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What is the difference between a D series, an H series and a FSH series dulcimer?


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It sounds like you're looking at Folkcraft's dulcimers.  I have an FSH and D series and look at their store occasionally.  The FSH is their thinner traditional style body.  The D series is their deeper body dulcimer under the Folkroots brand.  The H seems to be pretty much the same as a D series with a few upgrades - namely an ebony fretboard.  I think the H series also use to be distinguished by a flat guitar style peg head instead of a scroll, but I've noticed a lot of their new inventory has switched to Flat heads pretty much across the board.  Not sure if that's a new standard for them or just what they've done recently.

My impression is that deeper body instruments tend to have a "boomier" bass response than the thinner body.  I think it's a richer sound, but probably a little less traditional.  Folkcraft use to do videos of all their instruments, which was nice to hear an instrument before buying, but I haven't seen those on new instruments when I've looked.  If you check Youtube you can find examples from older videos they did with the FSH and D/H series.  Might give you an idea of the sound differences.  Here's a link to their channel:

https://www.youtube.com/user/richardashfolkcraft/videos

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Thank you for answering my question.  While we are talking about folkscraft dulcimers, they had one on there site that the tuning was MaxDAD - Standard/Bass Hybrid.  What exactly does standard bass hybrid mean?  I'm assuming MaxDAD means tuning the 5 strings to Dadad.  Is that correct?

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I haven't played a MaxDAD myself, but I have seen a couple videos on them.  Bing Futch has a good video on Youtube, and there's a couple of Dave Haas playing linked on Folkcraft's site.

As you say, it's essentially a Bass and Standard dulcimer combined.  A bass dulcimer is usually tuned an octave below a standard dulcimer as D'A'D.  Where a standard dulcimer would be DAd.  Putting those together you'd have D'A'DAd.  Or put another way, the two additional strings on the MaxDAD are an octave lower than the low D and A on a standard dulcimer.  I'm sure some other tunings are possible. 

This is Bing's video on it:

 

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Thank you for answering my question.  While we are talking about folkscraft dulcimers, they had one on there site that the tuning was MaxDAD - Standard/Bass Hybrid.  What exactly does standard bass hybrid mean?  I'm assuming MaxDAD means tuning the 5 strings to Dadad.  Is that correct?

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Thank you again for your clarification.  Maybe you could help me with one last question.  On the folkcraft site they list 3 different kinds of pickups that are available for your dulcimer.  Could you explain the differences?  And is there a difference between a breakaway box and a galax box?

Folkcraft NT-11 Magnetic Pickup (+$225)
L.R. Baggs Undersaddle Piezo Pickup (+$165)
Fishman Matrix Piezo Pickup With Prefix Pro Blend Preamp (+$390)
Two Pickups - Folkcraft NT-11 And LR

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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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I cant seem to find the reference to the breakaway box.  I'm obviously remembering it incorrectly.  What is a radiused fretboard?  And does a 25in fretboard have the same deep sound as a 27in one does?  Right now I have a mcspaddin with a 27 in fretboard but I have REALLY small hands.

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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.

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The VSL (Vibrating String Length)  of a fretboard (not its Length)  -- 25" vs 27" or 30" --  has absolutely nothing to do with the "same deep sound" or any sound that comes from a dulcimer.  What does affect the sound quality is the overall number of cubic inches of space inside the body, and the area of the sound holes relative to that volume.   More cubic inches general means a deeper, more "mellow" sound. 

Re -- small hands -- a 2" difference in VSL (Vibrating String Length) means almost nothing in terms of playability.  The spacing between the frets is vary little changed with a 2' difference.  A 3" to 5" difference in VSL is significantly different for Chord-Melody style players, but means very little to those of us who are Traditional Fingerdance or Note r& Drone players.

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I'll give you a little back story.  Im a worship leader who 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.  I am looking for a professional sounding dulcimer with mellow tones that I can play while leading worship.  I'll mostly just be playing chords during the leading, but playing traditional dulcimer for fun. I really love fingerpicking.  Without having a dulcimer instructor whose brain I can pick, I didn't know who to ask these questions to and wanted to be well informed.  Thank you for all of your wisdom on this topic.

By the way, I do have a ginger made by Laurel Mountain Instruments but do not like its sound compared to my mcspadden.

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Folkcraft and McSpadden make good dulcimers, granted.  But they build commercial dulcimers "for the masses"  not for YOU. 

If you want a "high end" professional dulcimer" why not contact a builder like Dave "Harpmaker" Lynch, Kevin messenger, or any number of other builders out there, and have them build you exactly what you want -- rather than try to find a commercial model dulcimer that sort of fits your needs.    You aren't, generally speaking, going to pay much, if any more for a custom dulcimer than you are for a "high end" commercial instrument.  

FWIW, your definition of "playing traditional dulcimer" is probably a bit "off".  Traditional playing does not include fingerpicking or chords; nor does generally speaking include "deep, mellow" sounding dulcimers.  

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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.

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I'm coming in to this discussion very late, but I am confused as to what you really want. What do you mean by a "high end" dulcimer? Is it price? Decorations? Size? Construction? You can buy a Bear Meadow dulcimer for well over $2,000, but it may not be what you want or need to lead worship. You can purchase a $600 Folkcraft or McSpadden that will work perfectly for you.

I don't know your set up for leading worship (I assume musical accompaniment). Are you doing this solo or do you have a team of vocalists and other musicians? If the latter, then you certainly need some amplification. Do you use microphones? Are you able to plug in directly to the sound system? If you can plug in directly to the sound system, having a pickup in your dulcimer is good. The under bridge/saddle is the better choice for this. It gives a more natural sound than the magnetic pickups. Some dulcimer makers install the piezo pickups with preamps that allow you to tweak the sound going to the amplifier. A couple of years ago I sold a Folkcraft dulcimer that had such a system installed and it worked really well. The customer is a music teacher and a worship leader. It cost around $1,800.00. I mention this only to give you a rough idea of cost. The other aspect of dulcimer with a built in pickup is the ability to use the sound system to "mellow" the sound of he dulcimer by increasing the bass a little or decreasing the treble.

If you need or want a dulcimer with a built in pick up look at Folkcraft, McSpadden, Blue Lion ,Bear Meadow, and any individual builders who build dulcimers install them. If you use a microphone for amplification, the whole spectrum of builders and dulcimers is open to you.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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I think that is good choice. Just out of curiosity I went to the Folkcraft website and configured a dulcimer according to what I think you would want in a dulcimer. I chose a FolkRoots D model in walnut with a western red cedar top. Not knowing what type of fret arrangement you want I just defaulted to standard dulcimer pattern including the 6.5 and 13.5 frets. I added the Fishman Matrix pickup and a Galax back (if you play this on lap without the amplification it will increase the loudness of the dulcimer) and if you do not need this feature you can save a little money. As I configured it, the price is $1395. This is just FYI to give you idea of a price point. Best wishes in your search for the ideal dulcimer for you.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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While leading worship, I will be needing to plug into the system because I will be playing with others.  I like the idea of the piezzo amplification.  Especially since it would allow me to balance the bass with the treble.

Do you guys recommend adding the 11/2 fret and the 81/2 fret?

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Many songs for church were written in keys that could be easily moved to a key that is "singable" by many people in the congregation.  Some songs have a range of notes that probably are not reachable by many in the congregation regardless of the key.  When I played music for church I tried to keep songs in a key that supported the mostly lower voices in the congregation.  Maybe my sheet music was written in the key of F, but capo 3 on a guitar meant I could play and sing the song as if it was written in the key of D.  If I didn't have a piano player who relied on the music as written, I would remove the capo and we would sing the song in the key of D instead of F and I was able to get more of the congregation to sing along.  Lower is often better if you are going to try to accomplish congregational singing.  If you're playing a meditational instrumental piece, it can be in any key that fits your instrument.

So, I would recommend reviewing the musical pieces you need to play and examine if you are going to play them with other instruments like a piano.  Guitars and mandolins can add or remove capos where piano players need to use the sheet music in front of them and often piano players will not be able to transpose to another key on the fly.  If you find that you will need to play songs in E flat, F, G, A flat, and D (among others) in a single service, you will need extra frets or the ability to retune to play melody parts or chords in those respective keys.  If most of the music can be played in D, Bm, G, Em, or A, you can probably find most of the chords you need without a lot of extra frets.

If you see that you will need extra notes, especially some notes not in the diatonic scale even if your dulcimer has a 6+ fret (6+ is not considered diatonic on dulcimers) and you're not able to play some chords that represent some of the notes of a song, you'll need extra frets.

Dave

 

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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. 

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