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OT: Buying an Appalachian (Mountain) Dulcimer


Seannn
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I'm interested in buying an appalachian (mountain) dulcimer, but I don't know where to look or what to look for. Anyone have advice? I see lots of them on eBay, but wouldn't want to purchase one of bad quality, or that is overpriced. :confused:

~ Sean

Juno-60, Juno-G, MicroBrute, MS-20 Mini, PX-5S, R3, etc.

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There is a mountain dulcimer guru lady here in Waynesboro (Va) named Dinah Ansley; she owns a restaurant also, called Stonesoup Books, in town here.

 

Google her; I don't have her phone # (not at regular computer) but it will be worth your time.

 

Tell her Paul from Tile Visions sent you. Stonesoup Books # is 540.943.0084. Just call there I guess.

 

Hope this helps, Paul

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A long time ago my wife bought one in Sevierville, TN from a shop that specialized in them. It wasn't terribly expensive and is built fairly well, but the intonation isn't very good--the frets could've been spaced better. If I were you I'd want to touch it before I bought it.

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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Here in WV, you can come across lap dulcimers on CL for less than $100 if you wait a few months. I got one a year or so ago for $65. It's decent -- rounded body, machine head tuners, four strings. I mostly play Christmas carols, folk songs, and the finale from Beethoven's Ninth(1) on it. It's fun to figure out how to do secondary dominant chords on a diatonic fretboard. :-)

 

I wanna get a hammer dulcimer too, but first I need a bigger music room.

 

(1) You know, 3 3 4 5 5 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 2..11

-Tom Williams

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I'm very picky about appalachian dulcimers since at various times it has been one of my three primary instruments. I've been through a number of them but settled on one back in the mid to late 90's that I have yet to hear bettered, even after trying dozens of others over the years. It's pricier than most though.

 

The one I recommend is Blue Lion Dulcimers in Santa Margarita CA near San Luis Obispo. I bought mine in person at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto CA, but they don't seem to currently have any in stock (the instrument has faded from popularity on the west coast).

 

http://www.bluelioninstruments.com

 

Mine is equivalent to what they now call the IIW Hourglass Model. I went for walnut backs and sides as I liked the "cool" tone it has (i.e. not bright, well-balanced, not boxy or boomy either). I think the top is western red cedar, but I don't have any lit with it and have tried to figure out the wood (which is stained) via their website.

 

For the opposite timbre, go for cherry. I might eventually get a cherry one to complement my walnut model. Cherry isn't bright but is warm and balanced.

 

There are now several types of heads, but the traditional heads seem to distribute the tension better. I've tried some of the others (e.g. McSpadden) and feel that when you muck with the basic design, it ceases to sound like a dulcimer.

 

My biggest mistake was letting myself get talked into a custom design by a luthier whose traditional dulcimers had impressed me during a visit to British Colombia. I was young and naive and let him pressure me into a "walkabout" model that was chromatic. It sounded NOTHING like a dulcimer, and I lost almost all $700 in a difficult resale that I ended up just donating to a friend who needed money for surgery.

 

The most extensive selection of dulcimers I have seen west of the Mississippi is at a wonderful folk instrument store in Albuqueque NM called Apple Mountain Music:

 

http://www.applemtnmusic.com

 

I came very close to buying a cherry model there to complement my walnut model, but was nervous about whether it would be allowed as a carry-on item aboard the plane.

 

As for hourglass vs. teardrop, they sound quite different, but both sound like dulcimers. I find the harmonics richer and more complex on the hourglass model so that is what I prefer. The teardrop model has a smaller sound, but it can also be sweeter. Like I said, they complement each other quite well in a duo setting.

 

Playing-wise, I don't care for the traditional technique of lying it flat on a table and striking it with a "toner" (similar to how the hammered dulcimer is played). I learned dulcimer while in a celtic fusion band back in Boston, from a bandmate who took to strapping it like a guitar and using a plectrum. That's still how I prefer to play it.

 

For gigs, I used to use a Dean Markley contact pickup, which at the time was under $30 and sounded great. I got nervous about long-term damage to the finish by the putty, and even if I removed it each time, it would leave a residue. So I sold it a year or so ago, as I no longer gig on folk instruments and in the studio I'll use a ribbon mic.

 

There are better ways to get a dulcimer to a P/A, but as I haven't tried them personally, I would recommend you consult some dedicated forums.

 

As for finding a store that carries them, that might be a tall order in some parts, and if so, see if you can be patient enough for a festival to come through your way, as often they have an associated folk craft fair that includes luthiers of folk instruments.

 

Otherwise, maybe make a trip somewhere in Virginia, Arkansas, California, Oregon, or other places where well-known dulcimer makers plant their head at night.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

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BTW I once owned Dusty Strings' top-of-the-line hammered dulcimer. Sounded beautiful, but I realized I'd never have time to learn to play it properly as it made me dizzy with the interleaving strings/courses and the note layout that to me wasn't intuitive (at least when not making it my main daily instrument routine). I sold it to a bandmate at the time, who was very serious about pursing it as a main instrument.

 

The modern grand piano is descended from the hammered dulcimer; not from the harpsichord. Hammered dulcimers in central and eastern Europe were getting larger and larger and completely unwieldy, even with two players, so someone came up with the brilliant idea of attaching a keyboard to it so one person could play it with full reach of all notes. Of course, these early fortepianos didn't have the structural strength and longevity of modern pianofortes.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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BTW the ones from Berea KY are probably quite good (though I've never seen nor heard them in person).

 

We used to stop in Berea on our annual summer visit back to Alabama after moving to Massachusetts, due to my family's strong support of civil rights and the mission of Berea College and the opportunities it provided for people of disadvantaged backgrounds to learn useful trades:

 

http://www.berea.edu/about/mission/

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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My best friend's wife graduated from Berea College. We occasionally go to their free concerts and see a nice variety of music. Were else in Kentucky are you going to see someone like Vusi Mahlasela? We tend to eat a Papalenos when we are there.

 

Anyway, the college has a collection of dulcimers.

Dulcimer Artifact Collection

 

There is also a dulcimer players group that occasionally meets at the college. It is a good place to find instructors on both old and modern playing styles.

This post edited for speling.
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I got mine from Folkcraft in Connecticut. They're pretty good, and can custom build one for you. Their website looks like they're a big company, but I actually drove up there once, and they're just a small sized shop with a few craftsmen.

 

I later inherited a double string dulcimer of unknown origin that sounds amazing. If I remember later, I'll post the maker.

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I'm very picky about appalachian dulcimers since at various times it has been one of my three primary instruments.
Man, the things you learn about people on this forum ! Excellent post as usual, Mark. Interesting to me as I write this from Downtown DC that less than a 2 hour drive and these things are all then rage. My favorite song so far :D

[video:youtube]

:nopity:
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I saw a Marxophone Zither for sale on MTL's Kijiji yesterday (40$). I don't know if that could interest you.

 

 

A bit off-topic but I came across clips from this fellow playing a russian psaltry type and it is just amazing. If anyone knows what he's singing about, please let me know... Enjoy

 

[video:youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZmEy-yeqdM&list=UUEeCCnYtbQdnLbvlBBT-epg

 

 

[video:youtube]

 

 

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The ones from Folkcraft are pretty good, actually, and they're great folks.

 

I bought my hardshell case from them since the one I had was flimsy cardboard. Highly recommended. Well, maybe I bought from Elderly but it was branded as Folkcraft.

 

I visited their booth at NAMM a few years ago and bought a Kantele (Finnish zither) but found it unergonomic (for me) so sold it. The person who bought it was thrilled as otherwise they would have had to order one on blind faith (I had tried mine first at NAMM but mistakenly thought my auto-harp experience would pay off).

 

They make about every wood combination possible, and do a good job of describing the characteristics of each wood.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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  • 3 years later...

I have to correct some things I said about the effect of the dulcimer shape as well as the head stock, as I wasn't comparing variants of the same model (even though I have tried many of each over the years).

 

As I am finally looking to add a second dulcimer (as I wrote a lot of two-dulcimer pieces and want it to be easier to tell which is which when listening, vs. a muddle), I did some more listening and research tonight, and it seems that the REAL experts say there is no effect from the head stock and that it's just preference (along with changing overall weight balance).

 

Also, the teardrop shape apparently doesn't affect the sound much on its own, and it's the actual volume of the sound box that matters the most. As hourglass dulcimers vary quite a bit in this respect, probably more variation is found there than in teardrop models (there are other shapes as well, but less common).

 

Teardrop models do frequently have a bit more bass response (which I do NOT want in ANY instrument), and so are often said to be less balanced, but it's not the shape that causes this but the fact that MOST teardrop models have less sound box volume than the typical hourglass model.

 

If you plan to do any bowing, it's advisable to go for the teardrop model, for reasons of ergonomics.

 

I have heard some lovely koa models but they are too expensive and not different enough from walnut when compared to woods at the other end of the timbral spectrum. I personally find maple too bright for dulcimer, an d usually cherry as well but cherry varies quite a bit and I have occasionally found one that is more balanced.

 

The decision I made tonight is to go for rosewood, which I never would have thought of. Walnut is more for strumming and backing, and rosewood can work better for soloing as it is a more balanced timbre, less mellow and washy than walnut but not bright like maple.

 

I have confirmed that mine is actually the IW model and not the IIW, but whoever put the order in at Gryphon, customized it for a rosewood fingerboard as those ship by default with walnut fingerboards. I usually prefer ebony, but they don't recommend it on dulcimers unless you have sharp fingernails or are a super-hard picker, due to it being less oily.

 

The tops are usually western red cedar, as spruce can be a bit bright so is generally less preferred on higher-pitched instruments like the dulcimer. Mine is now confirmed as western red cedar.

 

I still like mine the best of almost any I'v ever tried, but if I was starting over I might go for koa instead. Acacia would be similar but is getting harder to come by. Koa can have a very deep, focused sound, but it is not at all piercing. Very balanced overall, and more projective than walnut.

 

I haven't heard many rosewood dulcimers; it may be a recent trend. If I ever do another road trip (I haven't driven much for 14-15 years now), I may just make an appointment to stop by the Blue Lion factory near San Luis Obispo.

 

 

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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I've always wanted to learn hammered dulcimer...here's where I think I would look to purchase - http://songofthewood.com/

 

Bill

 

I'd like to add a hearty endorsement for Song of the Wood. Jerry Reed Smith is a good luthier--not something I say often or lightly. The shop carries his instruments as well as those made by others. My hammered dulcimer is a Dusty Strings three octave chromatic model. Neat stuff.

 

Note that Song of the Wood carries mountain dulcimers as well. (And psaltries and scads of other things...)

 

Footnote: "Mountain" dulcimers and hammered dulcimers have nothing in common, despite sporting similar names. For those who might want to investigate dulcimers, be sure to do your homework, as simply buying a "dulcimer" might send you down the wrong path.

 

Grey

I'm not interested in someone's ability to program. I'm interested in their ability to compose and play.

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I built one from a kit years ago. Hanging in my living room.

 

Where did you buy your kit Dave?

 

Built mine while I was going through college in the late 70's. It came from a company called "Hear, Incorporated" in Minneapolis, MN. Found an add in the Last Whole Earth Catalog and, since I was living in Minnesota, went to the shop and bought it as well as a kalimba. Interestingly, the whole time I have had it, it has held its tuning better than any other stringed instrument I have ever owned.

 

There is now a place in Stillwater (don't know if it is related) called MusicMakers (www.harpkit.com) that sells dulcimer kits.

Don

 

"Yes, on occasion I do talk to myself, sometimes I need an expert's opinion."

 

Alesis DG8, ARP(Korg)Odyssey Mk.1, Roland JU-06 & Keystation61. Stratocaster if I get tired of sitting.

 

 

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  • 1 year later...

My baritone model from McSpadden in Mountain View, Arkansas, arrived today. Sounds great and is a nice contrast to my soprano model from Blue Lion, for my many two-dulcimer pieces where I want the two parts to not blend together at all.

 

Not happy with the varnished finished as I prefer matte, and overall it's nowhere near the construction quality, wood selection, or actual specs of a Blue Lion, but after five years of waiting, I have given up on Blue Lion ever being able to actively take on new orders following an awful woodworking accident a number of years ago (a horrible hazard among luthiers; especially when only a two-person husband/wife team).

 

The McSpadden is shallower, narrower, and not as long, as the soprano from Blue Lion, and has a flat head vs. a scroll head. The scale length is 28.5" though, and it has a redwood top (walnut is the main wood), so those were big selling points vs. many other makers whose baritones and basses are just regular dulcimers with a different gauge string.

 

Overall, I'd say this instrument is about halfway in quality between my third dulcimer and my long-term life-keeper from Blue Lion that I bought in the early to mid 90's. So I'm definitely happy with the purchase -- and it was a good price, even with a high-end hardshell case and shipping costs -- but for variety's sake I'll look elsewhere for a bass model.

 

It's interesting how walnut has become the standard wood over the past 25 years, as it was a special order at the time and cherry and maple were both more common as were a few other American woods. I find that walnut bodies on an instrument like this where the sound is mostly the chamber vs. a resonating top, make for the most even balance between treble and bass.

 

With the baritone model, it also has become clearer to me why the instrument is strung in reverse, as the tonal balance is dead even that way but the middle string is harder to get to the same volume if you strum up vs. down. This may also be why Rickenbacker does their 12-strings the opposite of everybody else, in terms of the paired octave courses.

 

For those who might be looking for a regular soprano model at the moment, there are some nice ones on eBay, including some made in Berea Kentucky where the proceeds likely go to the school for the blind and/or college tuition programs.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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It's funny, but I've never used a noter or played a dulcimer flat on a table or stand; I learned the instrument from a bandmate north of Boston when I was in the celtic fusion scene and he had just switched to bagpipes so was teaching me the ropes on his previous instrument. He strapped it like a guitar, and that's how I play it -- also way more chordally than melodically, and rarely with drones.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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