The uk's hammer Dulcimer Maker
tim manning
 

Beginners Notes

Home

 

Choosing an instrument

How do I chose a first Dulcimer? How do I know where to start?

First of all I think it best not to start off with trying to buy second hand instruments unless you have an experienced friend to take with you. Many I have seen have been are one or two off's having been built by amateurs. Some are OK but almost invariably there are issues such as bad string choice, loose tuning pins, badly positioned bridges, dodgy intonation. It takes quite a time to become a good Hammered Dulcimer maker because unlike many other instruments good plans are not readily available, so it takes quite a few instruments, good ears and perseverance to get good.

Secondly some new instruments are suspect as well!! I really feel that ethically I should not dismiss some of my competitors, because I may be prejudiced! You can’t really judge sound quality until you have heard a few.  Use your ears well and compare the sound.......

I am able to say that mine not only look and sound great from the start but they stay great for a long time.

The 101 names of the Hammered Dulcimer

The term Hammered Dulcimer has 2 apparant meanings

1 An instrument that looks like a Hammered Dulcimer that may come from anywhere in the world.

2 A specific instrument of The British Isles and United States of America.

Meaning 1 is actually wrong and is further confused when someone may say something like 'German Hammered Dulcimer' In my opinion we should use the proper name 'Hackbrett' or say 'German style Hammered Dulcimer'.

Beware the name Hammered Dulcimer it is used indiscriminately by some people. Recognised and well known retailers may use the term to refer to any member of the family. In particular Ebay sellers name instruments Dulcimers when they patently are not. That could mean you end up with an instrument that is not an actual a Hammered Dulcimer but may be a Khim or a Santour, quite different. Recently I came across someone on Ebay selling a Cimbalom type of instrument as a Dulcimer. When I questioned the seller, it transpired, and he sent me a link to prove it, that a well known early music shop made this unbelievable mistake!!

Now you may perhaps think that I am being pedantic and that they are really all the same. The fact is that each country's instruments are different. Most similar we could agree are the UK and US instruments, which both are Hammered Dulcimers. But even here there are differences a US 12/11 often become 12/12 in the UK. Even though the Hammered Dulcimers of the world bear a passing resembalance to each other each countries instrument really are different to each other in terms of the construction, the tuning layout, string thicknesses and sound. You couldn't for instance take a Santur and just move the bridges around to the Dulcimer positions without comprimising the strings and soundboard.

If all this is putting you off I am so sorry. Of course if you come to an expert maker you can be assured of expert advice. I would hate anyone to end up with a bum instrument because of lack of knowledge.

Questions I am often asked

Hi Tim

I see now you've the lovely sounding 9 x 9 Table Top Model. What is the range of this instrument? Can the instruments tuning be dropped (within reason - to increase the low range) by retuning it, or will this put the intonation out?

Regards Tom

Hello Tom,

The Instruments could be re tuned to a lower pitch. My Dulcimers are fairly high tension instruments. I often re tune the bottom note of the Harmony about 3 semitones below and it still sound nice.
I have never experimented tuning the whole instrument down but I do know that some of the professional players play around with the tunings quite a bit.

The Table Top instrument goes from F* (as played on the D string on a Guitar) to A (2 and a bit octaves above) + some extra notes even higher.
I don't think the intonation will change by retuning, although it is possible to adjust the intonation anyway.

Regards Tim

Tim can you compare the Harmony with the Dizzi Signature?

Hello Thomas,

The question you pose is an important question for most people buying either of the Dulcimers. To compare the two instruments is interesting because as you point out, the sound of the Harmony Dulcimer on the Utube video " has a wonderfully rich, piano like sound". The Harmony range have a soundboard and a back, and the strings are at a higher tension. A good deal of work goes in to strutting the instrument internally. So it does sound better, louder too and seems to penetrate more. The timbre of the two instruments is also different. Because of the higher tension the sticks bounce better as well which is a more pleasing playing experience.

The Dizzi Signature is a great model, lightweight, and eye catching., It's bigger and it plays and tunes far better than some Dulcimers I wont name. Good as it is the Dizzi Signature is not as good as the Harmony and Dizzi Delight models. It is essentially designed to be a budget instrument. The same quality of materials are used but the instrument is designed to be made more speedily so that beginners have a good quality budget instrument. This construction method produces a quieter instrument.

The string spacing and tuning are exactly the same on the each instrument.

So..on a budget, buy the Dizzi Signature, otherwise Dizzi Delight or Harmony.

Tim

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Hammered Dulcimers

Hammered Dulcimers should have 2 bridges. The more centrally placed left or treble bridge, and the right or bass bridge. The range of hammered dulcimers is usually described in term of the number of courses of strings passing over each bridge i.e. 9+9 12+11 12+12 15 + 14 and so on. The first number refers to the left bridge and the second to the right bridge. In modern Hammered Dulcimers a course usually consists of 2 strings tuned to the same note, but occasionally 3. Older instruments could easily consist of courses of 4 or more strings tuned to the same note.

I make 3 basic sizes of English Hammered Dulcimer. I usually suggest beginners start with a Table Top or Harmony model although some go straight for the Maestro

Table Top 9+9

The smallest of my current range. They take up less space, they are great for learning the concept of Hammered Dulcimers. Similar in size to an Iranian Santur. Despite the size complex or simple music can be played on the instrument though with smallest note range.

Harmony 12+12

The most regular size of instrument. Slightly greater range than their American cousins which are usually 12+11 and with obviously greater range than the Table Top the larger size also allows lower frequencies to develop in the soundboard.

Maestro 15+15

The largest Dulcimer body size I currently make. Greater range and even more lower frequency sound in the larger body creates... guess what?, a more full bodied sound! These instruments frequently are first instruments. I get more requests for 'custom' versions of the Maestro than any of the others.

Others

The Virtuoso models would not be described as being for beginners.