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Dylan Holderman

new builder looking for advice

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thanks i'll make a post in the beginners playing area once i get the strings on it, there seems to be no shortage of tutorials on YouTube. 

what string action should i make it? the common recommendation i see is 1/16(or a dime) at the first fret and 1/8(nickle) at the last is that good for a beginner?

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Posted (edited)

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.

Edited by Admin

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Posted (edited)

Remember that it is the dime next to first fret and the nickel on top of the seventh fret. Not the last fret. A dime is 0.051 or 51/1000 ths of an inch thick. A nickel is 0.071 or 71/1000 ths of an inch thick. Using your thicknesses above for a dime (1/16th inch) and (1/8th inch) or 0.063 thousandths and 0.125 inch, your action would be a little high.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Edited by KWL

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Good catch Ken - reading it the other way threw me off.  It is indeed a nickel on the 7th fret!

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alright i thought i was done and was going to post some "finished" pics but the strings don't seem to have enough tension, i'm not getting a clear open note that "i" associate with dulcimers.

even though my clip on tuner and my cellphone app both say its in tune. any thoughts?

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There could be two problems here. The strings might not be the proper gauge for the notes you are trying to achieve , DAd or DAA, for your vibrating string length (VSL). The other is that you may be tuning an octave lower than you should.

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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.

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I made a quick recording of a freshly tuned dulcimer for DAdd and DAAA.   Maybe these will help as a tuning reference.

DAAA.mp3 DAdd.mp3

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i dug the package back out of my shop trashcan and the strings are .012  .012  .014  .022 so thickness seems alright, rechecked the VSL and its right on 27".

when i tried tuning up one of them broke leaving me one each of  .012  .014 .022 so still playable

putting some tension on the remaining strings and adjusting from there got me to G (.012)   D (.014)  D (.022) which at least sounds clean.

there is also  every possibility that i'm not using the app/clip on tuner correctly (no musical experience) i also just looked at the head again and i'm thinking i didnt wrap enough string around the tuners. how many wraps should i have? i have second set of strings i could put on it, same brand same gage.

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You've got the tuning backwards!   
Tunings are normally, these days,  expressed from the bass string to the melody string; not the other way around.  Tuning to DAA should have the bass string at D and the A strings 5 notes higher in  pitch.   

A .022 string will almost always break if you try to tune it up to G on a 27" VSL.   

DAd tuning has the bass string at D, the middle drone string at A and the melody string(s) at d, an octave higher in pitch.


If one of your tuners shows the octave as well as the note, you want DAA to all be in the 3rd octave:  D3 A3 A3.   Key of G tuning is actually G3 d4 d4 because the ds are in the next higher octave.  Tuning letterings are usually shown as C'  D'  E'  F'  G'  A'  B'  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  c  d  e  f  g  a  b  c'  d'  e'  etc.

I've attached a copy of Ken Hulme's free article called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What?  which is written for new players with little or no musical background.  There are answers to many beginner questions like "Which D is D?" and "How Do I Tune This Thing?"

I Just Got A.pdf

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Posted (edited)

ah i see what you're saying about tuning backwards lol, and thank you for the pdf i'll make sure to read through it before i do more to the dulcimer.

just a quick clarification though, it was one of the .012 strings that broke when i tried tuning it to a higher D. right now the remaining .012 string is sitting at a G 

EDIT: and i'm going to replace the strings in the morning i only have about half a turn on each one, glad i bought two sets at the start.

Edited by Dylan Holderman

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I only ever put about two loops on the tuning pegs.  Through the hole, around and back through the hole again; and trim off the rest.  A zillion loops around the peg before you come up to tune does nothing to make tuning any easier and just makes the tuning head look cluttered.

Where did that melody string break?  At the tuner end or the loop end or in the middle?   With those gauges of strings on that VSL you should NOT be trying to tune up to the key G.  A set of strings like that can tune from BFF to FCC without being too floppy or too tight, but they will not allow you to tune up to key of G without breaking usually the bass string.

Admin posted above good audio clips of what the D tunings should sound like.  I suggest you try to duplicate one of those and learn to play it, rather than searching for some   'clear open note' that you associate with dulcimers.    Those audio clips are what dulcimer players play in the key of D.  We usually play together in the key of D, but as solo performers/players play in anything from  B to F without changing strings, and up in G or down in A with different string sets.

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it broke right by the tuning peg, i have all the strings off ( i labeled them as i took them off i think they could be used on a slighter shorter VSL instrument ) and i'm going to try tuning by ear with the sound samples as best i can before checking it with the app. 

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sorry i ghosted there for a bit, the tuning when't well i got it tuned to DAA and felt happy there.

i'm trying to figure out how to upload a short video/sound sample with my phone, once i do i'll post it here.

and i have a couple questions for my second build, i want to make a teardrop profile with the same VSL how wide would you guys recommend i make it? and i'm planning on making friction pegs and a scroll head for it, do you think pear wood is hard enough for the pegs? or should i dig out something denser?

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Lookin' forward to hearing/seeing you play that new friend!

No reason your teardrop or elliptical (slightly different) can't be at least as wide as the wide bout on your hourglass.  I can't remember if we got the final specs on your build...
Anyway, 6"-8" is just fine.  Sometimes width is defined by the wood you have handy...   The cubic inches "under the hood) are a major definer of the mellowness of the sound.  Less cubic (1.5" or less) is more "high silvery", where 2-3" is more mellow... 

Pear wood is more than hard enough for pegs, and would be beautiful.  Do you have the taper cutter and taper reamer for making the holes and tapering the shafts?  If not, I can recommend a couple things.  IMHO it's worth a few bucks for the special taper reamer (about $15).   With the reamer you can also make a simple but functional  shaft taper jig.

There are a couple of design possibilities for the scroll head.  First is to make it from one solid block of wood.  The other is to built it up with two side plates, a head piece and disks for the scroll.  Either way you really do want to have it "bottomless" to make putting strings on a lot easier.

I would suggest starting a new thread for your teardrop, so that posterity can more easily see what is going one with each dulcimer build.

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Posted (edited)

I'm glad that you are ready to tackle another dulcimer build. I agree with Noterman that 6 - 8 inches is a good width for the bout of a teardrop. Are you planning on an actual scroll like on a violin or just a scroll shape? As Noterman mentioned if you are making an actual scroll you can either carve it or build it up. Another scroll shape variation is to make an open scroll peg head. It makes things a little easier when restringing. I've done both open and closed. Best wishes on your new project. Here is photo of an open scroll peg head.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

IMG_4354.jpeg

Edited by KWL

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thanks for the advice and encouragement, i'll make a new post once i have a sketch done up for the second one.

if this works here's a short video with sound.

 qRMzwBK.mp4

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NoterMan i'm glad you mentioned that the right taper reams can be had for $15-$20 stewmac starts at $75-$80

i went hunting around on amazon, takes a little digging but i found one marketed for violin pegs for $20

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That's the one.  The price has gone up a bit since I bought mine, I guess.  Unless you're really into historical accuracy building a replica, modern violin tuning pegs work great,  look good, and are pretty darn cheap.  And with a reamer you drill regular 1/4"  holes through the scroll head, then turn the reamer in to open the holes out at the correct taper to make a perfect fit.  You also adjust how much of each peg you want sticking out. 

Here's a link to International Violin, where I get the pegs I use.  I usually get 3/4 size  pegs for a regular size dulcimer for under $1 each for plain Ebony or $1.75 each for Rosewood (there are lots of styles):

https://www.internationalviolin.com/Shop/accessories-bridges-chinrests-endpins-fingerboards-tailpieces-and-more/pegs/violin-pegs
 

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i took a look at your link and i agree that the price is right but it wouldn't give me the warm and fuzzies if i bought a part that i know i can make without to much trouble, even if it ends up being more work in the long run.

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OK then. I understand wanting to make pegs, I guess.  Here's a link on how to make and use a peg shaft taper cutter using your reamer and some scrap hardwood.  Rustic but effective and 'way less than the $90+ for a commercial peg shaper.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt75XRPvimU

  Getting the taper of the peg and the taper of the hole to match is the critical part of making wooden pegs work well.  

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