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Posts posted by Admin

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 10 minutes ago, Dylan Holderman said:

    next couple of questions what size of fret wire do you guys like and what kind of finish do you prefer? 

    I like the common "medium" size frets that are found on a lot of instruments.  I'm not sure about the exact size of fret wire though.  There are a few different kinds of "medium."

    18 minutes ago, Dylan Holderman said:

    i have used oil finishes, wipe on poly, and whatever from a rattle can.

    I spent a lot of time looking into different finishes.  I talked with Warren May just after I built my instrument and before I finished it.  The luthery I went to provided Shellac and Tru Oil and suggested those (shellac undercoat / Tru Oil top coats) for finishing.  A lot of websites and Youtube videos also recommended it as an easy finish to apply.  However, Warren suggested not using an oil based finished as the oil carrier can soak into the wood and deaden the sound.  As he's a well respected dulcimer builder and also a furniture maker I took his advice.  He uses spray varnish, but that was beyond what I was equipped to do properly.  I ended up going with wipe on gel polyurethane with an undercoat of de-waxed shellac as a sealer and that turned out well. 

    Different sources suggest a variety of options though: Linseed Oil, Danish Oil, Shellac, Tru Oil, Spray Poly, Wipe on Poly, Spray Varnish, Paste Wax, etc. all with different trade offs.

  4. 3 hours ago, Dylan Holderman said:

    what was odd to me was he only glued them to the edges of the fret-board leaving a huge gap between them underneath it. it works obviously but it seemed overly complicated and strange.

    That does seem more complicated than necessary.  You would be ok just gluing the fretboard to the top of the one-piece soundboard and leaving it at that.  I did this for my dulcimer.  The top is bookmatched/joined, but otherwise it's a solid piece the fretboard is glued to.

    Some builders will hollow out the underside of the fretboard and drill large holes through the soundboard into the cavity under the fretboard, but I don't think this adds too much other than making the instrument a bit lighter.  The one I built has a solid fretboard and it's one of the louder dulcimers I have.

  5. Welcome!  Feel free to discuss stick dulcimers / backpack dulcimers here. 

    There are strong opinions on what is and is not a dulcimer. From a technical/taxonomic standpoint they don't fit the definition. From a practical standpoint they're closely related enough that I see no reason to exclude them (open tuning, diatonically fretted, usually tuned some variation of DAd).  Certainly close enough anyone playing these would benefit from the tabs and many other techniques that are used on the mountain dulcimer: drone-melody, chord-melody, modal tunings, etc.

    My first diatonic instrument was a Merlin before I bought a dulcimer. The response I got when asking questions in the dulcimer community nearly put me off the instrument and dulcimers too. Which is a shame because they're one of the best/easiest instruments to learn on and the community is generally very friendly and supportive. I don't want that be someone else's first experience, so again welcome.

    Feel free to poke around and ask questions and we'll help out where we can 🙂

    • Like 1
  6. I did a little searching to see if I could find anything more about jamming online.  One suggestion I saw that was interesting is having everyone in Zoom conference mute their microphones except for one song leader.  Then having everyone play along with the song leader.  Each person would only hear the song leader and themselves, but would allow some level of interaction and get around the delay issue that would happen with everyone playing together.

  7. Since most (if not all) of the dulcimer festivals and workshops that were planned through June have had to cancel due to COVID-19, I wanted to point out a couple online/virtual festivals that will be happening.  It's not quite the same as getting together in person, but it's still a chance to spend a couple days learning from some great instructors.  Two I know of:

    Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering on May 15th-17th

    QuaranTUNE Dulcimer Festival on June 5th-6th

    Hopefully some folks will be able to attend these virtual events.   If you know of other online festivals or workshops taking place in the next couple months, please share them below.

  8. Hi Dawn,

    Welcome!  I understand how you feel as most gatherings and festivals have been cancelled for the next couple months. 

    Zoom itself is pretty easy to set up if you wanted to set something up to meet and chat.  There would be some issues with folks trying to play instruments together live though.  Delay (lag) in the video and audio stream would be an issue with any conferencing app.

    Imagine just two people trying to play together over an audio conference.  One starts playing, and the audio is broadcast to the other person with a small delay.  The second person hears the music and starts playing in time to what they're hearing, but they're really playing a little behind because of the delay even though it sounds to them as though they are playing in time.  The second person's microphone picks up their playing and sends it back to the first with an additional delay. 

    So the first person is hearing the second person lagging behind them by the delay it takes for what they play to get to the second person, and then a second delay for the audio from the second person to get to them.  That's going to be really tough!  Now imagine that with a group of people who all have different delays between them and you can imagine it would be a bit of a mess.

    One idea you might try is having everyone prepare a song to play individually so timing wouldn't be an issue.  Or maybe just have a get together to chat and socialize on the video conference without playing.  If you have someone who can edit a video together, everyone could record themselves individually playing along to a click track or the same recording of a song, and then someone could edit the individual performances together and play that back over zoom.

    I'd love to hear if you Ukulele group has come up with some ideas that work.  Any ways to stay connected and keep playing during this time is great.

    Btw, there are a couple virtual dulcimer festivals coming up.  The Berkeley Dulcimer Festival is going to be online this year.  Also someone is putting together the QuaranTuned Dulcimer Festival in early June that has a lot of well known instructors teaching. 

  9. The ability for users to upload and manage tabs is being developed, but not ready to use. 

    In the mean time, please upload new tabs here as an attachment to a new topic that's the title of the song. You can attach a midi or mp3 in addition to the tab itself. 

    When the tab upload feature is ready, I'll move all of the tabs in this forum into the tab database. 

    Looking forward to all the new music!

  10. Hi Carolina,

      Thanks for your interest in submitting tabs!  The page for uploading new tabs is still in development, so it's currently not possible for someone to add a tab to the tab section. That feature is coming though. 

       What I can do in the mean time is create a forum for tab uploads and let folks post new there.  When the new upload page is ready, I'll move all the ones in the forum into the tab database and after that they'll be able to be added directly. 

  11. We used a slightly different method for forming the sides in the class I took.  We heat bent the sides by spraying them with water and using a hot iron to hand form the rough shape, and then clamped them to a form template for a couple days.  I cut the template out of plywood and the other pieces acted as a mold. The side held their shape pretty well when they were unclamped from the template.  Then we used spreaders in the mold that the template was cut from to hold the sides while gluing. I can't speak to the pluses/minuses of doing either way, just offering a method we used.




  12. On 4/14/2020 at 7:45 PM, Dylan Holderman said:

    admin i looked up dean kimball's book and it is unfortunately out of print and wayyyy out of my budget.

    I looked around a bit for copies available online and I see what you mean!  The hardback version seems to sell over $100, which is pretty pricey.  The paperback version was much more reasonable when I was looking.  It usually sells for around $20-$30.

  13. Hi Dylan, welcome!

    A book that may be helpful to you is Constructing the Mountain Dulcimer by Dean Kimball. I bought a copy of it last year before I took a workshop on dulcimer building at the Appalachian School of Luthery.  Looking around at different books, it seemed to be one of the better regarded on the subject. While I didn't end up using the plans from the book, it did give me a good idea of all the pieces and how they would fit together.  The book does have plans for both an hourglass and teardrop style and suggestions for tools that can be used for different stages.

    As @NoterMan said, your mom's hand size will probably be biggest factor in the fretboard size (VSL).  If she has smaller hands it might be helpful to build it with a shorter scale length that might be more comfortable for her to play. 

  14. I haven't used his online classes, but I have taken a couple of his workshops and his in person 3-day intensive class.  It looks like mountaindulcimeratoz.com is an online version of his current 4-day class.  My understanding is his 4 day class is the 3-day intensive plus a day added for beginners to cover everyone.

    As you say he's a wonderful player and a great teacher.  He has some instructional videos and sample lesson on his Youtube channel that might give you an idea of his teaching style.  A nice thing about video is you can watch it as many times as you want to go over bits you're working on 🙂  He suggested we record the intensives and I made audio recordings of all three days.  It's helpful to go back and listen when I'm working on a skill and video would be even better.

    This is the video he did for his 3-day intensive.  It would probably give a good idea of what he'll cover in the online lessons.  If you take the plunge let us know what you think!


  15. I just read a news article that John Prine passed away due to complications from COVID-19.  He's famous for writing a number of songs, including Paradise. It's one of my favorites performed on the dulcimer and I know the song resonates with a lot of folks.  Rest in peace, John.


  16. 6 minutes ago, melodyfarrand@gmail.com said:

    I guess my question is, is it difficult learning to play with the additional 11/2 and 81/2 frets?  Especially since I have small hands?

    I avoided them for a while because the first time I came across one (last summer) I had trouble with it as I wasn't use to it.  In January I came across a beautiful dulcimer that I wanted to purchase and it had 1 1/2 and  8 1/2 frets on it.  It took maybe a day to get use to them being there, though I don't really use them in the music I play currently. 

    If you don't have any trouble fretting the 1st and 2nd fret close to the fret it shouldn't be a problem.  If hitting both of those at the same time is difficult and you're hitting the middle of the space between the 1st and 2nd fret that might be an issue.

    That said, adding a fret is pretty simple.  Any guitar shop / luthier should be able to do it if you get it without one and want to add one.  They can also be removed and filled in. I know you were looking at Folkcraft and they've kind of gone to putting the 1 1/2 on most of theirs by default. 

  17. 16 hours ago, melodyfarrand@gmail.com said:

    started playing the dulcimer 15 years ago because my hands are too small to chord on a guitar.  I started out playing one string with the drone.  Then began adding partial chords to what I was playing.  I'm now at a point where I can play my chords and am working on.my finger dance technique.

    This is very similar to how I arrived at playing the dulcimer.  I found chords difficult on a guitar to get started.  Melody's on one string? That I can do 🙂 Then started trying out partial chords and working chord-melody now.

    8 hours ago, melodyfarrand@gmail.com said:

    I am wanting to purchase a highend professional dulcimer.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

    The ones I know of that fall into that category are Folkcraft, McSpadden, Blue Lion, and McCafferty.  I think all of these are going to be high quality instruments.  There's also Gary Gallier.  People really like his instruments, but he's always got a wait list of a year or two.  As noterman pointed out, there's more out there that others can weigh in on or you might try searching around a bit for info on their instruments.

  18. No worries, there's a lot of terms out there in the music world.  It may very well be a thing, possibly something specific to Folkcraft, I'm just familiar with the term.  Someone else may chime in with some info about it.

    A radiused fretboard is a fretboard that has a slightly rounded top, kind of like a violin or guitar would have.  Dulcimers usually have a completely flat fretboard.  Stephen Seifert has a video on them I watched a few months ago.  A radiused fretboard would be beneficial for someone who bars chords often (places one finger across all three strings) as the curve better fits the shape of the hand instead of having to try to get their finger completely flat.  I'm not sure how beneficial it would be for most players. 

    There's probably more beneift on a guitar where it's common to bar the strings and place additional fingers for chords from an underhanded position.

    Regarding string length and sounds - Instruments are unique things, they all kind of have their own character.  Even instruments with the same wood, from the same maker often have some difference in tone.  I think in general a longer scale length on a dulcimer will have a little bit richer tone.  Dulcimer makers tend to use the same gauge strings on their dulcimers when changing VSL (vibrating string length).  Lengthening the VSL and keeping the string gauge the same means the tension in the string has to go up to be in tune. 

    This is probably the main contributor to the difference in sound.  It takes more energy to sound the higher tension strings, which means the dulcimer may produce a stronger sound with more overtones and more volume.  The trade off, in addition to wider fret spacing, is that it takes more force to push the string down to the fret.  So it would also require a little more hand strength for fretting a longer VSL.

    I started out with a 29 1/4" VSL from Folkcraft, mainly because of hearing about the rich tone.  It does have a nice tone, but even with larger hands it's a stretch for some chords.  I've found about 26" is more comfortable for me to play, so I end up playing shorter scale more often.  If you look at some pros like Bing Futch and Stephen Seifert, they tend to play shorter scale dulcimers (25"-26") in most of their videos.  So it probably doesn't matter that much in the end in terms of sounding good.  I feel like comfort in playing would be more of a consideration.

    Since you mention you have really small hands - have you looked at McSpadden's Ginger dulcimers?  Those are 23 3/16" scale length and might be a good fit.

  19. I'm not too familiar with the pickups they use.  I know the NT-11 Magnetic is like what would be on an electric guitar - meaning it's picking up from the strings directly and not getting the acoustics of the instrument.  If someone were putting sound through an effects pedal, a magnetic pickup has a "clean" sound and is probably better for that use, though it wouldn't have a lot of the acoustic properties of a dulcimer. 

    The other two are acoustic pickups that would be influenced by the acoustic properties (shape, wood type, resonance, etc.) of the instrument.  Basically the type of pickup that would normally be found on an acoustic guitar.  Other than that I don't know much about those pickups specifically. 

    2 hours ago, melodyfarrand@gmail.com said:

    And is there a difference between a breakaway box and a galax box?

    I'm not sure what these are exactly.  Do you mean a Galax back?  Those are meant to add a "false" second back to the instrument to allow the regular back of the instrument to vibrate more freely.  Playing the instrument on your lap mutes it somewhat, and the galax back is meant to allow the instrument to resonate more freely by keeping the actual back raised up off the lap. 

    Not sure what a "breakaway box" is.  Do you have a link for it or an example we can look at?

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