Three String dulcimer

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Postby Davef » Wed May 21, 2003 9:55 pm

At the Buckeye Dulcimer Fest in March Shelly talked me into playing with 3 strings and it is much easier in my case, I have large hands and I have a problem with hitting both melody strings with the same pressure so I would get wierd sounds( I still do but I can't blame it on the strings anymore). My wife doesn't like the 3 strings and she still plays with 4. Dave
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Postby harpmaker » Wed May 21, 2003 11:13 pm

Well, that kind of answered my question. I think I will start putting drop pins on my dulcimers and maybe I will try a three string set up for awhile for my own playing. Thanks to all who responded. See you this weekend at Dulcimore in Libson OH !!
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Three Strings?

Postby Guest » Wed May 21, 2003 11:15 pm

I am working part-time at the Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View and have been trying to talk Jim into building a dulcimer with only three strings. No such luck at this time. Had a chance to talk with a customer the other day who was a college music professor and director and had a doctrate in sound and music theory. Couldn't help but ask him a pet theory of mine about sound abatement. I knew that when there is an undesirable sound such as a loud jet engine, engineers tape that sound and then play it back along with the original sound but just a little out of phase. These two competing sounds tend to cancel each other and make the noise less loud. He said, and I totally agree, the chances of getting two melody strings perfectly in pitch and staying there are about nil. A six string guitar is much louder than a twelve string guitar because of this. We have been playing three string dulcimers for about 12 years now and have had dulcimers specially made with only three tuners. My fingers get in between the two melody strings because I play straight down on the strings. Three strings for me.. jack giger

Postby harpmaker » Wed May 21, 2003 11:25 pm

I am currently working on a batch of my Student dulcimers. Due to the way I build them, there is not as much variation in voice from one instrument to another as you find in one-offs. 4 of these are being strung as three strings to fill an order, but the others will be 4 string. I will try to do a comparison between the 3 and 4 string to see if I can tell any difference in volume. I'll let you all know the results.
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Postby CarrotCreek » Thu May 22, 2003 10:12 am

One reason that I haven't seen mentioned here for unstringing one of the pair of strings is that in some playing styles there is no melody string, or rather there are three melody strings. I notice when I reach down for a note on the middle string the sound is unbalanced and I need to pluck a little harder. A lot of the time, I'm spreading the melody or foreground over all three strings. Somebody did mention chording, and the same goes for that. Church-strung dulcimers are an example of this. They have three pairs of strings and were primarily used for chording to accompany the congegation in hymn singing. The doubled string makes sense in the drone style when it is the melody string and it's competing with the two drone strings for attention. So if you go back and forth between styles, the hooks or pins are a good idea.
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3 strings

Postby posie » Sat May 24, 2003 10:41 pm

My teacher, Mr. Harry Webb, advised me to remove one of the melody strings on my first instrument, a Mountain Rose with a VERY high action. This did help me. But when I got my second instrument, a McSpadden, I took the second melody string off also. It really is easier for the beginner to play. You can always put it back- no big deal.
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only one melody string.....

Postby Marc Mathieu » Tue Jul 08, 2003 12:10 am

Hi All, The other evening I was playing my dulcimer & decided to re-tune to a different key. While tuning my melodies...... "P-I-N-G" !! , one string broke. Since it was kinda getting late, I played my dulcimer "as is". One thing I must say ...... the melody is definately not as "pronounced" with only one string. I find that I have to strum alot harder on the melody string to bring what's missing. Also......maybe it's because I got used to playing with doubles, but I don't find any difference doing hammer-ons &/or pull-offs either way. Still haven't got around to installing a new string, but will most likely get done tomorrow. Wink
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Postby nwilson02 » Tue Jul 08, 2003 7:34 am

Thought I'd put my 2 cents in on this topic. I've always (sounds like I've been playing a long time, huh) played with 4 strings but while at Cullowhee this year noticed that 80% of the players, including the instructors, are playing with 3 strings. I asked Rob Brereton why during our class and he said that it is much easier for finger picking. He keeps his 4th string on in case he needs it, it's just put out of the way. I just bought my niece a new beginners dulcimer at Cullowhee from Terry Lewis and it only have 3 strings. It was a Modern Mountain Dulcimer. As a beginner, I'm finding it much easier to play hammer ons and pull offs with just one string and I don't notice that big of a difference in volume of the melody string. I may change my mind in the future as my playing improves but for now I'm hooked on 3 strings.
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Postby spoonsman » Tue Jul 08, 2003 8:04 am

I would like to hear from others about when the extra melody string--that you have put in a place so I can be used as needed--is actually needed.
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Postby Tom » Tue Jul 08, 2003 8:17 am

As beginner teachers Missy and I recommend removing the extra melody string. As we cover a wide range of techniques such as finger picking, we find that really helps. Not to mention that tuning is easier. I never use the extra melody string in my playing and have it held on the side of the fret board with a small brad to keep the tuner from vibrating. However, one possibility is if I chose to play in a four-equidistant string tuning. Folks this is all very subjective. The double melody aside from being louder provides a different sound. This does not match the sound I normally try to get but that's my style. Yours might be different. Tom
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Postby Banjimer » Thu Jan 19, 2006 9:24 pm

I play with 3-strings exclusively, but I also play with wooden friction pegs, not mechanical tuners. For me, it is a personal choice to play as much as I can in the style of the old-time dulcimer players. I'm not sure when the extra melody string was first added, but the majority of old dulcimers had only a single melody string. I've even ordered dulcimers with staple-like frets (bent broom wire) that won't allow me to play any chords. Others have already pointed out that hammer-ons and pull-offs are easier to play and cleaner with a single string. It is also easier to bend a single melody string. So while some do it because it is a little easier, I do it because it is more traditional in style. This is not a value judgement, just a personal preference for style of playing and the instrument best suited to that style.
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Postby Dulcimerbuilder » Fri Jan 20, 2006 2:41 am

Originally posted by harpmaker I have also had requests to add small pins to hold the dropped string on the instrument and out of the way, without having to take it off completely. Is this just a retro thing or are we looking at a wave of the future (or would that be the past)? As a builder would it be good for business to add (for the lack of a better term) 'drop pins' to all my dulcimers? Or just do it on request? ....
Dave, if you remember Ray Chittum, he was using those pins on the dulcimers he built when I first met him. That was around 1994 or 1995. I have only installed them when the buyer asked for them. Personally, I myself would just remove the extra melody string completely, and that is what I did. With the increase in chord/melody playing there is no need for the double melody and it is so much easier to play without it. Also hammer ons and pull offs are easier and the fretted notes just seem more crisp and precise to me. I haven't used a double melody string for 4 or 5 years. Friends
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