GWentland wrote:What I was getting at was, a comparison between the Darceyhorse and say a plywood or even a cardboard dulcimer. Played by the same player. Playing the same song.
Go for it. Would be interesting to see if the review standards you envisage could be put into practice using only personal resources.
I find that ensuring that what I post or publish is both fair and credible is an agonisingly difficult balance. The reaction to my Darcyhorse review is a main reason I've yet to publish the others I've produced over the past two years. Just acquiring the instruments is an enormous burden for me.
For what it is worth, I have examined and played a number of all-plywood-body dulcimers made since 1960, and just one variety of cardboard dulcimer, made by Backyard Music.
In my opinion, plywood is generally inferior to solid wood as a tone wood because of the way it ages. I believe this is true even of the aircraft-quality birch plywood laminates made in Norway and Sweden. If fashioned by skilled hands, plywood dulcimers can sing wonderfully for a number of years. But even if kept in climate controlled conditions, the laminate glues surrounding the entire instrument will eventually deaden sound. After a few years, the best you can hope for is a sweet, woody-ish tone that can be more than acceptable in timbre, but volume and sustain invariably dwindles.
With the cheaper plywoods commonly used in dulcimers, the fibrous wood sheets seem to lose cohesion, even under a lacquer finish. Joinery work between plywood panels, too, seems very susceptible to failure. This seems to be less true of dulcimers built with a solid wood top and the remaining panels of plywood, but even these do not seem to age as well as solid wood instruments kept in proper conditions. (Instruments with a solid top and back, with plywood sides, seem to age just fine in my experience.)
Lots of people whose opinion I respect disagree with me on plywood, though, including at least one highly skilled builder. And there's no question that at $125, the plywood student instruments made by Harpmaker and Carrot Creek are excellent value for money. Top-notch lutherie. The cedar-top/plywood body TK Obrien student instrument is also worth a look. I think these instruments will perform very well for a very long time.
I've handled several cardboard dulcimers of various ages, all of them made by Backyard Music. When new, the sound can be very gratifying, with performance that equals or even exceeds that of good solid wood instruments. The sound deteriorates pretty rapidly, though. Depending on conditions, sometimes in a matter of weeks. This deterioration is slowed, not stopped, by a good coat of finish -- acrylic paint seems to be particularly effective. Cardboard is an excellent choice for institutional settings, and for travel. I bring one when I go to India, uncased in the aeroplane cabin. You really can drop it without worry, although you have to protect it from crushing. Not much theft risk, either. Its simple, unpretentious appearance is perfectly appropriate when I'm playing for children in a deeply impoverished village. My own children play with the dulcimer too, causing me no stress at all.
With regards to the Darcyhorse, I stand by my written review. Many of the faults you have emphasised are very real. On the Darcyhorse I reviewed, the panels were too thick, and there was a marked deficiency in the quality of the lutherie and the finishing. This is consistent with anecdotal reports such as your own. I wouldn't normally recommend the instrument, at least until I come across a better example. New players should be warned of the instrument's limitations.
None of this justifies a wholesale assault on Terry Pattison's craft, however. Neither he nor his product deserve incessant ridicule. His low-cost dulcimers have brought joy to many people, even if they have disappointed some. The buyer of my Darcyhorse wrote to say he was extremely pleased.
Moreover, the essential components of a fine instrument are there. Even with my own limited skills, I was able to improve the performance of my Darcyhorse considerably. You'll note that in my sound clip, the instrument holds its pitch on the melody strings and achieves a proper sympathetic ring, although I was unable to chord it successfully. That's enough for many people. A professional luthier could do more than I did, perhaps at very low cost. And I'd suggest that 10 or 20 years from now, his solid wood instruments (at least those without a superfulous variety of woods), if properly kept, are likely to age very well.
There is now a giant internet footprint underscoring the quality problems and perceived dissatisfaction with Darcyhorse dulcimers. Google "Darcyhorse Dulcimer," and your own "what a mistake!" post on FOTM pops up at number three. (My review doesn't appear at all, unless you actually type the word "review.") Justified or not, his reputation has already suffered considerably -- more than is warranted, in my view.
You've made it very clear that your Darcyhorse is no more musical than a heavy wooden log, and is deserving of the scorn you've heaped upon it. It seems you paid rather a lot for it, too. Your animosity is legitimate and understandable, but it isn't the whole story. I have played hundreds of dulcimers, and the Darcyhorse I tested *did* have musical value as a dulcimer (not as a fingernail on a chalkboard).
Terry is committed to building, and there's every reason to expect that his craft will improve.
I look forward to acquiring and playing another Darcyhorse dulcimer next year. If it disappoints, I'll let you know.