dulcipicker3 wrote:Hey Robin!
I talked to Don yesterday and asked him these questions.
1) John used number 8 piano wire for his strings.
2) He used the same string for all three strings.
3) John used Ionian tuning (1-5-5), and always tuned the bass string to the third string of a guitar when he would play with people.
Don says their family only ever use Ionian tuning, and Don currently uses .19 gauge strings for all three strings on his dulcimer.
Wow!!! Those are heavy strings to take up to G,d,d but I can hear that Don is playing in G,d,d on these two clips
No 8 piano wire is around .0.20 on the AWG charts so I guess that's the gauge John Mawhee was using. Did John always use geared tuners on his dulcimers? I think that I have read that there is one of John's 'walking canes' from 1890 somewhere, did that have geared tuners? I think it would have been quite difficult to take 8 gauge piano wire up to the key of G with wooden pegs but somewhere around D or E would have been OK.
The fact that John, Bill and Don played with other musicians is also unusual - However those heavy strings tuned high would have given his small bodied dulcimer quite a punch when whipped with a quill.
What's the VSL of John's, Bill's and Don's dulcimers? I was playing around tonight with fiting 0.018 gauge to my dulcimer that has a 25.5" VSL but it was a struggle to take it up to G,d,d (but it is sitting there now) I must say that, the instrument surely flew along beautifully with noter and quill when I got it there! And it is very LOUD with that set up.
Another point to note with those heavy strings tuned high is that the action can be a lot lower. I actually slipped a lower bridge insert into my test dulcimer and could really go lower still and still not have any fret buzz. It looks like Don is running quite a low action on that first video clip above but I can't be sure.
The fact his family also only used one tuning is a very similar story to other early players. There doesn't seem to be any confirmed use of minor tunings prior to about 1930. I'm sure it happened but I have not found any witness statements yet confirming that.
Do you know if there are any good quality close up photos of John Mawhee's instruments anywhere? Or any accurate measurements? The post above from modulcimer suggested that he may have done this some time in 2010?
And do you know if Don is still building dulcimers like his grandfather's? I'd love to get one if he still is making them as it would be perfect for bluegrass and old time sessions for the key of G, when played in his old family style with noter and quill
I'm sure you know that my personal playing interest is in playing gigs and sessions using trad styles - basically because they sound so great
Thanks again for the info. The sbject of dulcimer set-up facinates me. There seems to be so little info around on exactly what strings and tunings early players used - yet it makes such a massive difference to the sound of these instruments. It is fantastic that Don is carrying on the tradition of his grandfather and father. I hope that someone does a really in-depth interview with Don at some point soon to collect as much as possible of the priceless history he is carrying!