The 26 inch Vibrating String Length “BETTY”
When I first started this dulcimore adventure I asked myself, what makes the dulcimore sound like a dulcimore? I read all the books I could find about traditional pieces and those that had measurements I used to make a spread sheet with the sound box dimensions. The median measurements are what I extracted for the “Betty”.
Of course there is more to the dulcimore tone than dimension; poplar was the wood of choice for makers Pritchard and Thomas. Placement of the nut and bridge over the very ends of the sound box and three feet to set it off the table top for play are equally important. The use of wooden friction tuners and music wire strings and most importantly, the ratio of weight to mass of the strings to the instrument!
The peg head I designed is simple. It has a ball end to reflect the circle sound holes which are lunar. The tail piece is Thomas “esk”, I’m especially fond of the wide staple the strings break against to protect the wood. Staple frets are driven in a very narrow and very tall fret board, made from the same material as the strings. (Music wire made right here in Tennessee) The fret lay out is diatonic and I have it adjusted to perform in all four modes. I use either shellac or a proprietary hand rubbed oil finish to protect the pieces in a historical way that is far more stable than the contemporary lacquer finishes that are standard today.
The 28 inch Vibrating String Length “ultra-lite”
Once the Betty design was complete, I wondered about the string length being less than the Kentucky standard; about 28.5 inches. Understanding the weight to mass ratio, I began a study to determine the dimensions of a 28 inch piece. Elongating the piece required narrowing it and removing as much material as possible and the ultra-lite was born! The very narrow waist is reminiscent of the Thomas pieces. It is difficult if not impossible to make a traditional Appalachian piece without picking up some aspect of his work! It did after all change very little in some sixty years.
Although a very different approach to the traditional sound as the Betty, it simple fulfills a different tonal dimension. The 28 inch VSL is best tuned somewhere around (C), where as the Betty’s 26 inch VSL is better suited up around a (d) or even (e). Not that either can be tuned higher or lower but they have sweet spots dependant on their dynamics.
Wood selection (indigenous) and finishes are the same for both pieces. As is the customization; let me know what traditional aspects you want and I can make it. I make Traditional Appalachian Dulcimore!