News for 2020 April 20, 2020
New Website: Since I much prefer being in the shop to being in front of a computer, and with the retirement of the wonderful Roberta McClimens, updates to my website have been delayed. We will update, but we’ll never match Roberta’s elegance.
Used Instruments: Although I still have a backlog of about a year for building new instruments, I also do have some of my used instruments for sale, some of them older demo models. All have been checked out, and are in good shape. Some I have even re-strung. They already have cases, of course, and are thus ready to ship.
Carbon fiber. Still useful. The CF design I have used for some years, with laid-up back and sides like a competition kayak, produces a very durable instrument with a very nice sound . It’s more tuning stable than the all-wood instruments, especially if sealed inside. It is , however, significantly more work and expense, and the same weight or even more. For some wanting a smaller instrument like the Compact, reducing weight is a priority. For a long while it’s been pretty easy to build a light one with disappointing sound and unstable tuning. But changing the design ( most importantly to have a thinner layup of carbon fiber and a thicker core ) has fixed that. It also is simpler and so closer to the cost of a regular wood Compact. The sound is more open, so for those wanting a CF Compact with a more bell-like tone, I will still build the older design. But for those wanting to shave weight, I recommend the new LCF Compact. I will be trying a similar approach with the CF Extended Range this year, as I keep encountering players burdened with very heavy wide-range instruments.
Last summer I made a LCF Compact with not only CF reinforced body but a CF laminate soundboard. Then I tuned it, loaded it into the VW camper and hauled it to Evart MI for the Funfest, where it sat out in swamplike conditions for several days. I didn’t tune it once, and though a couple of unisons in the low treble were very slightly out, by Day 3, it still really didn’t need tuning. The sound was ( as expected) a little bright, but still pretty good. I'm not going to make them all this way for now ( it added a little weight) , but it remains a possibility....
The Forte will stay the same for now. With a longer scale, it’s got more dynamic range than the Compact.. It’s also pretty tuning stable, because a longer string length will be less affected by humidity as well, so the longer-scale Forte, even though it’s made of wood, will stay in tune better than a wood Compact. And as it changes pretty slowly, for doing a gig a Forte will stay tuned as well as a sealed carbon-fiber instrument.
Carbon fiber hammers. Sam Rizzetta started using flexible-shaft hammers some years back. They often will improve the sound of an instrument, reducing the brittle attack that comes from using light hard wooden ones, and they are also a little easier to handle- if you tend to either grip your hammers too hard or drop them completely, they can really change your game. Making the shanks out of carbon fiber was the best for precisely controlling flex. I am making them in three stiffnesses: #0 ( flexible) #1 ( medium) and #2 (stiff). If you tried playing them years ago and liked them then, #0 is probably what you used. If you’re a heavy hitter, #2 will hold up against your dynamic energy. For everyone else, try #1.
There are also people who have a hard time gripping any kind of hammer, have arthritis, wrist or hand problems. Sam’s designed some ergonomic hammers that work quite well. With a grip similar to hackbrett hammers, they essentially clip into the hand between the fingers and require little bending of the wrist. If you can manipulate your hammers without pain, you don’t need these. But if you have been close to giving up playing at all, these may help. There’s one stiffness- they need to be pretty flexible to work the way they should. Sam has posted a video clip of how they function.
Jonathan Weinberg, a good player, sadly passed away just recently. He was a meticulous engineer, and did a series of experiments with placement of piezo tape sensors and put up a few pages with useful information on pickups here (http://www.jonweinberg.com/music/Amplifying_Dulcimer.pdf) . As of right now, the pages are still up. I hope they will be for a while longer.
Jon noted that one designer, Mi-Si, now is also making pickup systems that use supercapacitors instead of batteries. They don’t utilize the piezo sensors needed for hammered dulcimers, but it’s an intriguing technology, and so I am testing only the preamp portion with HD sensors. While 9 v. batteries are common and I have designed my own systems in part to extend battery life, having a rechargeable system is a pleasant idea , so I am also experimenting with a Li-Ion rechargeable system. It can use any phone charger, and one charge would give many more hours of playing than could be gotten from a supercapacitor.
Tropical Wood and CITES. Instrument makers have been dealing for some time with the world restrictions on rare and endangered woods and natural products. Few of us would ever contemplate using ivory or tortoise shell, most of us know about banned Brazilian rosewood. I have never built anything with those materials. But recently, because of a large expansion of the Chinese demand for rosewood furniture, the list was expanded to cover all members of the Dalbergia genus. For most everything other than Brazilian rosewood- Honduran rosewood, Bubinga, African blackwood- the restrictions are for heavy objects of more than 22 kilos. Some of my instruments have been built with Honduran Rosewood, Bolivian Rosewood, and Bubinga. Used only for bridges and frame overlay, there’s no more than a kilo or two of such wood in a hammered dulcimer. HOWEVER, if anyone has one of my instruments that has some tropical wood in it and is worried about difficulties carrying it across a border, let me know. I can supply a statement as to what wood is in the instrument and when it was made, and usually can supply a photo ( though not of all my older instruments). That should be enough to get it past customs.
While I still have a pretty good stock of Bubinga, the others I have used, Honduran Rosewood and Bolivian Rosewood, have greatly increased in price and, generally, dropped in quality. I have had to add a surcharge to instruments that use them, because of the significantly greater expense compared to other woods.
International Sales have been a challenge in the past, as the US banking system does not splice into any other. IBAN and SWIFT transfers do not work here. I have recently gotten a TransferWise account, and find it works much better- and cheaper- than the alternatives.
Although most of my orders are for hammered dulcimers, I’ve posted some photos of salterios, scheitholts and a recent tambour de Béarn.