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EverythingDulcimer

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  1. It sounds like you may not be pressing hard enough on the frets. That could account for issues 2, 3, and 4. They tend to require more pressure on the higher number frets. I've had difficulty with this myself. Recently I've been working on playing a version of Whiskey Before Breakfast that plays in the upper octave (7th fret up) and all of these are true. The notes being more difficult to pluck is due to the shorter vibrating string length when fretting higher up. These are inherent problems in playing in the upper notes. Some things that might help: Try tuning down a whole step and see if it's easier (If you're playing DAd, try CGc for example) Lighter gauge strings may make it easier to play In addition to the above, a thinner pick may help with the strings being harder to pluck. Hopefully some of that will help. Let us know what you try and if it's helpful.
  2. I made a quick recording of a freshly tuned dulcimer for DAdd and DAAA. Maybe these will help as a tuning reference. DAAA.mp3 DAdd.mp3
  3. What string gauges did you go with? For DAdd you'll probably want something around a .012 on the melody strings, .015 on the middle, and .024 on the bass. Up or down a thousandth of an inch or two should still be ok. For DAAA you might go with 0.014 on the 3 A strings and .024 on the bass. As Ken mentioned, you may just be tuned an octave low. The strings are usually tight enough to sound at that point when tuning up, but will be very floppy. Assuming the string gauges are good, one thing you can try is to slowly increase the tension until the strings feel right and see what the tuning looks like at that point. And then adjust up or down a little to DAdd.
  4. Good catch Ken - reading it the other way threw me off. It is indeed a nickel on the 7th fret!
  5. The dime at the first fret, nickle at the last on top of the 7th fret is a good rule of thumb. It's not really related to skill level, but more so ease of play and intonation. When the string is pressed down, the tension on it is raised. Lower action will be easier to press down (less force needed) when fretting and less fatiguing. There's another effect going on related to the string tension. The more the string has to be pressed down, the higher the tension will be when it's fretted and this can affect intonation (how close the fretted notes are to what they're intended be). This is usually slight and doesn't significantly affect playing, but keeping the action low will reduce intonation problems. Sometimes fret spacing will be designed for higher action or you'll hear about compensated bridges that slightly change the vibrating string length (VSL) to compensation for different tension. Not something to worry about to get a playable instrument, but just giving you some background if you want to dig deeper. I wouldn't worry about it for this build as it's not extremely critical. One other question that may come up is the string gauge. For the 27" VSL you chose, .012 for melody, .015 for middle, and .024 (wound) for bass should work well if you're planning to tune DAdd.
  6. That's great! I've been taking some online dulcimer lessons over the past few weeks and they've worked out really well. I still prefer meeting in person, but online classes have been fun too. Barely 2 weeks until Quarantune, I'm looking forward to it!
  7. Your dulcimer's come out looking great! The string setup you're describing is one of the more common ones. The two closest to the player being a doubled melody string, and then a middle and bass string that are single strings. For the single strings they're usually about 1/2" apart from each other and from the doubled string. The doubled strings are separated by somewhere between 3/32" to 1/8" on the instruments I have. You'll also want to leave an 1/8" to 1/4" of fretboard outside the strings so the strings don't slip off the fretboard when they're pressed. It's also common to use 3 equidistant strings and not double the melody string. Some find this easier to play. If you go that way, 1/2" between the strings is still good. I made a quick illustration that's hopefully helpful:
  8. For ball end strings on brads, you'd slide the hole in the ball over the brad. Obviously that wouldn't work for ball ends that are solid, though I've only ever seen a few strings with solid ball ends. Worse case, you could pop the ball out and you'd have a loop end string.
  9. Welcome, glad to have you with us!
  10. Is the other side (tops of the sides/ribs) bowed too? Does the top sit flat on the sides if you lay where it will eventually go? Putting it in a closet with a dehumidifer would be a way to get moisture out.
  11. That's looking great! Good job on the sound holes, that tool works really well. How thick are your top/bottom plates? You'll have it together before you know it! I measured the thickness of one of my dulcimers that has a flat head with calipers. It shows 35/64" - so just over half an inch. Do your tuners have any bushings or washers/nuts? Make sure it's the right thickness to support those if your tuners have them. If they're just through hole tuners without any additional hardware, it may make sense to stay a little on the thicker side so they don't stick out a lot.
  12. Welcome! It sounds like you have some fun times ahead building a new dulcimer. I'll try to answer a couple of your questions. As @Skip mentioned, the 'New building looking for advice' thread may be helpful to you. I think there's a few reasons for the flat head style becoming more popular. On one hand it can be easier / more natural to use the tuners as it puts the knob of standard tuning machines on the side where pegs would normally be. Using them on a traditional scroll head they end up on top and are can be a little harder to work with (though by no means difficult). Planetary geared tuners can put the knobs on the side of a scroll, but they tend to be more expensive than standard tuning machines. So I think that's part of it. Another part is that a scroll can be more work to make. The two ways they're typically built are drilling and chiseling out a solid block of wood, which can be a decent amount of work. Alternatively they can be made by sandwiching layers of wood together, which is a bit easier. Another reason a flat head may be preferred is ease of access when changing the strings. If they're down in a scroll it can add some minor difficulty when trying to put the string in the tuner and wind it. It's a little easier to work with on top a flat head. They're all minor things, but flat heads have definitely become more common in recent years. There's a couple options out there. Construction the Mountain Dulcimer by Kimball has full plans for a dulcimer build. From the other thread, Making Musical Instruments by Irving Sloan has dulcimer plans that @Dylan Holderman might be able to give you more info about. I bought another book last year called Potpourri - Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer by James Hall Jr. that includes dulcimer plans as well. Sounds like a good choice of woods. Walnut with a soft wood top (spruce, cedar, butternut) seems to be pretty common. For the fretboard I think you'd want to stick with some type of hardwood like walnut.
  13. You're numbers look good for a 27" scale according to StewMac's calculator. One thing that may make laying the fret spacing out easier for you: If you have a yardstick / meter stick with millimeters on it, using a milimeter scale may be a little easier to work with than thousandths of inches.
  14. I've read a few accounts of trying nylon strings on a dulcimer. None really worked out well because of the way dulcimers are generally constructed. The strings are usually attached to tail block and the scroll/peg head. On instruments like a classical guitar or ukulele they're connected to the soundboard and the soundboard vibrates freely. Or on a violin they cross the bridge that vibrates the top plate directly. Nylon strings are much lower tension than steel strings and will have lower energy when you strum them. On a dulcimer you'd get a very weak sound. Aaron O'Rourke has some videos of a nylon string dulcimer, but it's a prototype specifically constructed for that purpose. To your other question: Higher gauge strings will increase tension and tend to be louder. They may also produce a warmer / darker sound than lighter gauge strings. Due to higher tension they'll require some more pressure to press down. Changing string tension can also affect intonation. With higher tension, it requires more pressure to fret a note. When a note is fretted that pressure also slightly changes the string tension. On an instrument like an electric guitar, the saddles on the bridge are adjustable to account for this. Most dulcimers don't have an adjustable bridge, and if they do it's usually a single piece. Unless you change it significantly it's not likely to be a problem, but it's something to be aware of if you change the strings and the intonation is off.
  15. Looks like it's really coming along! In regards to the braces, they probably don't matter too much. Many of the dulcimers I have don't have any internal bracing at all. For the future: I've generally seen cross braces like that placed at the widest parts of the bouts and the narrowest parts of the waist. But that said, I don't think it matters enough to try to move them. You might consider a thin strip down the seam of the back to add some reinforcement there, but even that's probably not critical. My general thoughts on a first dulcimer build is to consider it a learning experience 🙂 Particularly if you're working from your own design or loosely following another one. The one I built is is based on a mix of Ed Thomas' and Homer Ledford's patterns, but isn't exactly either of them. There's a couple things I didn't account for and had to fix as I built. Now I know what to account for when I build the next one. It looks like you're on a good path though. Looking forward to seeing more photos as you go!
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