1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

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1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby rtroughear » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:41 am

Six years ago I met a professor in Sydney and saw a dulcimer he had ordered from Jean Ritchie after attending one of her concerts at his school in Vermont (I think). He paid $120 for it and it duly arrived with a label "Jean Ritchie, .... No. 212, 1968. Made by Morris Pickow". He knew nothing about dulcimers and made no special request of Jean about its construction. I've reported details of this instrument elsewhere on ED.
Ritchie Dulcimer No212_1968_01a.jpg

It has hardly been out of its case in the past forty years and is almost unplayed because the wooden pegs made it difficult for him to tune. The first string has a violin fine tuner attached. It arrived clearly set up for four equidistant strings - the arrangement of the nut and bridge is such that it can not be strung in any other way. (The new strings I put on it [in the picture] are not resting in the bridge/nut string slots.)
Ritchie Dulcimer No212_1968_StringHitch.jpg

The same professor bought a dulcimer from me recently and picked it up yesterday and we discussed his Ritchie instrument. He clearly remembers Jean telling him that the melody was played only on the first string, and he was quite clear that she meant the first single string - leaving three other strings as drones.

My questions are:
Were Ritchie/Pickow dulcimers of the New York period all 4 equidistant strings?
If so, what was the tuning?
And are there other examples of the violin fine tuner arrangement?

Richard T
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby joe sanguinette » Wed Aug 15, 2012 4:47 am

years ago in mountain view ark i saw a number of dulcimer players who used violin fine tuners on their older mc spadden instruments. back then mc spadden's had wooden friction tuners.

wood tuners do not hold well in some of the tuning modes you may want to use.
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby Banjimer » Thu Aug 16, 2012 1:33 pm

Homer Ledford used violin fine tuners on some of his dulcimers.

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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby strumelia » Thu Aug 16, 2012 9:28 pm

Back in the 50's and 60's most dulcimers were still being tuned to C, not D....so there was less pull on the tuners and they held better.
Well fitted tuning pegs usually work pretty nicely. Badly fitted ones almost always work poorly.
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby rtroughear » Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:39 am

The violin fine tuner matter was a bit of an aside. What I was mainly interested in was the 4-equidistant string business.

The Professor asked me about likely string gauges and tunings for the instrument and I was at a bit of loss as to what to say. Given the era of the dulcimer, and the fact that Jean Ritchie herself told him to play on the first string, I assumed she meant noter/drone style. I also assumed that GGC was the common tuning at the time. If that was the case, then it didn't matter whether the noter fretted the first string only, or the first two: it would then be TUNE-G-G-C or TUNE-TUNE-G-C - same basic result. I gave him a handfull of 0.011, 0.012 and a 0.020 to try.

I know that Galax-style dulcimers can have four equidistant strings, with the first two being fretted, but I haven't heard of it for Jean Ritchie's instruments. Has the Professor got a one-off?

Richard T
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby KenH » Wed Aug 22, 2012 11:08 am

Richard - why not send an email to Jean herself and see if she remembers anything....
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby Robin the Busker » Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:51 pm

This topic came up in another thread somewhere.

I believe that Jean switched to a 4 string equidistant set up some time in the 60s after her initial recordings on a 3 string - and she can be seen playing one here that is very similar to, if not the same as, the one in the pictures at the start of this thread:



From what I remember the tuning was 1-5-8-5 (from bass string to melody string) as the root tuning with only the closest string played as a melody string with a noter. In the video above Jean retunes from 1-5-8-8 mixolidian to 1-5-8-7 aeolian (C#, G#, c#, b) to sing Jackaroe and just notes the first string with a noter while she strums across all 4 with her thumb.

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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby kwl » Thu Aug 23, 2012 9:04 pm

Here is a photo of me at Dulcimerville 2011 holding the same dulcimer Jean is playing in Robin's video. Since that video the wood tuning pegs were replaced with planetary tuners. It is the dulcimer that she played in all of her concerts.

Ken
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby strumelia » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:15 pm

Ken, who changed the pegs on Jean's dulcimer? Does Jean still own her 'concert dulcimer' from that photo and the video?
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby kwl » Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:14 pm

I think it was George Pickow, Jean's husband, who changed the tuners, but I am not certain about that. Jean still owns the dulcimer. Terry Duggins brought the dulcimer to Dulcimerville. He spent much of his youth in Jean and George's home and was helping take care of Jean after her stroke. He brought it for the display of old dulcimers in our Traditions class. He played it during the concert. It is still a very sweet sounding instrument.

Ken
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby jkitay » Tue Aug 28, 2012 7:59 am

I'm the professor that Richard mentioned - which means I know a lot about not much. I'm happy to be just a guy that Richard knows!

Jean Ritchie lived - still does - in Port Washington, NY, the town next to where I grew up. I knew about Richard Farina before I knew about Jean, because a friend's father was in the NYC literary scene, so I knew about dulcimers but hadn't played one. Jean gave a performance at my high school in 1968, and I was so taken by the sound of her dulcimer that I asked her where I could get one. She told me that her Uncle Morris - her husband's uncle - made them. I picked it up from her house a couple of months later. She was very gracious. I think that's just the way she always is.

I may have told Richard that I paid $120, but I don't really recall. I paid $200 for a Martin 12 string guitar a couple of years later - a prodigious amount at the time for a kid earning pocket money at the local Howard Johnson's - so $120 might be a bit on the high side.

My recollection, which could be a bit faulty, is that she told me to strum using a feather. I think she gave me one! It probably lasted a day. She said that would happen, and told me to replace it with a shirt stay. No doubt at all, she told me to use a noter - I think she gave me one made of a small piece of bamboo, which also didn't last long (I replaced it with a small stick!) - and to use it only on the outer melody string. It was definitely melody on one string and three drones.

I took the instrument with me when I moved to New Zealand in 1971 and I've had it in Australia since I moved here in 1977. The wooden tuning pegs, as Richard mentioned, began to slip not long after I got it, and it became pretty much unplayable within a few years as originally constructed. I had other priorities by then and didn't try to play it for many years. I wasn't aware of what I had until Richard turned up at my door one day! He heard about my dulcimer from a luthier in Sydney who had made a couple of guitars for me. Eventually a friend replaced the wooden pegs with guitar tuners, but it was only after I asked Richard to make another instrument for me that I really became interested in getting my Ritchie dulcimer back in working order.

Richard, by the way, is modest about his work, but I can assure everyone that he makes fine instruments, and I'm very happy with the one he made for me.

That's pretty much the tale. I'm still not entirely sure how to tune it - though I'm pretty sure that Jean told me to tune the second string differently to the melody string - so any further suggestions, I'd be very pleased to hear them!
Jim
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Re: 1968 Ritchie Dulcimer

Postby strumelia » Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:23 am

Jim, the majority of folk tunes are in Ionian mode, so say for instance you were wanting to play in the key of D....you would then tune your Pickow dulcimer in a combination of the tonic note "1" (D) or to a 5th note of the D scale, "5" which would be an A note.
For your dulcimer, that would likely mean the melody string would be an A, the string next to it would be a higher D, the middle string would be another same A as the melody, and the heavy wound bass string would be a LOW octave D. Try that. You may want to try it all in the key of C instead of D, since this would be less strain of high tension than tuning to play in D. A key of C ionian tuning equivalent would then be (named, traditionally, from bass to melody string): CGcG. The D tuning (low string to melody string) would be: DAdA. I'm basing this tuning suggestion on your recollection that jean said the second string was not tuned the same as the melody string next to it. Try this tuning- should work well for ionian tunes, which includes most common tunes.
(Folks- keep in mind that this Pickow dulcimer has no 6.5 fret, so you cannot tune to DAd to play D ionian tunes, like folks do so often today with their 6.5 frets.)
Jim, you are a very lucky man to have such a wonderful and historic dulcimer! Take good care of it and please play it.

Strumelia
http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/
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