The uk's hammer Dulcimer Maker
tim manning

Expert Notes



World Hammered Dulcimer Family

So you have played dulcimers for a while and perhaps its time to explore something similar but more challanging.

The Belarussain cimbaly or Tsimbaly is similar in size to a large Dulcimer and is completely chromatic in a nice logical way. The sound of these are quite light, quite dulcimer like. The treble bridge has a similar 5th interval over.

Cimbalom. Originating in Hungary, these instruments have a tuning system that is slightly less logical than the Tsimbaly. The sound is darker and there are more overtones. The treble bridge also has a 5th interval over.

Hackbrett. Originating in Germany, the tuning system is probably most logical of all. That doesn't mean its easiest to play. The pitch progresses up the instrument by semitones up the instrument from the bottom to the top. the notes alternate left and right. This results in two wholetone scales a semitone appart. The tone is not so sweet as English Dulcimer

You are by now probably experienced enough to to be tempted to look at second hand instruments. Remember though, the older they are the more lightly they are to have problems!

The easiest problems to fix are broken strings! But if no strings are present you can't even measure the thickness of the wire! The only solution to this is to make a full scale drawing in order to work out the string lengths, guess a tension and calculate string gauges.

Sound boards often have cracks. Try to determine if the crack will be a problem by playing the strings, if present. If no strings are present gently tap the soundboard and listen for a buzz. It can lead to a distorted type of sound as the two pieces vibrate against each other microscopically. Sometimes the best thing for the soundboard cracks is to very carefully fill with clear epoxy resin. This wont restore the integrity of the soundboard but can stop the edges from vibrating.

Loose pins. Ooversize pins are avaliable to overcome this problem. I have noticed though that some second hand dulcimers I have seen from the 70's have the wrong materiel for the pin blocks. These dont work because either the timber is too soft to hold the pins under tension or the pins degrade. The best materiels to use for the pin blocks are either Maple and Beech. I have only used Beech but I know that some American makers use Maple. I have seen Mahogany type (too soft) and Oak (chemical interaction) used. I cant imagine that anyone would be so dumb as to use pine!!! yikes!!

Use your ears to determine if the instrument is going to sound sweet because a sour dulcimer is painfull to the listener. Even if it is cheap! This can result from a soundboard that is too thin, or has too little abilty to vibrate.

It is sad to say that not all dulcimers are born equal. Even quite nice looking instruments can be poorly designed and with a bad choice of materiels. Grain direction is an important function that improves the quality of instruments but is often completely ignored by budget makers.

Having played for a while you might find that you have your own ideas for a bespoke instrument. I am often up for a challange so do not hesitate to get in touch.

Good luck on your Dulcimer journey.



English Hammered Dulcimers

Hammered Dulcimers should have 2 bridges. The more centerly 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 ocasionally 3. Older instruments could easilly consist of courses of 4 or more strings tuned to the same note.

I make 4 basic sizes of English Hammered Dulcimer. Note you may play to the right of the bass bridge on my instruments, the interval is 2 octaves. As well as being usefull to create a kind of rhythmic vamp idea if desired it also extends the total range of the instruments.

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 extremly complex or very simple music music can be played on the instrument though with slightly limited 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 allowes lower frequencies to develop in the soundboard.

Maestro 15+15

A large Dulcimer body size. Greater range again and even more lower frequency sound in the larger body allows guess what?, a more full bodied sound! So the sound is really good and with the same simplicity of layout.

Virtuoso !5 +15 + 8

The Virtuoso models can be fairly challanging but rewarding also. There is a lot for the eyes to take in. The body size is very similar to the Maestro instruments but having the addition of 8 courses of wound bass strings in between the courses of higher pitched strings giving these instruments much greater range and depth of sound.