Options & Extras

Before when your order comes up on the queue and your instrument is ready to be made you will need to decide on the which of the following options your instrument will include.​

  • Woods

  • Carbon Fiber

  • Strings

  • Soundhole Roses & Inlay

  • Dampers

  • Pick-ups

See Prices & Ordering if interested in purchasing any of these options.

Woods

  • Soundboards: I have generally used redwood; it has a clear tone that's not strident, has good bass and mid-range response, and the shadows of the strings are less stark than on whiter woods, like spruce. As redwood of decent quality has been harder to find, I am moving towards western red cedar, which tends to be brighter, livelier, & lighter, and requires slightly different bracing. Both the Forte and the Light CF Compact work best with western red cedar soundboards. I do still have some redwood good enough for instruments, and will continue to offer it until it's gone.

    I have also used mahogany, chestnut, and spruce for soundboards. Some models are more flexible, as to what soundboard woods can be used: a Forte, for example, can be easily made with harder wood soundboards like mahogany, or softer woods like spruce. But a Compact, with a smaller soundbox and the 3rd bass bridge on the right, will lose some bass response with harder woods.

  • Pinblocks: I use maple laminate; this has proven to be long lasting, with pins staying tight for 20 years if there's no abuse.  

  • Backs: Many of my older large instruments had mahogany backs. I usually use Western red cedar. It's lighter and gives a quicker response, slightly more diffuse tone and weighs less than the hardwoods like mahogany. Mahogany gives a slightly clearer and harder edge to the tone, but weighs more.

  • Bridges: Depending on the color of the soundboard and the woods used on the frame, bridges are a dense hard wood like jatoba or a darker wood like wenge in the treble, a lighter softer wood like cherry in the bass of the larger instruments. The holly cap markings are clear. The bridges (usually a weak spot for hammered dulcimers) are very strong.

  • Sides: The wood on the sides is not greatly critical to the sound; but must be durable and attractive. Selection is based on customer preference, what is available, and what looks right. I have used tropicals, such as bubinga, bocote, goncalo alves, eucalyptus, mahogany and wenge, and native woods like cherry, chestnut, curly ash, walnut, and curly maple, and have had good success with all.

If you are confused by these choices, you can just ask for "something pretty".. Nick will choose something nice that will go with your other choices.

Carbon Fiber (CF)

  • Instrument makers have been building guitars with carbon fiber for years. Its immense strength and stiffness save weight and also improve an instrument's resistance to changes in humidity. Sam Rizzetta has now designed Compact and Extended Range hammered dulcimers using carbon fiber. The instruments have a bit more punch and brightness of tone, and Sam now plays them exclusively. When sealed inside with epoxy, CF instruments are also noticeably more resistant to changes in humidity, which can be handy if you are playing outside in a festival in July and don't want to be constantly tuning.

  • Unlike the CF Compact the Light CF Compact uses carbon fiber as a thin overlay on the wood.

Strings

·         I use a variety; piano wire, Pure Sound steel, various copper-alloys and wound strings. This is necessary, if an instrument with more than three octaves is to have a good overall tone and be portable. Copper alloys will fatigue and break within a couple of years, however, and small wound strings will go dead, so there has to be a compromise between tone and durability. The instruments come with what I consider to be the best balance, but it is often possible to sacrifice some tone in order to gain a little more durability and re-string a course with a stronger wire.

Soundhole Roses and Inlay

·         Roses are cut by hand from holly. A single rose has one layer, a double two layers; a double is therefore two single roses stacked. Custom rose designs may be requested, different from the ones that are offered, but be aware that most artwork does not translate well, nor am I a great translator of it.  

·         I also make the inlay. Two strips are standard, but I can inlay all 'round the top of the instrument.. I can also use abalone, instead of my regular wood inlay. Abalone all 'round however has to go over several bevels as well as around corners,  which is reflected in the cost..

Pedal Dampers

·         Pedal Dampers add complication, a couple of pounds of weight, make changing strings a bit more of a chore, and of course add to the cost. They also are an excellent tool for emphasizing phrasing, widening the dynamic range of the instrument, or adding a different tone color. For traditional music, they may be irrelevant. For music with complex chord progressions they can be a necessity.

 

Pickups

     I have been installing them in hammered dulcimers for a long time.  There are  many situations where they’re unavoidable: try to play for a busy wedding reception with a tripod mike stand in front of you, and you’ll likely discover the sound of a condenser mike toppling to the floor. Though I have put some time into knowing more about amplifier design,  I am not an electrical engineer and have sometimes been surprised by constant changes in available components, and by what can happen to the systems over time. So I am making things simple, offering just three different setups. I guarantee all of them- nothing leaves here without a long test and burn-in, to make sure it works. 

  1. Basic: I put a piezo sensor in the bridge, connect it to a ¼” jack in the back. You supply the buffer/preamp: either a phantom-powered CableAmp from me, or a good guitar preamp.

  2. High Z Setup: Pickup with internal battery-powered preamp, high impedance. You can plug into almost anything; either a little guitar amp or a full sound system. You only need a 1/4" cable. You have to change the battery, but there's little power consumed, so the battery is good for quite some time. This setup is good if you are doing small gigs with minimal sound systems as well as big ones with full sound systems, or want something simple that you don't need to think about.

  3. Low Z Setup: Pickup with internal phantom-powered preamp, low impedance, XLR jack. Because there's more gain, and the cable can be any length and not "tune in" to stray radio frequencies, this has the best sound for a concert. BUT there has to be a phantom power source- either from the sound system, an active Direct Box, or a battery phantom power supply.

  4. Cable Amp: I put a simpler phantom-powered preamp into a handy little cable. It's very space efficient. Also works for other piezo pickups in guitars, mandolins, etc.

 

 I will also install other systems if they’re preferred. Regardless of the brand,  I wire the sensors to jacks mounted securely in the instrument. Pickup The World and Schatten systems  both use two sensors,  and  need  two mono jacks or one  stereo jack, and a preamp with a channel for each sensor.