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mtn dulcimer tuning question

GUEST,leeneia 28 Sep 15 - 05:55 PM
Stower 28 Sep 15 - 06:15 PM
Stower 28 Sep 15 - 06:22 PM
GUEST,leeneia 28 Sep 15 - 10:45 PM
Stower 29 Sep 15 - 05:33 AM
GUEST,leeneia 29 Sep 15 - 11:30 AM
GUEST,leeneia 29 Sep 15 - 11:49 AM
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Subject: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 28 Sep 15 - 05:55 PM

A friend gave me a lovely Cedar Creek dulcimer, and I'm putting new strings on it. I'm used to a dulcimer in DAA with strings of 12,14 and 22 gauge. This dulcimer is supposed to play in GDD with strings of 10, 10, and 18.

(It is not possible to put the bigger strings on it, because the 22 is too thick to go through the slot in the nut.)

I've put on the finer strings and tuned it GDD the way they want, but I don't like how it sounds. It's too high and twangy for me.

I tried tuning it to E-B-B, (which is about halfway down) but I still found it too twangy. I have suffered hearing damage, and I'm unusually touchy about twangling instruments.

My question is, if I use the light gauge and tune it DAA, is there any hope that the strings will stay in tune, or will they be so slack that they flop? (The DAA tuning I would prefer is 5 half-steps lower.)

Does anybody have experience with how much leeway metal strings allow? Is 5 half-steps workable?


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Subject: RE: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: Stower
Date: 28 Sep 15 - 06:15 PM

leenia, I think I may be able to help. Tuning a GDD dulcimer down to DAA isn't going to work without new strings. If you can post the vibrating string length of the dulcimer in DAA with strings of 12,14 and 22 gauge, then give me the vibrating string length of the GDD dulcimer, I have a chart that should be able to give you the equivalent string tension and therefore string gauges in whatever tuning you wish. Just let me know your preferred tuning.   

I have 2 other questions.

Do you sing to the dulcimer? If so, your preferred keys will dictate how you tune it. Even if you have a dulcimer capo, you still need to choose your most comfortable pitch for usual, uncapoed playing.

I played dulcimer (when I did, don't any more) in DAD, where D was the highest and lowest note. If your preferred tuning is DAA, please indicate which is your order of pitch (I'm guessing you have a D on the bottom, an A then another A at the same pitch, but in that case I wonder why you have different gauges for the 2 As; but if D is at the top I can't make sense of only 2 thou between the D and A below it).

Stower


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Subject: RE: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: Stower
Date: 28 Sep 15 - 06:22 PM

Also meant to say, the slot in the nut can easily be widened, if that's a problem. There's going to be a particular ratio of size to pitch within which the lowest pitch of a dulcimer will still sound good, but I've not experimented in this way with a dulcimer so I can't advise on how low won't work. Experiment - what can go wrong? Even if you try too low to work, just change the strings and higher the pitch. If you widen the slot on the nut to fit a thicker string and the pitch doesn't work, a wider slot shouldn't be a problem for a thinner string (within reason) and, if it is, there are plenty of folks who can make you a new nut. Experimentation is always worth while, even if it doesn't work: you never know what you haven't tried.


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Subject: RE: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 28 Sep 15 - 10:45 PM

Thank you for your kind interest. Here are the answers.

1. I don't sing to the dulcimer. I play DAA because I like the richer, warmer sound of a low pitch.

2. The D is the lowest note.

3. The string gauges are what D'Addario provides in its dulcimer string package. They probably think I will tune DAD, but the gauges work for DAA as well.

4. String lengths - all strings are the same length on a given instrument:

    McSpadden (DAA) 72.2 cm from nut to bridge
                      71.8 cm from first fret to bridge

    Cedar Creek (GDD) 70.2 cm from nut to bridge
                        69.9 cm from first fret to bridge

I hope I measured the right thing.


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Subject: RE: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: Stower
Date: 29 Sep 15 - 05:33 AM

Hello, leenia.

According to my chart, your McSpadden dulcimer (DAA) should work with strings of .21 or .22 on the low D and 2 x .14 on the As - so that's only a potential thou difference on the low D. If you really want to double up the pitch on the first two strings, try 2 x .14.

The Cedar Creek (GDD) is only slightly shorter, just shy of 98% of the vibrating string length of the McSpadden (DAA). You don't say what gauge of strings are on it, but I can't see how even the thinnest strings will work at that high pitch. You describe the sound as twangy - surely it would be very tort indeed up there. If you want to tune it DAA, try a wound .20 on the bottom and 2 x plain .12 or .13 on the middle and top.

If you can't buy a set with those gauges, string websites sell loop strings singly. In my experience, it's worth experimenting, as even 1 thou can make a huge difference in playability if you're sensitive to string gauges for particular styles of playing.

On another note, I'm trying to understand how DAA on the dulcimer works. DAD gives you an open drone on the root and 5th when playing on the fretted top string, your most basic playing position. DAA, assuming A is your root, gives you an open drone on the 4th = D, which puzzles me. I expect, therefore, that your root is on the third fret of the top string (assuming a diatonic dulcimer), which gives you a run-up which could work nicely, but you already have that on the second string. I'd be intrigued to understand your playing technique.   

Hope this helps.


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Subject: RE: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 29 Sep 15 - 11:30 AM

Thank you very much for the info, Stower. I'll get strings of 20 and 12 and give them a try. That's interesting to hear, that a mere thousandth can make a difference.

As for DAA tuning, DAA is a real joy to play. My dulcimers have a 6.5 fret, and I can play in the key of D and the key of A. I can also tune DAG, and that gives me songs in the minor, I think Em and Am.

The beauty of DAA is that the chords are so simple. Most of the time, you put a finger on the D string, one fret behind the melody note, and you've got a nice chord. It is a very simple and natural system.

If you are playing in the key of A, a finger on the first fret of the D string produces an open A chord for the root.


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Subject: RE: mtn dulcimer tuning question
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 29 Sep 15 - 11:49 AM

I should add that I use my own technique:

1. dulcie on a table, held in place with plasti-tak (Bluetack). This holds it firm and makes it louder.

2. thumb pick (rather than flat pick) plucks the melody string

3. right-hand fingers are free to fingerpick accompaniments

I can strum all three strings if I want, but I don't, usually.

It is important not to yank the instrument off the plasti-tak. Rather, loosen the plasti-tak from the table with your fingertips, then peel it off the dulcimer. Why bother? The seal can be so strong that the plasti-tak starts taking the bottom off your dulcimer.


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