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Help me identify this dulcimer? Plus other beginner questions...

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Hi folks,

I was recently given a dulcimer that had spent 30 years gathering dust in a hot, dry attic. I'm told it has a much longer history, but its original owner, who possibly built it from a kit, died in 1990 and it hasn't been played since.

I searched around and found a tuning chart and some youtube videos on tuning, and actually managed to get it sounding somewhat decent. Of course a few of the highest strings snapped while I was tuning it. A friend of mine who plays said the best place to get replacement strings is from the original manufacturer, but as I said, this thing is old, and maybe kit-built. There are no markings on it anywhere aside from the design around the sound holes.

1: Do any of you recognize this instrument?

I'm seeing that most of the strings are long ones starting from one tuning pin, wrapping around the hitch pin, and looping back to a second tuning pin (effectively four strings per treble course). All the strings on the instrument appear to be of the same gauge.

2: if I need to order generic replacement strings, where should I get them, and what gauge? Searching around on the internet, I mainly see loop-end strings, which do not appear to be the kind this dulcimer was built for.

3. How worried should I be about the cracking you can see going through the bottom row of hitch pins? I suspect it may be pretty bad. This thing goes a full step flat in about a day. I'm having fun with it, but I have to do a LOT of tuning, and I worry it's eventually going to tear itself apart.

Much obliged for any advice you can provide!



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1.  Don't recognize the maker, but the design, with the pins in the side blocks, is NOT common. 
2.  Those ARE loop end strings. They start on one side, cross over the top,  around a pin on the far side, then back to the start.  What gauges?  You'll need a micrometer to measure that.  You'll also want to know the length of the longest string  -- from loop end across to the pin and back.  Where?  Folkcraft may be able to help.  I buy most of my strings from www.juststrings.com; but then I know exactly what I want.  
3.   Yes that crack in the pin line is "worrisome".  Those holes probably should be re-drilled lower and new pins hammered in.  At least the cracks should be filled with one of the more gel-like super glues, which should stop movement and tighten things up a hair.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Somehow I didn't get a notification about your reply, @NoterMan —thanks for the quick response!

I guess I was confused about the string vocabulary—I was assuming "loop-end" meant that the strings have loops on the ends? There are a couple like that on this instrument, but those ones only make a single trip across the sound board. Most of the strings don't have loops, they're just connected to two tuning pins. I'll reach out to Folkcraft and see what they say.

I was able to find someone else who knew this dulcimer's original owner, and they think he built it from scratch, so that explains the unusual design.

Also found a couple other areas that have warped probably from its long time in storage, so I'm considering it a good learning instrument at this point, but probably not a candidate for full restoration. Re: glues to fill in the cracks, do you suppose a polyurethane glue like Gorilla would work, or would I be better off with an epoxy?

At least, after a couple weeks out of storage and being tuned a few times, it has stabilized somewhat and isn't losing tension so readily.

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As you can see in the picture below, ball-end strings (top) have a brass "ball" in the end.  Loop-end strings have a twisted loop.

Those of us who build instruments never use Gorilla glue -- it expands and has a tendency to open cracks.  Likwise we seldom, if ever use epoxy.  For hairline cracks which can be opened by pressing on one side or the other of a crack, we us a cyanoacrylate (Super) glue.  For cracks which need filling, we use a mixture of fine sawdust and Titebond or Titebon II,  I often run a bead of the glue into such a crack and then sprinkle sawdust on top,.  Then press the mixture into the crack and clean off the excess with a damp paper towel.


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