hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

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hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby abbj2002 » Sat Feb 11, 2012 12:33 pm

I am wanting to know the pros and cons of various dulcimer brands?

what you do and don't like about them.

thank you ABBJ2002
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby mrchips » Sat Feb 11, 2012 6:48 pm

In what way? ANY of the well known makers make excellent high quality ones and many will go way beyond many would think reasonable to solve a problem if one develops. Just about any of these will last a lifetime or 2 with eeven less than reasonable care.

Outside of looks the main issue is the sound you like. They all sound a bit different, even 2 from the same builder depending to a large degree on the wood used but there are other factors. After all its the sound you are after when all is said and done.

Generally you should stay within your budget, but there are valid exceptions to their rule.

If you can play one you should bang around on as many as you can get at before buying one. If you cant then listen closely while someone is playing ot.Don't overlook ones from guys that may make only 3 or 4 a year either but carefully eyeball these as to construction and overall workmanship. Most are every bit as good as the well known builder make.

The only ones I will defiantly and firmly say to avoid are the ones usually called "American Hammer dulcimer" on the net and epically Ebay. These are imported and are not even fit for good firewood. The workmanship looks like something out of 6th grade wood shop after one week. What is said to be finish is worse that what comes out of my sprayer when I dump in some thinner to flush it out. To be fair you CAN find a lot of good used ones made by the major makers on Ebay at good prices. If you find one get on here for opinions on it.
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby cboody » Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:43 am

This question often gets asked. It is really not possible to answer, because different makers have different concepts of sound. A Rick Thum and a Masterworks, for example, have very different sustain rates, and different basic tone qualities. A Webster and a Rizzetta are very different tone qualities and different from the first two brands mentioned. If the OP is looking for "this is the best" s/he just isn't going to get an answer.

And, even classifying the sounds of various makers instruments would vary with the listener. As already mentioned any of the major makers makes a good instrument. From there on you need to know what you want and how much you want to spend. Avoiding the imported knockoffs on eBay is important, but beyond that it is difficult if not impossible to say much that would be generally agreed to.
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby BillB » Sun Feb 12, 2012 10:42 am

Mr. Chips and CBroody are right on target there is no answer for your question.

There is no defined solid gold, gleaming platinum standard established by anyone anywhere for what a hammered dulcimer must sound or look like. Thank goodness, because the chance that a supposed standard would match what you want to hear and see is pretty slim.

A couple of years ago I visited a North Carolina shop that carried hammered dulcimers made by several well known craftsmen including the shop owner himself. I was traveling through with four other very skilled dulcimer players. With permission we spent a bit of time tuning up a variety of instruments and tried them out. Our jamming even brought in a few extra customers to the shop. Before we left I asked my companions to vote. If they were going to purchase an instrument right now from this selection which would they choose and why. Everyone choose different instruments only two chose instruments crafted by the same maker. The reasons for choosing or passing were all over the board and even contradictory concerning the same instrument. One said a particular instrument had too much of something another friend said it had too little. All but one said they had found an instrument that liked, but they did say that they would want to try it out again tomorrow.

As you research the various makers of hammered dulcimers in the US you will find that there are no dulcimer factories that stamp them out. stuff them in cardboard boxes and ship them out by the hundreds or more a day. Even the largest and most well known aren't all that large and are guided personally by a hands on owner/craftsman. It is a different world than the one you might find in a typical shopping mall guitar center. With little effort you can have a conversation with the individual who will design and build or directly supervise the building of your personal instrument. Even if you purchase one from their stock, you can be assured that you can speak with the person who knows every facet of your instrument.

Building and marketing hammered dulcimers is a very personal business. If you travel to a variety of dulcimer gatherings, especially the major ones, you can meet many of the builders face to face, borrow an instrument and sit down and jam with them. If you're a beginner, no matter, they will give you pointers and help you get started. Sucessful builders continue in business because they have a reputation for quality and service. You will find that if your instrument should develop a problem that the builder will be among the first to offer assistance. You will find that with almost no effort at all that the builder of your instrument can become a good friend. That's just the kind of folk they are. (There’s a Pro… You will enjoy meeting and knowing the folk who built your instrument.)

The best instrument in the country, probably the whole world, the one with the most pro's and no con's at all is the one you like because of how it sounds and looks to you. The standard is you.

That all being said... Avoid getting in a rush, listen to as many different instruments as possible, visit with several builders personally or by telephone. If you can, make a trip to a well stocked dulcimer shop. With the coming of spring, music festivals, workshops, etc. that feature or include hammer dulcimer will be starting up. Is there a club in your area? Go, watch, listen, meet people and try out instruments. You can ask just about anyone if you can try out their instrument even if it's not for sale. We are a friendly bunch. After a bit of this you will be able to narrow down your personal list of pro's and con's. Your list will likely be unique to you.

I will second Mr. Chips and repeat stay away from the ultra cheap stuff that arrives from who knows where usually labeled “American Hammered Dulcimer”. I have never heard a good report concerning these knock off instruments that look like hammered dulcimers. Little joy, lots of tuning problems, dead sound, sticky tacky finish, glue failures, builder you can’t find and most likely wouldn‘t really want to… Warranty or customer service? (You’re kidding aren’t you?) Other than those problems, if you strip off all that pesky wire and stuff then Mr. Chips might be wrong. They might actually, at least, make good kindling to start a fire.

Good luck, but also caution... Our hammered dulcimers are addictive. I just have to hear the sound of mine everyday. You will find that it can be easy to learn and enjoy, but will require a persistent lifetime to master. Enjoy it all. Jump in and lets jam a bit together.

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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby mrchips » Sun Feb 12, 2012 10:19 pm

If you define a factory by the number of things they get out the door, there is one in the hammer dulcimer wold that could qualify for "factory" ,Its Masterworks. Russel's crew makes upwards of a couple thousand a year and Russel wont ship a single one unless he has banged around on it himself for a bit... Great guy and a great HD but I personally dont care for the sound of his. But if i was buying solely by reputation, it it would be one of Russel's hands down.
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby abbj2002 » Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:09 am

Thank you all for your reponses.

I know its an individual matter of what your prefer.

I am looking for good sound quality., lower end on the sustain,

Have considered, james jones ( love the sound of his instruments) Cloud nine, sounds like of tingy.

Dont want a real heavy one., cromatic, I own a songbird, ( it sounds kind of dead though).

any preference on Rick thum> james jones< davids dulcimers, (master works = to long sustain for me)

thanks for reading and responding. I dont really live in an area where i can go try out various dulcimers.

that would be ideal. 2 days from everts dulcimer festival. :( . so i was hoping to get imput on dulcimer brands.

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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby halfpint » Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:36 pm

abbj2002 wrote:I am looking for good sound quality., lower end on the sustain,

(master works = to long sustain for me)

thanks for reading and responding. I dont really live in an area where i can go try out various dulcimers.

that would be ideal. 2 days from everts dulcimer festival. :( . so i was hoping to get imput on dulcimer brands.

abbj2002

I have a JRS which has a sustain similar to the Masterworks, so you probably wouldn't like it either. You also might try looking at Nic Blanton Dulcimers.
Since you are so far from Evart, are there any other dulcimer clubs or festivals near you? There are many spring festivals all over the US, so there might be one within a reasonable distance of you, and I've always found HD players willing to show you their instruments.

Dawn
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby Sarah » Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:26 am

I think the lowest-sustain dulcimer I've personally heard was a Rick Thum. Sorry, I don't know what model it was (maybe Professional??). You'd have to research; I think I remember hearing that he sold at least some of his designs to Jake's Dulcimers (someone please correct me if I'm wrong) so I don't know if they're even all called "Rick Thum" dulcimers anymore. Rick plays old-time music and his dulcimers are great for that: not too muddy to play fast, and plenty of volume when you want it.

I play James Jones dulcimers and have found that my dulcimers (the models are a 3/16/18/9 Custom Chromatic and a 3/16/15/8 Travel Chromatic, both with 7/8" string spacing) have less sustain than most other dulcimers I've encountered, apart from that Rick Thum I mentioned.

Good luck in your search!

Sarah
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby BillB » Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:55 pm

[quote="mrchips"]If you define a factory by the number of things they get out the door, there is one in the hammer dulcimer wold that could qualify for "factory" ,Its Masterworks. Russel's crew makes upwards of a couple thousand a year ..."

I'll stick with my statement that there isn't a hammer dulcimer factory in the US. I have known Russell Cook (Master Works) for 30 years so I just gave him a call and asked him if he and his crew make upwards of a couple thousand a year. He answered "No" and wondered where in the world he might market that number of instruments. His serial numbers for hammered dulcimers are now just over 9,000. This is after 30 plus years of making instruments. That works out to something like 300 a year. His current hammer dulcimer production is less than 300 a year. Half of the 300 are the entry level "Pioneer" packaged instruments, the rest are more advanced instruments including the Russell Cook edition.

Russell's crew includes 6 craftsmen some of whom have worked with Russell for years and years. They do use a variety of power tools that would be found in an average woodshop. There is no automation. Nothing is computer or CNC driven. Each fabrication task is completed hands on one at a time. Craftsmen follow your instrument from task to task. An individual’s hands and skill are involved in every aspect of your instrument.

Another generalization I hear too often is that Master Works instruments have more sustain than others. Experienced and skilled builders can build an instrument with the sustain level you desire. This certainly includes Master Works and Russell Cook. If you desire a low sustain instrument telephone Russell and discuss what you want with him. Ninety percent of sustain is managed by the design and material used in the bridges and the bridge caps. Russell can create a dry, low sustain, dance band style of instrument by adjusting these elements. About half of the Russell Cook edition instruments go out with this configuration. If your current Master Works instrument does not have the sustain level you desire, too much or too little, give Russell a call. The bridges and caps can be modified to meet your needs. This is not a cost prohibitive modification.

Russell is currently prototype testing a dance band edition. It is a dry, low sustain, loud, punchy instrument. It is designed for performers who play as part of an acoustic dance or stage band. The Master Works dance band edition will be available soon.

Another way to manage sustain is through the use of dampers. They add a whole new set of voices and musical possibilities. Don't think in terms of dampers being all on or all off. Use them like a drummers high hat cymbal. Use light pressure, full down, stopped note or phrase, full off, etc. With only moderate practice you can create a great variety of effects. Our band doesn't have a problem with dulcimers with sustain just dulcimers without dampers.

You may also consider that low sustain instruments are often encouraged by some professional performers and teachers who have the ability to play a gazillion notes a minute and enjoy playing the body of music that requires that skill and a low sustain instrument to go along with it. Most of us don't run in that pack and a more lyrical, full bodied instrument is more satisfying and fits the body of music we actually play.


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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby abbj2002 » Tue Feb 14, 2012 10:09 pm

thank you for your responses,

i think i like the sound wieght, of the james jones. 3/16/15/ small travel cromatic.

I would like to ask sarah of the 2 james jones she has. which one do you play more/

I am talking about in a jam.

thanks again for all your support and advice.

abbj2002
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby cboody » Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:53 am

Sarah wrote:I think the lowest-sustain dulcimer I've personally heard was a Rick Thum. Sorry, I don't know what model it was (maybe Professional??). You'd have to research; I think I remember hearing that he sold at least some of his designs to Jake's Dulcimers (someone please correct me if I'm wrong) so I don't know if they're even all called "Rick Thum" dulcimers anymore. Rick plays old-time music and his dulcimers are great for that: not too muddy to play fast, and plenty of volume when you want it.

I play James Jones dulcimers and have found that my dulcimers (the models are a 3/16/18/9 Custom Chromatic and a 3/16/15/8 Travel Chromatic, both with 7/8" string spacing) have less sustain than most other dulcimers I've encountered, apart from that Rick Thum I mentioned.
Sarah


I can second what Sarah says about the Rick Thum. It is the Professional (the only one he still makes) that the lack of sustain is most easily heard with. I played his own instrument in a jam one night, and it was a joy for the fiddle tunes, but not what I would enjoy for the slower stuff. I can't speak about the James Jones sustain. I've played a few of them, but not noticed the sustain issue. For some reason I have not warmed to the sound. But, I think that was because of the way the players I've heard chose to play the instrument more than the instrument itself. Choice of hammers and also hammering style...
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Re: hammer dulcimer pro and cons on Brands

Postby Sarah » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:09 pm

abbj2002 wrote:
I would like to ask sarah of the 2 james jones she has. which one do you play more/

I am talking about in a jam.


I play the smaller dulcimer (3/16/15/8 Travel Chromatic) almost all the time now, in jams, for contra dances, and at festivals. The physically smaller size is more easily transportable and takes up less room on stage. It has a little less sustain, a little more volume, and a little more punch than the 3/16/18/9, so I prefer it for the fast dance music that I usually play. The bigger dulcimer has better tone at the bottom of the treble bridge, but I find the tone on my travel dulcimer satisfactory. I don't think I'd notice anything less than perfect about it if I hadn't done a side-by-side comparison with my bigger dulcimer. (Karen Ashbrook tried my dulcimer at a festival and said she'd recommend it to her students; Dan Landrum also tried it at the same festival a different year and liked it.) I think the James Jones 3/16/15/8 Travel Chromatic does very well at what it aspires to: pack a large number of notes in a very small, light package with a decent tone quality. The bigger dulcimer has 4 more notes, and I miss two of them, but not enough to haul the big one around all the time.

I do notice that both my James Jones dulcimers are quieter than many dulcimers. People who've only heard ME play HD (I'm the only HD player in a couple hundred miles, or at least the only one who plays in public) are baffled by the idea that hammered dulcimers are loud and drown other instruments out in a jam. If you want to be heard without amplification in a large jam, get the Rick Thum, not the James Jones. If you're going to be amplified for performing, or play in small jams, or are happy NOT being heard in a large jam (which can be very freeing at times ;) ) then the James Jones is a good choice.

It can't be repeated too often: instrument choice is a very personal preference. I'm happy with my dulcimer and it fits into our band (we amplify), but there are lots of players who wouldn't like my dulcimer -- and I might not like theirs.

---------------
cboody wrote:For some reason I have not warmed to the sound [of James Jones dulcimers]. I think that was because of the way the players I've heard chose to play the instrument more than the instrument itself. Choice of hammers and also hammering style...


Chuck, was that a veiled way of saying you don't like the way I play? Way to break a girl's heart, and posted on Valentine's Day, no less! No matter, I'll just slink off and cry a bit.

(Just joking; I'm not hurt. :lol: And I admit, I like to play with the hard wood side of my hammers more than many people do, because I like a percussive, bright sound. If I wanted to play something that sounded like a piano, I'd play a piano.)
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