First dulcimer suggestions

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:54 pm

Hello everyone!! I am looking for suggestions for a first dulcimer. I am not new to stringed instruments having played guitar for almost 40 years (and other stringed instruments such as mandolin, violin, viola, ukulele in the mix), just never owned or played a dulcimer.

At first I was considering a dulcitar with my guitar background, but I think staying traditional is the better way to go (and I can add a dulcitar on down the road if I want). I am a lover of early music and celtic music so I hope to be able to play this style on this first purchase. I don't know if a chromatic instrument would be needed for this?

My budget is right around $200 - which I know is not a lot, just what I have to work with at the moment. Can you please give some recommendations in this price range? Things I need to look for and stay away from? Any and all advice is greatly appreciated!

Thanks.
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby dholeton » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:58 pm

Hello and Welcome to Everything Dulcimer.
I expect you will get many suggestions for a dulcimer. My suggestions are:
1.) It might be best if you can find a dulcimer in your local area so you can play it first to ensure it has a sound you like or expect.
2.) If you are looking for a dulcimer on Ebay or other website, I recommend McSpadden or Folkcraft dulcimers. I think dulcimers from these shops have consistent quality and would be okay for purchase without playing them first as long as plenty of pictures of the instrument show no unusual wear or damage. I'm sure there will be additional recommendations on other luthiers that can be purchased on line.
3. I suggest to not get a chromatic dulcimer.
4. If you find a real good deal on a dulcimer that does not have a 6.5 fret, you can always add it or have it added later.
5. Dulcimers with fretboards that are solid wood and not hollow underneath will usually produce less volume
6. If you have some carpenter skills, you might find a kit in your price range at McSpadden. A Folkcraft kit might be a little over your budget.

Okay, that's a start with my suggestions. I'm sure you'll see more, so good luck with selecting your first dulcimer.

Dave
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby kwl » Thu Dec 07, 2017 4:48 pm

Welcome, you have already received good advice from Dave. If David Lynch is fully recovered from his surgery and back to building you might consider a Sweet Woods student dulcimer. They are excellent instruments. I have owned two of them but sold them to students. Here is is website: http://www.sweetwoodsinstruments.com/dulcimers.php For $139 you get a very good instrument that will carry you along for quite some time.

Ken
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Thu Dec 07, 2017 6:34 pm

Thanks for the information and suggestions! I have been on David Lynch's site and seen his student model. Surely an option.

I have also stumbled upon Bill Berg's website and seen he too has a similarly priced student model. I also see he has some affordable non student models right around the $200 price mark:

http://www.mountainmademusic.com/dulcimers.asp

Any comments on these?

I did see the kits out there, and I have built some cigar box guitars, so this could be another option. McSpadden kits are in my budget, as is the StewMac kit. I see both kits and built instruments from Cedar Creek that are affordable. Quality?

I will stick with diatonic, thanks!
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby dholeton » Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:47 pm

I'm not familiar with Bill Berg's dulcimers but here is a 2010 Youtube video of him playing one of his dulcimers.



I'm not familiar with Cedar Creek dulcimers either, but the dulcimers on their website look real nice.

If the fretboards are not hollowed out on the Cedar Creek or StewMac kits, you could hollow them out during construction. I personally prefer a taller fretboard for both the sound and I'm a thumb on top player when I use a noter. Low fretboards are probably most often played (with a noter) with the index finger on top (like in Bill's video). The fretboard height isn't so important if not playing with a noter with the thumb on top style.

If you have experience building cigar box guitars, you probably would do well with a kit. You could customize the kit during construction with some of your own ideas. I've built several kits and if I built them according to the instructions, they made fine instruments. I made a sloped fretboard design change on one dulcimer that still provided a playable instrument but it would have been better to not slope the fretboard. The kit was designed for a single curve on the sides and I tried making it into an hourglass, which demonstrated my lack of experience in bending sides. I also added chromatic frets on another dulcimer kit and the intonation wasn't accurate across all frets on all strings. I still have that dulcimer and it's on my to do list to convert it back to a diatonic fretboard.

After making those mistakes with kits, the only thing I might change on a future kit build would be to hollow the fretboard and open the hollow through the top of the dulcimer (if the kit wasn't already designed open), cut my own sound holes with my own design, and maybe install a pickup (if and only if I had a bug for electrical amplification).

I hope this helps.

Dave
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby kwl » Thu Dec 07, 2017 11:39 pm

Those are good options as well. Bill Berg's dulcimers are nice. Very easy to play. Cedar Creek are fine playing dulcimers. StewMac kits are actually Folkcraft kits. They do have hollowed out fret boards. Both the StewMac/Folkcraft and Cedar Creek make a little larger instrument than the McSpadden which is their Sweet Song model. I don't think you would go wrong with any of them.

Ken
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby KenH » Fri Dec 08, 2017 8:00 am

I've played "early" and Celtic music for 40 years on dulcimers that don't even have a 6+ fret -- you certainly don't need a chromatic instrument. To some of us hardcore traditionalists, a chromatic isn't really a dulcimer! Drone styles like Noter & Drone and Fingerdance work well and sound more authentic for that kind of music -- you do NOT need to learn to play Chords.

You might want to look at the article I wrote a number of years ago, called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What? It is an illustrated glossary of dulcimer terms, so we all speak the same language, plus answers to many beginner questions of the tuning, playing, care and feeding of your instrument.

I Just Got A.pdf
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Fri Dec 08, 2017 8:18 am

Thanks for the replies and information, everyone!! Great information here. I am almost convinced to get a kit and make one myself, but OTOH I would like to start playing right away too. Maybe a double purchase is in the works.

KenH - Do you have any suggestions for dulcimer music books that have medieval/renaissance and celtic music?
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby KenH » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:10 pm

Mel Bay publications has both Med/Ren and Celtic repertoire books. Check Lois Hornbostle's publications list too. She plays chords, but you can always use just the melody line of her tab...

I don't read SMN or tab, I play by ear. If I play a tune enough times, to the point I can sing/hum/whistle it on command, and I can then pick it out on the melody string and then develop my own version of the basic tune. The beauty of the modern world is that I can find recordings of literally all of the Child Ballads, from which I can learn any of those English and Scottish 'popular' ballads of the 19th - 18th century....
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby Judy K » Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:16 pm

bonefamily, you might put a WTB (want to buy) post in the mountain dulcimer marketplace to speed your acquisition of a dulcimer. Say what you are basically looking for in a dulcimer, the price point, and how you plan to play. I have an hourglass Laurel Mountain dulcimer that I would offer for your price, but it does have a 1 1/2 fret that most people playing (or planning to play) noter/drone may not like. You may get several offers.

If craigslist is available in your area check it for possibilities. Some have found very nice dulcimers there. Just avoid Apple Creek, Johnson and Roosebeck brands.
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:35 am

KenH wrote:Mel Bay publications has both Med/Ren and Celtic repertoire books. Check Lois Hornbostle's publications list too. She plays chords, but you can always use just the melody line of her tab...

I don't read SMN or tab, I play by ear. If I play a tune enough times, to the point I can sing/hum/whistle it on command, and I can then pick it out on the melody string and then develop my own version of the basic tune. The beauty of the modern world is that I can find recordings of literally all of the Child Ballads, from which I can learn any of those English and Scottish 'popular' ballads of the 19th - 18th century....


Thanks for the suggestions, KenH! I hopped over to the Mel Bay site and found quite a good selection of Dulcimer books there for these music styles. I keep forgetting that the dulcimer is mostly a melody / drone instrument and a lot of these tunes are composed in a monophonic style and the melody can mostly be drawn out on the melody string of the dulcimer. I actually have a pretty large collection of flute and recorder music of medieval, renaissance, and Celtic tunes. Surely these can be arranged for the dulcimer :)
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:00 am

Judy K wrote:bonefamily, you might put a WTB (want to buy) post in the mountain dulcimer marketplace to speed your acquisition of a dulcimer. Say what you are basically looking for in a dulcimer, the price point, and how you plan to play. I have an hourglass Laurel Mountain dulcimer that I would offer for your price, but it does have a 1 1/2 fret that most people playing (or planning to play) noter/drone may not like. You may get several offers.


Thanks for the tip, Judy K! I will pop over to the used section of the forum. I am a strong believer of buying used to get more "bang for the buck"

Your 1 1/2 fret mention does bring up another question of mine. There are two instruments of Bill Berg's I am interested in:
http://www.mountainmademusic.com/1944.asp
http://www.mountainmademusic.com/1833.asp

As all can see, one of these has the 1 1/2 fret. My dulcimer beginner thoughts are that with the extra fret, more notes and combinations of notes are possible. You mentioned that these instruments may be played differently? How so? The 1 1/2 fret allows that string to have an accidental flat or sharp, no?

Thanks, you will be getting a PM regarding your Laurel soon :)
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