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PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 11:58 am 
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Greetings!

So, I cam across this dulcimer recently and hope that perhaps a maker or knowledgeable player can help with some questions!

First, of course, if anyone can tell by looking who made it, I'd be grateful to learn that much!

As it is, its seems mostly finished. It's a three string instrument with nicely carved scroll, handmade tuning pegs, hollow & fretless fingerboard, transverse bars on the back (one in the upper bout, one in the lower), nicely carved and indented sound holes, inlaid purfling and a very curious cut-out design at the lower end of the instrument.

Obviously, it needs a nut and either one or two end plates where the hitch pins will be inserted.

The nut up at the scroll end is easy enough to sort out. But down at the lower end, the top of the instrument has been deliberately cut in such a way and has not been glued to the block in such a way that the fingerboard and instrument top can be (slightly) lifted and depressed.

My main questions are:

What is the purpose of this design?
Where should the hitch pins be attached? On the end of the fingerboard, or on the block that the body is attached to.

I'm wondering if this is some kind of "buzzing bridge" like arrangement that one finds on hurdy-gurdies.

There are no maker's marks or labels of any kind. It appears to be extremely well crafted and fitted together. I'd really like to get this working properly, and it's obviously more of a job than just nailing a couple old fiddle strings on there!

Thanks in advance for any help!

Picture 1 shows how the cut-out part of the top of the instrument is definitely not glued to the block.
Picture 2 shows a detail of the scroll and pegs, hopefully for identification!
Picture 3 shows a broad view of the cut-out in the lower bout.

Image

Image

Image

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:09 pm 
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You might have better luck here - https://fotmd.com/forums/forum

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:16 pm 
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fatmac wrote:
You might have better luck here - https://fotmd.com/forums/forum


Cool, thanks fatmac!

Will post there as well, but I figured the universe spanning powerhouse that is ChiffCo Galactic Enterprises would be a good place to start!

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 2:27 pm 
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This may have been made by a professional maker, or you may be in possession of one of the hundreds of dulcimers made by hobbiests in the 70s. I know I made a couple myself as did a number of my friends. Many of us were inspired by a series of books called Firefox that had chapters focusing on Appalachian folk arts (as well as cooking, gardening and canning if I remember correctly.) Dulcimers inspired many an amateur woodworker or day job carpenter to explore instrument making. I think I finally Goodwilled my instruments last year after carrying them from house to house for close to 40 years.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 2:37 pm 
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busterbill wrote:
Many of us were inspired by a series of books called Firefox that had chapters focusing on Appalachian folk arts (as well as cooking, gardening and canning if I remember correctly.)

Switch it around to "Foxfire" and you've got it right. I'm afraid the web browser has had more impact on the public imagination, by the look of things.

But yes, Foxfire rocked. I bought up the series myself, and remember it fondly. You could learn how to build and operate a still, put food by in Appalachian fashion, identify ramps (the wild vegetable), and lots more. The best part for me, though, was the interviews.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 4:11 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
busterbill wrote:
Many of us were inspired by a series of books called Firefox that had chapters focusing on Appalachian folk arts (as well as cooking, gardening and canning if I remember correctly.)

Switch it around to "Foxfire" and you've got it right. I'm afraid the web browser has had more impact on the public imagination, by the look of things.

But yes, Foxfire rocked. I bought up the series myself, and remember it fondly. You could learn how to build and operate a still, put food by in Appalachian fashion, identify ramps (the wild vegetable), and lots more. The best part for me, though, was the interviews.



Thank You! It was a loooonnnnngg time ago. :D


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 5:15 pm 
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Indeed it was.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 10:42 am 
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busterbill --- If you donated your dulcimers to Good Will, there's a good chance I at least had a look at them, as they usually put musical instruments online.

Anyway, I believe this was most likely made by a professional instrument maker. Or a pro-level woodworker at least. The craft work is exceptional: the cuts are precise, the scroll work and decorative work are perfect, the fiddly bits look every bit like you'd find in a well made violin or something.

Any way, courtesy of fatmac, I've learned from FOTMD that the odd design is called a floating bridge which was intended to enhance the instrument's tonal qualities. I've also learned that the hypothesis seems to be discredited.

All it needs is a couple bits of wood to finish, so I'm thinking this will make for a good project! (Among several others in varying states of progress!)

And yes, the Foxfire books were quite amazing!

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 12:13 pm 
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whistlecollector wrote:
Any way, courtesy of fatmac, I've learned from FOTMD that the odd design is called a floating bridge which was intended to enhance the instrument's tonal qualities. I've also learned that the hypothesis seems to be discredited.

I know next to zero about mountain dulcimers, so I'm unclear on this. In pic #1 I don't see a bridge as I understand the term, just the tail ends of the fingerboard and body. Is the tailblock (the tail end of the fingerboard) free-floating, then? I would think that sets up a risk for a future unwanted concave curvature of the fingerboard (due to string tension), depending on how the strings are anchored. Searching images, I see there are various locations chosen for that, from the body end (but the strings would hold down the tail block and defeat the purpose of it being free floating, I should imagine), to the tailblock end (this appears to be a common choice, but I've already voiced my concerns in this case), to the strings being anchored by pegs (in the manner of guitars) on the face of the fingerboard itself. Some people also appear to use metal tailpieces, not unlike as on a banjo or mandolin. You might have some important decisions to make when it comes to anchoring.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 7:07 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
I know next to zero about mountain dulcimers, so I'm unclear on this. In pic #1 I don't see a bridge as I understand the term, just the tail ends of the fingerboard and body.


Right, the bridge (and nut) are missing. Apparently never installed: there's no glue residue or anything.

Quote:
Is the tailblock (the tail end of the fingerboard) free-floating, then?


The whole lower three or four inches of the fingerboard is free floating. The tail block is not. The sides are glued to that as well as the corners of the top. Those gently curved lines ending in round holes mark the area of free float.

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I would think that sets up a risk for a future unwanted concave curvature of the fingerboard (due to string tension), depending on how the strings are anchored.


It's certainly a concern. From what I've read, though this isn't actually much of an issue, as the walls of the fingerboard would have to be compressed for there to be much of a curvature. Of course, it's never been strung, so I don't yet know how it would react.

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Searching images, I see there are various locations chosen for that, from the body end (but the strings would hold down the tail block and defeat the purpose of it being free floating, I should imagine), to the tailblock end (this appears to be a common choice, but I've already voiced my concerns in this case), to the strings being anchored by pegs (in the manner of guitars) on the face of the fingerboard itself. Some people also appear to use metal tailpieces, not unlike as on a banjo or mandolin. You might have some important decisions to make when it comes to anchoring.


My plan at present is to go hybrid.

I've got some nice little bits of wood out of which I plan to make three separate pieces: a bridge, a face plate for the tail block and a tab that can be inserted into the slot. I'll install six pins for the strings, three on the fingerboard itself and three on the face plate. That way I can experiment with both set-ups!

If it looks like the floating bridge is going to end up bending the fingerboard, I'll just use the other set of pins.

Another possibility I've read about is installing a nut that will close the gap and keep the bridge from floating. Would have to think about that one.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 7:52 pm 
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whistlecollector wrote:
The whole lower three or four inches of the fingerboard is free floating. The tail block is not. The sides are glued to that as well as the corners of the top. Those gently curved lines ending in round holes mark the area of free float.

I think I'm getting a better picture, now. So long as the tail block is fastened down, I'm willing to bet you have far less reason to worry about fingerboard stability than I originally wondered. I can't tell because of the angle, but is the lowermost part of the floating bridge unchamfered, and if so, is that conventionally where the bridge proper is supposed to go? Or is "floating bridge" just a figurative term independent of that, where the bridge proper would go on the glued section of the tail block instead?

On to the next question: In pic #2, I spy an undercut in the fingerboard, ending somewhat near the head piece. Any idea what that's about?

It's an interesting instrument, because even in my woefully superficial familiarity it has features I haven't usually seen or known of: the floating bridge for one; the undercutting of the fingerboard for another; and no iconic strum hollow, but a chamfered stretch on the fingerboard's corners instead. I've found enough visual examples to know that that form is not unknown, but it must also be fairly nonstandard; I don't recall ever having seen it before. It would certainly make for a stronger fingerboard, but I wonder if there are other reasons as well to favor that style of fingerboard.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:07 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
I think I'm getting a better picture, now. So long as the tail block is fastened down, I'm willing to bet you have far less reason to worry about fingerboard stability than I originally wondered. I can't tell because of the angle, but is the lowermost part of the floating bridge unchamfered, and if so, is that conventionally where the bridge proper is supposed to go? Or is "floating bridge" just a figurative term independent of that, where the bridge proper would go on the glued section of the tail block instead?


No chamfering. Yes, the bridge will be glued to the end of the fingerboard --- the "uppermost" block of light coloured wood. A separate decorative plate will be glued to the tail block, the "lower" block of light coloured wood.

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On to the next question: In pic #2, I spy an undercut in the fingerboard, ending somewhat near the head piece. Any idea what that's about?


A very interesting design indeed! It's very difficult to get a good camera angle down into here.

The fingerboard is not a solid block of wood as you find on most newer dulcimers. It's hollowed out with like a channel beam with carved arcades all along the sides. Looks like a masonry railway bridge. The top of the instrument is not a single piece of wood either. Running parallel to the fingerboard is a 3/4 inch or so gap with occasional spanners bridging across. In form, it's essentially a scheitholt glued into a dulcimer --- box on box --- which I'm guessing was intended to increase the volume.

Quote:
It's an interesting instrument, because even in my woefully superficial familiarity it has features I haven't usually seen or known of: the floating bridge for one; the undercutting of the fingerboard for another; and no iconic strum hollow, but a chamfered stretch on the fingerboard's corners instead. I've found enough visual examples to know that that form is not unknown, but it must also be fairly nonstandard; I don't recall ever having seen it before. It would certainly make for a stronger fingerboard, but I wonder if there are other reasons as well to favor that style of fingerboard.


Right: no strum hollow. However, there are slight chamfers about four inches long where the strumming hollow would be. As I understand it, old dulcimers (and perhaps scheitholts, too) were played with a rapid back-and-forth motion with a plectrum. I don't think they had strum hollows.

The older instruments (scheitholt, etc) didn't have strum hollows, and old dulcimers didn't either, from what I've gathered. What I think this is is a modern recreation based on an extremely early dulcimer, which I've seen described as a "scheitholt mounted on a soundbox". Makes sense given the design. Such instruments have been called "transitional" dulcimers.

Other interesting features are the lack of frets (I've never seen a fretless dulcimer); and a slightly arched back. Though I'm not entirely convinced that was intentional. Also, the friction tuning pegs. Some makers do indeed use this type of tuning peg, but almost everyone uses guitar tuners.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 12:10 pm 
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whistlecollector wrote:
Other interesting features are the lack of frets ...

Along with the missing bridge and nut, I would chalk that up to it being unfinished.

The more you reveal, the more complex this instrument's construction seems to be! Had to look up Scheitholt, too.

whistlecollector wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
I think I'm getting a better picture, now. So long as the tail block is fastened down, I'm willing to bet you have far less reason to worry about fingerboard stability than I originally wondered. I can't tell because of the angle, but is the lowermost part of the floating bridge unchamfered, and if so, is that conventionally where the bridge proper is supposed to go? Or is "floating bridge" just a figurative term independent of that, where the bridge proper would go on the glued section of the tail block instead?

No chamfering. Yes, the bridge will be glued to the end of the fingerboard --- the "uppermost" block of light coloured wood. A separate decorative plate will be glued to the tail block, the "lower" block of light coloured wood.

I think we're having communication issues. I'm not sure of what you just described, but in the end it's all good.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 8:14 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
whistlecollector wrote:
Other interesting features are the lack of frets ...

Along with the missing bridge and nut, I would chalk that up to it being unfinished.


I considered that. I agree it's very possible that frets were supposed to be installed, though I do wonder if this weren't intended to be fretless. There are no markings of any kind to indicate where frets are supposed to go. I can't imagine gluing this whole rather delicate thing together only to attack it later with a saw and bang on it with a hammer. :shock:

Suffice to say, I shall not be installing any frets of any kind! :D

Quote:
The more you reveal, the more complex this instrument's construction seems to be! Had to look up Scheitholt, too.


I'll try to get some better pictures as the project progresses. I think you'll be interested in the insides as much as the outsides, and how this whole scheitholt on a soundbox thing fits together. That should whisk away any communications issues too!

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