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Posts posted by Admin

  1. Yeah, the other book (Renaissance Ayres) doesn't go into set up or technique. The intro was probably a bit of an unnecessary turn off. It's essentially just a book of tab, which themselves seem ok, but it's pretty barebones otherwise. 

    I unfortunately haven't met Phyllis. I signed up for her Galax class last year, but her husband was ill and she wasn't able to make it. We did get to try out Galax dulcimers, but it was just a brief intro without her there.

    Yep, with a couple books using these tunings I'll probably set up a dulcimer for it the next time I need to restring.  I would like to hear how it's intended to sound since Lorraine went into such detail in her book.

    That would be great to see a lute style dulcimer. One book I came across (I think Robert Force's) listed the lute style as a major type along with hourglass, tear drop, etc. I believe there was a picture, but I've never seen actually seen one.

  2. 10 hours ago, Nuthin Nu said:

    Those are interesting!  Looked at Ebay and didn't see most of them for sale (have another book by Lorraine Lee Hammond (formerly Lorraine Lee)) but will keep looking.  Maybe you'd like Steven K. Smith's sheet music, too?  His books are available here:  https://sksmithmusic.com/books

    I saw a copy of An Elizabethan Songbook by Lorraine Lee up there if you're looking for that one.  I couldn't find the others again, but they're sure to come back up. 

    Thanks for pointing me to Steve's site, I hadn't seen those before.  I may have to pick up a couple of those.  I love this style of music.

  3. 39 minutes ago, NoterMan said:

    Not sure what you mean about those tunings calling for a middle string and two melody strings, Admin.

    I just meant in terms of the string gauges on a "standard" dulcimer, though they're on the very light side even for that.  Gdd is 1-5-5 as you mentioned and these could be played in DAA, but it would be like playing something for a standard dulcimer on a baritone.  The tuning they call for is tuned up to where a ginger dulcimer would sit, but on a 27 inch scale length. You're right that it's asking for an unwound bass string of 0.012 tuned to G and the middle and melody strings being 0.009 tuned to d.

    This is from "An Elizabethan Songbook" by Lorraine Lee.  She dedicated 7 pages at the front of the book going into detail on how to setup the dulcimer for these songs, techniques for playing them and her notation.  It's nice that it's there.

    I read through that section a bit and there's 4 tuning in total it uses.  Gdd, Gdc, Add, and Adc, all with those thing gauge strings.

    The Renaissance Ayres book uses the same tunings, but it doesn't have any explanation on the setup.  It actually spends a page basically saying "you're on your own"
    😂 An actual quote from the intro: "Diagrams of dulcimer parts, and elementary books on how to play the dulcimer are easily available; however, since this little book is not intended to be a book of instructions, they are intentionally omitted.  I am also leaving out the musical staff, key and time signatures, etc."  It's just tabs with note names and that's all there is.

  4. The ones I have are:

    • Renaissance Ayres Arrangements for Dulcimer Written for Dilettanti Book I by P. B. Dickerman
    • An Elizabethan Songbook With Arrangements for the Appalachian Dulcimer by Lorraine A. Lee
    • Nonesuch for Dulcimer by Roger Nicholson
    • Musicks Delight on the Dulcimer or the New Elizabethan by Roger Nicholson

    I picked all of these up on eBay. 

    I'm sure these would work in other tunings.  I just found it interesting that they seem to mostly call for a middle string and 2 melody stings.  They don't call for a low bass string though I'm sure it would be fine with one.  I could probably also figure out another tuning that would work, but it would be neat to play/hear them as they're written.

    Blue Lions are nice instruments.  I've heard a few but haven't had a chance to play one myself yet.  Hopefully when festivals start up again I'll get a chance to try one.  I've mostly been going between a Folkroots and a McCafferty lately. 



  5. 12 hours ago, Nuthin Nu said:

    Its similarity to the lute, to my ear, was very attractive! 

    This is one of my favorite things about the mountain dulcimer!  When I first became interested in learning music and learning, the Lute was the instrument I wanted to learn.  Turned out there were only a few Lute teachers in the US and I couldn't get in contact with the one near me.  (This was before online video lessons had started to take off.)  So I decided on something that they're lots of teachers for: violin.  Oops!  When I switched to Baritone Ukulele the first thing I bought were a few books of Lute music that had been arranged to for the Uke.  It quickly got too difficult for a beginner, but I loved the sound.

    I get some of that with slower pieces on the Dulcimer, which is great. 

    12 hours ago, Nuthin Nu said:

    I could play so much: Elizabethan tunes

    Coincidentally I just got a few books of Elizabethan tunes for dulcimer last week.  The only problem is the tunings are things I haven't seen before and I'll need to set up an instrument specifically for them.  For example Gdd where the G is one step below the A in DAd.  They recommended .012 gauge for the G and .009 for the D strings on a 27 inch scale.  I'm curious to hear how it will sound.

  6. Thanks for this!  I was just watching Aubrey Atwater's workshop on 4 string equidistant and she did a couple demos of finger picking with 4 strings.  She used finger picks, which sounded great and that got me interested in getting a set to try out.  I've only done finger picking with just the pads of my fingers which produces a soft lute-like sound.  It sounds good for some things, but it's very muted.

    Do you have any thoughts on which of those might be good for a beginner to start with?

  7. I checked all of Stephen Seifert's books (I have his USB), not in any of those.  It's not in Dave Haas' Jam book or Fiddle Tunes book either.  I also went through most of the stuff Bing Futch has put out, also not there. 

    It's also not in the older books like Cripple Creek Dulcimer Book or Best Dulcimer Method Yet.

    You may have to tab this one out from sheet music or by ear.

  8. 21 hours ago, NoterMan said:

    What is the Key of G pentatonic scale?  Is that G-A-B-D-E? 

    Yep, those are the notes for a G Major pentatonic scale.

    21 hours ago, NoterMan said:

    That would be frets 3-4-5-7-8 on the open D string(s), correct?

    That's a way to play it.  You can also play it in "the box" with 3 on the bass, 4 on the bass, 5 on the bass, 3 on the middle, 4 on the middle. And catching 3, 4, and 5 on the  melody for higher notes.  The 5th fret on the middle string is F# and not in the scale.

    The E minor pentatonic scale can be played similarly at the first fret.  It's the same notes, but in the order E G B A D.   Those are at the  1, 3, and 4 frets on the bass, middle and melody.

  9. Anchoring can be useful for better control of the pick.  You'll see it most often with finger picking or flat picking styles of play, though there are some performers, like Bing Futch, who anchor when they're strumming as well.   I think most players don't anchor when strumming though.

    I've seen some anchor with their thumb on the side of the fret board for finger picking.  Another common way is for the pinky or ring finger or both to anchor on the far side of the fret board or on the top.  I've seen that both with flat picking and finger picking styles. 

    I find that technique helpful especially when flat picking to easily locate the strings without looking. 

    Some dulcimers do have wrist rests built in, and some vendors like McSpadden offer them as an add on for their dulcimers. 

    Try some things and see what works best for you 🙂

    This is a recent video on the McSpadden wrist rest if you're curious:


  10. 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:

    1. Try tuning down a whole step and see if it's easier (If you're playing DAd, try CGc for example)
    2. Lighter gauge strings may make it easier to play
    3. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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:



  14. 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.

  15. 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.


  16. 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.

    4 hours ago, MJS said:

    I know see people are making them with a flat head stock pretty much like the cigar box guitars or a regular guitar. Not really sure what difference it makes is it sound or ease of built for the flat style vs the Scroll stye, or personal preference?

    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.

    4 hours ago, MJS said:

    I noticed in the previous comments NoteMan said that building plans are not common.

    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.

    4 hours ago, MJS said:

    I was planning on a walnut back and sides with either a spruce or cedar top, wasn't sure for the fret boar as yet. Any suggestions or input would be much appreciated.

    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.

  17. 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.

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