the Nut: (measured from the top of the fret board at the nut to the bottom of the string) 4 & ½ 64th all 4 strings
I took a machinists scale and set it on top of the dulcimers fret board. (the part that the frets are installed into). I brought the scale up right next to the nut while the base of the scale was resting on the fret board. and took the measurement from the base of the scale to the bottom of the string where it comes out from the nut . Let me know if I explained this ok. I can do another picture if you believe it would help.
I'm really looking forward to adding a dulcimer to the program. I do find it the easiest of the 3 instruments to play. I'm a senior and have the arthritis. That's one of the reasons I have started doing these programs. It's also given me a chance to meet a lot of GREAT people and play some GREAT music!

P.S. Does anyone know of a good quality,reasonably priced 4 string mountain dulcimer kit that they would recommend ? I would like to make one for my wife to play along with me at the program.
All the Best!
Steve
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby Skip » Sun Jun 18, 2017 3:39 pm

The easy way, a dime next to the first fret and a nickel on top of the 7th [octave] fret. If the use of a noter is considered, the strings could be a bit higher. It helps to lower the pressure needed to press the strings down by removing one of the double melody strings, just loosen and drape to the side of the fretboard, or use a size or two lighter strings. The nut/bridge can be lowered by removing and sanding the bottom.

McSpadden has a kit, there are a couple of others that offer them also. Try a search on 'dulcimer kits'. Student models may be found also.
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby kwl » Sun Jun 18, 2017 8:02 pm

Folkcraft has both hourglass and teardrop kits. The McSpadden Sweet Song kit is slightly a smaller version of their standard hourglass dulcimer. Other kits that feature solid wood are available as well from other dealers whose names I cannot remember.

Ken
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby dholeton » Sun Jun 18, 2017 9:15 pm

Steve
You might be able to lower the 4 1/2 sixty-fourths if the action seems high.

I've built two of the McSpadden hourglass kits and I'm happy with both of them.

Also, Stewart Macdonald sells an hourglass dulcimer kit.

Dave
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby kwl » Sun Jun 18, 2017 9:53 pm

The dulcimer kits sold by Stewart-MacDonald are Folkcraft kits. If you have any doubts, check out the downloadable instruction on the Stew-Mac website.

Ken
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby dholeton » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:31 am

Thanks Ken, I didn't know that. The price is much lower at Stew Mac, so I checked the Customer Reviews. Some were satisfied and some were very dissatisfied. The lack of kerfing was one of the big complaints. The last McSpadden kit I built was several years ago and it did not have kerfing. Maybe other dulcimer kits come with kerfing?

Dave
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby KenH » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:42 am

The least expensive starter dulcimer are the cardboard "kits" for $50-$75 There are at least two providers of those.
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Re: dulcimer setup help

Postby kwl » Mon Jun 19, 2017 10:17 pm

Dave, you're welcome. You are correct in that Stew-Mac offers the Folkcraft kits a discount. One aspect of the Folkcraft kit is that the top is two pieces which are nailed to bottom of the fretboard. At least that was the instructions when I made mine. The fretboard is hollowed out and the edge of the top runs along the outside parts of the channel creating an open space running the length of the fretboard from the nut to where the fretboard becomes solid again. Neither the Folkcraft or McSpadden kits have kerfing. In my opinion, neither one really needs it. I thought the McSpadden kits had better instructions at that time, but the new instructions seem much better.

Ken
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