News for 2023 January 2023
This year will be the 40th anniversary of my starting to build instruments full-time. Even though Trapezoid Instruments did not last long, I am happy to say that some of the original sweet-sounding Grandes and Chromatics made by us are still being played.
Used Instruments: Although I still have a backlog of about a year for building new instruments, I also do sometimes have a couple of used ones for sale. At present, there are also three of Sam Rizzetta's fretted dulcimers available, wonderfully warm, articulate instruments. You can check them out at samrizzetta.com, or come by to hear them in my shop.
Carbon fiber. The CF design Sam and I I used for some years, with laid-up back and sides like a competition kayak, produced a very durable instrument with a very nice sound . It was more tuning stable than the all-wood instruments, especially if sealed inside. It was , however, significantly more work and expense, and had the same weight.
For some wanting an instrument, reduced weight is a real priority. It was 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 ro build, and so closer to the cost of a regular wood Compact. For those wanting to pare ounces, I recommend the new LCF Compact, which is about ten pounds. I have also built LCF versions of the Forte and Extended Range, with similar results: with wood soundboards, they have lighter weight, great tone, very good tuning stability. Using CF laminate also for the soundboard gives the Extended Range a magisterial, articulate sound, good dynamic range, and amazing tuning stability: I took a LCF Extended Range to the Evart FunFest in mid July of 2022. I had tuned it in mid-June. Even bouncing to Michigan and back in my camper, and spending several days in the summer heat of the fairgrounds, I only needed to tune four bronze string courses once- and that was only because the instrument had toppled over in the camper.
Weighty Matters. We've come a long way since 1900, when a typical hammered dulcimer had 12 courses, weighed 45 pounds: and still couldn't be tuned. But more and more people are trying to lighten their load these days. All the instruments I make come in a lighter form. I can usually still shave yet a few more ounces- by using a lighter wood on the frame, for example. But remember that a good soft case will add 4 or 5 pounds. Pedal dampers and TriStander legs and brackets adds several more. If you then throw a music book and music stand into the case pocket, with all of it you've likely turned a 10 pound HD into a 25 pound load on your shoulder.
The LCF Forte has also been a success. With a longer scale, a Forte has 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 a 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. So, the LCF Forte will continue to have a wood soundboard.
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. You can see how they function at https://samrizzetta.com/contents/hammers.
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.
For years I have made my own sensors, embedding piezo cable in the treble bridge. I liked the way it captured the lower frequencies- mostly you hear too much of the bright treble of a HD amplified in concert. However, the cable was a bit noisy, compared to the tape sensors made by PickupThe World, and so I am now switching over to PUTW unless otherwise requested. In the past I have also enjoyed build my own preamps, designed by by astute engineer Tom Dawson. I have discovered that Schatten's preamps are, for high-impedance purposes, just as good. They are also easy to replace- any instrument tech can easily wire one. For High-Z installations, I will be using Schatten preamps.
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.
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 Wise 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.