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Can anyone tell me what this is?

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Hey everybody,


 I'm new to this forum so I am not sure if I post this question in the right section. If not, feel free to point me in the right direction :-) 

A few days ago I bought this dulcimer kind of instrument, but I have a few questions:

-does anyone now how this type of dulcimer is called? (If it even is a dulcimer...)

-more importantly: how would you tune this? It has two sets of strings: 6 strings above the fretboard and 4 strings without a fretboard. The spacing between the strings is very narrow so I am not sure if it is meant to be tuned so I can play it as a classical dulcimer...

Any ideas or thoughts are more then welcome, especially about the tuning.

Greetings from Belgium!




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It looks like a type of hummel / hommel.  They can be tuned similarly to a dulcimer with the drone strings being the root and 5th of the scale and then the melody strings being tuned to the mode you want to play (5th for Ionian, 4th for Aoelian, 8th for Mixolydian, etc.).

So for example CGG or DAA tuning could just be extended to match the number of strings. 

A tuning like CGGG-GGGGGG would work for playing major scale/ionian mode songs.

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That is a Fretted Zither, and since you're from Belgium (and I assume the instrument is also), it is your 'regional' variation called a Hummel.    The five strings over the frets would be tuned something like DDddd or CCCcc  -- some combination of strings an octave apart -- and all strummed together and played together using a noter.  The four bourdons or drones would be tuned a fifth above -- A  or G -- and strummed to a greater or lesser degree long with the melody strings.  All the strings are plain -- not wound.    The Hummel was almost always played flat on a table, to enhance the sound (and also make it easier to stand alongside and make the broad sweeping strums that would sound all 9 strings). 

That's a beautiful mid-late 1800s instrument you have.  The brass lined holes are really a nice touch.  I would love to see more photos of the whole instrument. It appears to have been influenced perhaps by the French Epinette des Vosges.  What is the VSL -- the distance between the nut and bridge? 

Edited by NoterMan
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Thank you all for your answers and advice! Much appreciated! 

@NoterMan I posted some extra photos. I don't know if it is as old as you say. If it is, then this could it be a valuable instrument? (I'm not planning on selling it, just curious. I bought it in a pawnshop for 10 euros (about 12 dollar)).  The finishing isn't that clean and they used plywood on the lower parts. 

The VSL is 49 cm which is about 19.29 inches.

@NoterMan and @Admin What kind of strings (gauges and type) would you use? I thought about ordering the thinnest electric guitarstring (0.09), but I am not quiet sure if that's the way to go. Also for the drones: no idea which gauge or type to order... Sorry for all the questions, I am a newbee 🙂










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Thanks for the extra photos, it's a interesting instrument 🙂

Sometimes they will have the maker's info written inside the instrument if you can see anything in there.  It might give a clue to the age.

For strings, I would take it to music shop and ask them to measure the ones that are still on there.  They can measure them with calipers or a micrometer and tell you the exact size and probably sell you single strings.  Many of them will be the same thickness, though you may want a thicker string for strings tuned lower.

If you're able to measure the distance between the saddle and the metal fret closest to the tuning pegs we can use a calculator based on the intended tuning to recommend some gauges.


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Yeah... plywood rules out 1800s, although that was the look they were going for.  Excellent job in any case.  Plywood or not, it's certainly worth more than 10 euros even as just a folk-art wall hanger!

For strings, it would depend on what keynotes you want for the open tuning.  You will want plain steel strings for all 9 strings -- no wound strings like modern dulciemrs use for their bass string.  Measuring the thickness of the  fretted strings is a good start, and then fins a good gauge for the bourdons.  According to my string calculator you could use:
D .025
d .014
A .018


C  .018
c  .015
G .020

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Jonas

The type of instrument you have was very popular in the late 19th- early 20th Centuries. It was called a hommel, or hummle, among many other names. In the French speaking areas it might be called eppinette. Check out Salon Ambrosine for a contemporary take on eppinette music from Wallonia.

In 1975 I met a Flemish musicologist named Wim Bosman at a festival in Ireland. He was traveling with his group, which featured four or five of these instruments. I believe he called them "vlier," although that may have been the name of the group. It was a long time ago. I seem to recall that some songs featured several instruments tuned to different pitches. So, for example, a pair would play in C when the song was in C, and a different pair would play in G for the dominant chord. I've also heard this technique with Hungarian citteras.

Mr. Bosman was then working at the musical instrument museum in Brussels. He was also involved in publishing an extensive survey of fretted zither instruments in Belgium and Holland. I have a copy of a short overview that he published in English; I'll see if I can dig it out of my files and post a pdf copy to this forum.

From what I can see of your instrument, I'd tune all the melody strings in unison, say to G so you could play in C major. Ditto the drones--they could be C or G. I think @NoterMan has that covered.

Stay tuned!

Edited by Mark.Nelson
typos. :o)
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Hi Jonas (et al)


I am attaching a link to a pdf posted on my Dropbox : "De Hommel in Lage Landen." It is a short English introduction from 1976 to a much larger book of the same name by Hubert Boone. Anyone can download it using the link.

As I said, I believe Wim Bosmans was involved in the English summary. Last contact I had with him a couple years ago, he was still playing traditional music.

The larger book is well worth searching out for the many photos of historic instruments. As you can see from the photos on the cover of the pdf, the instrument took on many different shapes.  And I am happy to discover that my memory is not that faulty; one of the names for the hommel in Flanders is "vlier." Beats "tokkelblock" - "plucking log."

I'd also suggest paying a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels to view their collection.

All the best to you!

Edited by Mark.Nelson
File too large to attach so I posted a link instead. Sheesh.
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