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 Post subject: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2012 1:05 pm 
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Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Yes, I know I was just in here asking about Ukes.

I totally bought a lovely soprano uke, learned to play a few songs and also pick it up every day or so to strum at it, or fingerpick some nice sounds.

However, here in Alaska we receive something called a 'dividend' from the state. This year it's $800 and half of it has to go to bills and such but I'll have about $400 for a fancy new instrument!

I considered going with a banjo or guitar, but the thing is I've been smitten with the hammered dulcimer and mountain dulcimer lately. It's completely different than the string instruments I'm used to, which are violion, guitar and (now) uke. The mountain dulcimer also happens to sound awesome! I think I would like to start learning this amazing instrument.

First, does anyone here play? Second, what's a good place to look at purchasing a good quality instrument? Third, given the choice would you go dulcimer or banjo?(That ones just plain curiosity, I'd like to know what most people here would do.)

:)

Oh, fourthly. Is it difficult to get started with? I am pretty good at tuning and restringing so I think I can just jump right in. I see there are frets and you can, or have to?, use a pick. I'm pretty familiar with all these things so with that in mind is it difficult to get a few simple songs down for the dulcimer?

Sorry it's so long. I'm very curious here and I am absolutely in love with traditional instruments now. I used to know only a few things about musical instruments and I've learned so much and it's all thanks to the tin whistle and Chiff and Fipple!

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2012 1:50 pm 
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Hi! Yes, there are a number of mountain dulcimer (MD) players here, but you'll also find a very active community at everythingdulcimer.com. I enjoy the instrument but must admit it's one of my minor ones. It's very simple to start with, yet can supply a lifetime of challenge for the avid player. Once you get into the advanced techniques there is some stunningly beautiful music to make!

I also play banjo; four and five strings. It's not a case of either/or. They're all wonderful instruments. Get the next one with your next refund. Collect them all!

Not being a very serious student of the MD, I get a lot of use from a standard McSpadden dulcimer. They're a very popular, affordable brand for beginners to advanced students and within your budget. Well made and highly recommended.

There are several playing techniques. Some include picks, others are finger style. For all the simplicity of the MD there are a great many ways to play it. A whole study can be made on just the different ways to tune the instrument.

Here's my favorite:
http://www.mcspaddendulcimers.com/Produ ... tCode=4099

Go ahead and get one, you'll have a blast! Do be careful not to waste money on junk, but you can get something very nice for $400.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2012 2:15 pm 
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Thanks for the reply Tim!

Great information. I was looking at the same dulcimers you suggested! Indeed within my price range. As I'm looking I may try to set aside $500 for some of the extras. A nicer case, some books, picks, extra strings...the good stuff!

I am a lover of the string instruments and you're right, I can continue to collect many different types as I go! I am looking for something versatile that I can spend some serious time on for the next year or so. I used to be really into the electric guitar but have since enjoyed acoustic sounds much more. I could get an acoustic guitar but, since I'm learning so much about traditional instruments, I may as well collect the most interesting ones first. ;)

I did enjoy the ukulele, but have found that much of it's charm comes from the singer. I am not so great at the singing and prefer to listen to my instrument as I work out all the different sounds it can make. While I've gotten some interesting sounds out of the ukulele I've found many tabs and songs for it are better when you're playing as well as singing. Perhaps it's just my lack of ability though.

I'm excited for a brand new instrument, as usual. :) I should be getting ready to order one around October 12th.

I feel like messing around with so many different instruments is giving me a new appreciation for all types of playing and sounds. Someday I might actually be good at one of these many instruments I own! :P

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2012 2:24 pm 
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Well, I'm sure you'll have lots of fun and get your money's worth with a McSpadden. They really are a highly respected brand for folks like you me. I don't recommend going for all the extras first off. I did that and honestly, I still haven't reached the point of using the capo or all the alternate tunings yet. The case it comes with is pretty nice. Unless you're going to travel a lot with it (like flying on an airplane) I'd recommend going for some of the other upgrades first, like the ebony fingerboard. That really improves the playability for me. The most important accessory I've found is the special anti-slip pad that you place on your lap. It keeps the MD steady.

You'll have to decide the right style for you. The flat headstock style uses guitar-type tuners that are a lot easier to get tuned perfectly while the scroll style uses banjo-type tuners that are less precise but much faster to move between tunings. Most serious players end up with several instruments of course.

You and I are a lot alike. I've messed around with nearly 50 instruments in my life. While I've only gotten fairly good on a couple, I don't regret a minute of time I spent with all the others. The exploration is an important part of music for me.

Good luck with it and have fun!!

P.S. An other instrument to add to your life-list is the bowed psaltery. I think you'd get a real kick out of it! Look that one up here: http://psalterystrings.ning.com/forum

P.P.S. The quote in your signature is attributed to Buddha.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2012 3:42 pm 
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Dulcimer? Banjo? How about a hybrid?

http://www.ezfolk.com/dulcijo/index.html


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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2012 4:09 pm 
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As Garcia said to Grisman, that's the most annoying instrument ever. Why does the banjo think it has to jump the fence and breed with everything it sees?

Seriously, if you get the urge to try the banjo sound, get one of these. The most fun instrument ever invented. You can't even pick it up without laughing! Combines your ukulele experience with a great banjo sound. I have one and it's my all-time favorite!! A stunningly good value to boot.

http://www.goldtone.com/products/detail ... -Banjo-Uke

Generally available under $400. Honestly, if I had to choose between the mountain dulcimer and this, I would take this every day. It's sooooo much fun you'll give up sex.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2012 2:26 pm 
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Well now that I've been investigating I'm still torn between the banjo and the dulcimer.

I guess I'm being a wimp because around here the banjo has a bad reputation for being a redneck instrument. When I say I want to start playing the question I get the most is "Why?" but when I tell people I want to pick up a dulcimer or something like that people say things like "That's really interesting!" or "That sounds nice, I bet you'll be good at it."

People can't fathom why the banjo might be interesting or fun to play. :( I feel like it'd be sad if I got really good at an instrument people look down on.

But then I think it doesn't matter and I should do what I want! I am torn. We do have some bluegrass folks hiding out, and traditional instrument players around town. I just have to find them.

Would $400 be a good price range for a nice banjo?

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2012 3:00 pm 
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$400 will buy a decent but stripped down entry level banjo. It's better to have the money in quality construction than decoration, and banjos are known for excessive decoration. It's easy to be attracted to a fancy instrument that plays like a dog. Stay with something plain looking but solid. I recommend the Gold Tone line to everyone I meet. I have three of their instruments and all are excellent quality for the price. If you don't know anything about them, I strongly suggest you buy a new one. The used market, especially for banjos, is no place for a newbie. I can't tell you how many guys I've met who found 'bargains' on the Net and then spent three times more to get them fixed and working. And it doesn't sound like you've got a lot of banjo experts in your area to help you.

On the other hand, $400 will buy a top-end dulcimer. Not the finest professional instrument, but a really nice one. And that's really important. Since you'll probably end up with a collection of instruments in a few years, I strongly recommend buying the best you can afford, no matter what it is. Cheap instruments of all sorts have a tendency to self-destruct when left unattended, and guys like you and me always have most of our instruments sitting around unplayed for fairly long times. I had a psaltery destroy itself while sitting in its case. A quality instrument not only sounds and plays better, but it lasts longer if you take reasonable care of it.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 2:39 pm 
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So are we in agreement that this would be a good deal?

http://www.mcspaddendulcimers.com/Produ ... tCode=3608

Also, have any of you ever needed any of the things listed as "Popular options with a standard dulcimer include: Bridge Compensation; Ebony Fretboard Overlay (Fretboard only on Scrolls) ; Squeakless Strings; Extra Frets; Pro Case Upgrade (foam core); Strap Buttons (Chrome, Black or Gold). "

I can see the strings being a good idea, possibly a better case? I doubt I'll be needing the bridge compensation, what about extra frets? I am not sure about the strap buttons.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 3:02 pm 
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Personally, I'd pass on the extra frets for now. It already has the 6.5 and 13.5 that are standard, and extra frets can be added later if you get to that point. Besides, you have to know which extra frets you want, and that might take a while to figure out (it depends on the music you're playing).

Bridge compensation is only really needed if you're going to dedicate the instrument to dad tuning (lots of players carry two dulcimers when they do that so that their intonation in dad is perfect. That way they have their daa and dad already tuned up).

What they call squeak-less strings are just flat wound guitar strings anyway, so you can always experiment with that on your own. Dulcimer strings are dirt cheap.

Strap buttons can be handy and you might be better off letting them install them. If you crack the wood putting them on yourself you're out of luck.

I'm not impressed with their case upgrade. Personally, if I wanted a better case I'd get a TKL hard case. That foam core case isn't really a hard shell case, and it adds $25 just to the shipping charge. Should the day come when you own separate daa and dad instruments you might want to have a double-case to carry them both together.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 3:11 pm 
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Awesome, thanks for the advice! I will see if they will attach the strap buttons for me and I'll order a hardshell case, and then I'll play with a few different brands of dulcimer strings.

Is there anything else you'd absolutely recommend beginning with, to make life easier? Where's a good place to purchase a dulcimer strap and hardshell case?

Also, I know you can use a pick but is fingerpicking awkward? Do you simply get used to it? I prefer fingerpicking and strumming, but I have used picks and don't mind them.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 4:18 pm 
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Definitely get a wrist rest if you want to fingerpick. It's practically a necessity:

http://www.mcspaddendulcimers.com/searc ... asp?cat=52

Here's a typical hard shell case. Check your dimensions carefully before ordering, and shop around for a better price. I've seen them around $80. This is just the first one that came up. It's just to show you what they look like. You'll need to find the right one to fit correctly:

http://www.amazon.com/Deluxe-Hardshell- ... B000Q55GC6

Seriously, I'd wait on the case at first. The one it comes with is pretty nice.

I don't use a strap, but all you need is a long guitar strap. The strap goes around your back at waist level while sitting. Size depends on how you like to hold the instrument. You might not really need one, but a lot of players use them. Try playing first and see what you really need. I prefer a non-slip pad to a strap. Just look in the accessory section at McSpadden for all this stuff.

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 12:29 pm 
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Thank you again for the incredibly helpful advice! I am excited now to get started.

It seems like it will bide my time well until next year. Until then I will play my ukulele and tin whistles. It's time I learn another song on the whistle anyways. So far I can only play the Lord of the Rings Shire song and Marie's Wedding.

Oh, and half of King of the Fairies. ;)

I am quite excited and I'm going to spend a few weeks listening to different types of music played on the dulcimer to get a good feel for it. Thanks again for all the advice. I will start out with the dulcimer you recommended, ebony fretboard, wrist rest, a songbook...and a few different string brands. I think that should be enough to get me started. Oh, I might try the non-slip pad before the strap.

Are there any songs you absolutely love playing when you play the dulcimer?

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 1:14 pm 
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Your welcome, and good luck! I'm really surprised that more folks didn't chime in here. I know there are several players on C&F.

One thing that's a kick with the MD is that its fretboard replicates the whistle and flute in D. The 6.5 and 13.5 frets act as the C natural on the D whistle (which is what allows the whistle to play diatonic scales in D and G). The mountain dulcimer has all the notes of the whistle! So any of your favorite whistle tunes can be done on a MD, albeit probably at a slower tempo. The slow airs are fun to start with. I can play "I'll Tell Me Ma" at full speed, so I guess that's my favorite MD tune for now.

Anyway, good luck and have fun! Once you get it let us know, and don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

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 Post subject: Re: Mountain Dulcimer?
PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:43 pm 
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Sorry if this is complicating your whole deal, but given the choice between dulcimer and banjo I say go MANDOLIN. :)

I'm a longtime guitar player and I really enjoy playing the mandolin now. You can get a great A-style mandolin for $400....a little more if you want the fancy-looking F-style. If you have no idea what I'm talking about check out www.mandolincafe.com....most here will tell you it is the C&F of mandolins and other stringed folk instruments, great community.

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