Yes! Many instruction books, book and tape combinations, tune booklets, instruction videos, etc. are available. There are also online lessons, festivals and workshops throughout the United States.
Removing the broken string
Remove the broken string from hitch pin and tuning pin. The tuning pins are located at the base of the psaltery and the hitch pins are located along the sides of the psaltery.
Preparing to put the new string on
Begin by turning the tuning pin counterclockwise about 3 turns. This will locate the top of the pin higher than the others.
Putting on the new string
Thread the new string through the hole at the bottom of the hitch pin (check string gauge chart for proper size string). The string should be threaded away from the tuning pins and then brought back over the top of the hitch pin (the string should rest in the groove on top of the hitch pin). Pull the string taught across the bridge to the tuning pin. Cut the new string about 1.5″ past the tuning pin. Insert the string into the tuning pin and crimp the very tip of the string (about 1/8″ long) very sharply (90 degrees). Pull the crimped end of the string back to the tuning pin and start turning the tuning pin slowly. Be careful to wrap the string in a “candy cane” fashion. DO NOT allow the string to lap over itself. Pull the string tight and tune to the proper pitch.
What if one specific string keeps breaking?
If you notice that you are repeatedly breaking the same string, that is the sign of a small problem. First, make sure you are using the correct size string. If the gauge of the string is too large, it requires too much tension to raise it to pitch. If it is too small, it won’t break but sound mushy due to lack of tension.
But if that isn’t the case, it is probably a sharp edge at the top of the hitch pin. A groove was hand cut in each of these after being pinned at the workshop. Being all hand-worked and inconsistent, once in a while a slightly too crisp of an edge remains. How to fix it? Simple, with the use of a fingernail file. Careful not to cram the file into the soundboard, run the file back and forth a few times in the groove at the top of the pin. Rock it up and down like a see-saw while doing so to be sure and eliminate the sharp edge causing the problem. Restring and see if it isn’t a lot better!
Removing the broken string
There is a 50/50 chance the broken string will be hooked to the hitch pin (where the loop is) below the other string since they are in pairs and use the same hitch pin. Use needle nose pliers to bend the broken string back and forth and break loose or loosen the other string and lift it off first.
Preparing to put the new string on
Begin by turning the tuning pin counter-clockwise about 3 turns. This will locate the top of the pin higher than the others.
Putting on the new string
Hook the new string (check string gauge chart for proper size string) on the hitch pin and pull taught across to the tuning pin through the appropriate bridge. Cut the new string about 1.5″ past the tuning pin. Insert the string into the tuning pin (left side-insert from bottom; right side-insert from top) and crimp the very tip of the string (about 1/8″ long) very sharply (90 degrees). Pull the crimped end of the string back to the tuning pin and start turning the tuning pin slowly. Be careful to wrap the string in a “candy cane” fashion. DO NOT allow the string to lap over itself. Pull the string tight while carefully locating it about 1/8″ from the accompanying string.
YOU’VE DONE IT!
Can I add modern options such as chromatics, microphones or dampers to an older Master Works hammer dulcimer?
Yes, well, probably! Designs evolve a little every year. We never get stuck in a rut of doing the same thing day after day, year after year, decade after….well, you get the idea of one of our many philosophies here at Master Works. We hope this attitude of always searching for a better solution, better sound, lighter body, more efficient bridges, additional notes and such will produce better and better instruments over the years….and it does!!!
So, some things that we can do after-the-fact include chromatics, microphones, dampers, wound strings, change inlays, restringing, etc. Older Russell Cook and Master Works instruments have different bridges so they may have to be altered or replaced with modern bridges to facilitate chromatics. Older instruments with chromatics may have to have modern chromatics added to facilitate dampers. Some instruments have to have a second hand port added in the back to facilitate the installation of internal contact microphones. The best answer to your questions will come from a personal conversation with the good folks here in the Master Works office. We should be able to figure it out on the phone with you so you know just what is necessary to attain your goals and keep you making the best music possible.
Take time to further study this subject in the <a href=”https://masterworksok.com/resources/hdmodelscomparison.pdf”>Hammer Dulcimer Models Comparison.</a>
Endrails (the short and long vertical sides of the instrument near you and farthest away) are primarily structural in purpose. They help the instrument withstand the extreme pressure of the approximate 70 strings stretched over the bridges pushing down on the soundboard attempting to implode the body. There are braces within, as well, supporting the body. Every splinter of material that goes into an instrument affects the voice of the instrument to some degree, but the endrails do so less than most other parts. We offer dozens of beautiful exotic woods to help you make your instrument a new one-of-a-kind family heirloom designed by YOU! Some are slightly heavier than others. Some are more brittle and stiffer than others. I have been asked a few times “What wood would you choose for the endrails based purely on tone?” I would guess Mahogany might be the logical choice based strictly on that criteria – that’s what most of our soundboards are constructed of and what we use in the back of our “Bantam Weight” models to give the instrument a bigger deeper voice. But, again, the endrails are very small, under a great deal of pressure and don’t have a great deal to do with the voice of a hammer dulcimer.
The instrument is physically simple, played much like a child’s xylophone. It is musically sectioned into diatonic (do, re, mi, fa, etc.) scales allowing the player to concentrate on only a small part of the instrument. Many professionals, recording artists, contest winners have been playing a couple of years, or even a few months.
I believe the hammer dulcimer is one of the easiest instruments in the world to play. You do not need to read music…it even gets in the way,most of the time. It is a “Diatonic” instrument which simply means “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do”. No name notes. Cool!! Thus, it would be nice to have a book of tunes to study from that doesn’t necessarily require the student to learn music theory and how to read music fluently to be able to play a diatonic instrument, wouldn’t it? Guess what!? There is! It is called “Beginning Hammer Dulcimer”…a genius of a name, no doubt. Written by Linda Lowe Thompson, this book and CD of grand old tunes most everyone plays in the folk music world is designed for beginners who just want to have fun and progress quickly without the burden of years of work learning the traditional ropes of music theory. Heck, I didn’t know the difference between diatonic and chromatic until after I had won the National Contest….and I’m not the only one!!! TRUST ME! This is the way to approach the hammer dulcimer.
Now, there is something else to consider. It is called “The Ultimate Hammer Dulcimer Resource Book”. It is NOT an instruction book nor a tune book or a beginner book or an intermediate book or an advanced book or….. This is a visual aid to recognize patterns you play ALL DAY EVERY DAY on the hammer dulcimer, just like a guitar player does, only far fewer of them! Why fret (pardon the pun) over all the theory of why you should play this or that pattern to play a chord or chromatic scale or duplicate note or octave or…whatever? Just show me the pattern and get out of the way….I can remember a few patterns, I don’t want to learn or know WHY. Listen, we all have real lives with lots of responsibilities like mowing the lawn and paying the mortgage and changing the oil and washing clothes and taking the kids to their games and such. If you want to know how to play a chord to embellish a beautiful slow tune, here it is in simple to understand, duplicate patterns for most chords you can learn really fast!
BUT, if you really do want to learn the theory behind why the hammer dulcimer is tuned the way it is and how to read music to play it, the very first section of this 5 section book WILL teach you how to do it. It is well written by three accomplished educated music teachers under my supervision to direct their wisdom and great efforts toward the concept of the hammer dulcimer’s simplistic layout. So, now you have no excuse…get “The Ultimate Hammer Dulcimer Resource Book”. You desperately need it as a beginner, intermediate, advanced and professional hammer dulcimer player! Combined with “Beginning Hammer Dulcimer”, you will be playing up a storm in no time. Get them both for that “1-2” knock-out punch you need to get started in a hurry.
All wooden musical instruments expand and contract with humidity and temperature changes. But the Hammer Dulcimer is a very sturdy instrument. It must be tuned more often than a piano but not near as often as a guitar. With the use of a chromatic electronic tuner, anyone can tune – quickly with practice.
Yes….no….well, maybe. You absolutely know things get damaged every day with UPS, Fed Express, USPS and any other carrier you can name. You have to insure it no matter who you ship with. The single most important thing you do is package your instrument well. We normally use UPS here at Master Works but have instruments delivered here often with other services. Again, the most important thing you do is package it well no matter who carries it for you.
- USE HIGH DENSITY CLOSED CELL FOAM to pad it with.
- DO NOT USE FOAM PELLETS as they with disperse at will and leave unprotected areas that put your precious instrument at risk…big risk! DO NOT USE STYROFOAM as it is brittle, will crush and fall apart.
- DO NOT USE SOFT FOAM as it is not strong enough to protect.
- DO NOT USE CARDBOARD OR NEWSPAPER TO PACK WITH as it will crush and not protect it after the initial crushing act. Again, USE HIGH DENSITY CLOSED CELL FOAM at least 1 inch thick in less critical areas and 2 inches thick in critical areas such as the points of the pinblocks and above the bridges.
- GLUE THE FOAM IN PLACE…DO NOT EXPECT IT TO STAY IN PLACE ON ITS ON.
- Put your instrument in the case WITHOUT ANY ACCESSORIES INCLULDED IN THE CASE.
- Always include within the crate a piece of paper with the address identifying where it is being shipped and your return address with a phone number in case the label is accidentally removed. USE 200LB CARDBOARD to construct the crate. You can do this safely, just pay attention to the details and insure it.
- We do not recommend taking it to UPS retail stores because of the excessive mark-up and the lack of well-trained packers…it is definitely a learned skill!
- If you chose, you can have us ship you a crate delivered to your door prepared specifically for your instrument design with a “call tag” shipping label included. You call UPS and they come the next day to your door and pick it up….DONE and it’s not expensive.
Yes, it IS easy to play. Yes, it DOES sound wonderful! This is what so many folks in America are looking for – an instrument they can learn to play by themselves, or with minimal instruction, and will progress quickly on, no matter what type of music is played on it. You don’t have to, or need to, know music theory or how to read music! Just find a simple diatonic “do-re-me” scale and start picking out a tune by tapping the hammers on the strings just like playing a children’s xylophone.
So, to get started, obviously, you need an instrument. I just happen to know someone who builds beautiful reasonably priced instruments! “Which one?” might be your first question. There are several different sized dulcimers built and played across the country. We build 7 different sizes and are working constantly on prototypes of others. Soooooo, I would suggest the most expensive model….Ha! No, not really. You can’t buy yourself into being a successful musician. BUT, you can buy such a small or poor quality instrument that you may find yourself lacking the ability to make good enough music to be satisfied to practice over and over, which is absolutely necessary, which is all fun. I definitely suggest you not get started on anything less than a 15/14 sized instrument. The numbers represent the number of sets of strings (courses of two strings) on each of two bridges (treble bridge on the left and bass bridge on the right – there are additional bridges on other models). I feel strongly that the 16/15 model or the “Ultralight” is the most instrument for the money we craft here at Master Works. It sounds fabulous and gives the player the ability to move up in musical complexity by adding several common options after-the-fact. Be sure to take time to read the “Hammer Dulcimer Models Comparison” located in many places on this website. Read it several times – it will help immensely in making your instrument choice.
You will need a few accessories such as a stand (sit-down or stand-up version), a case (so you will be able and willing to go to lessons, workshops, festivals, jam sessions or club meetings), chromatic electronic tuner, GOOD tuning wrench, hammers and a book or two to start (read other FAQs).
This brings us to a very important piece of advice I hope you take seriously. Please, don’t be a closet player. Take your instrument and go out and meet and greet and have fun with thousands of other wonderful fun loving dulcimer folks all over this grand land who are learning just as you are. There are dozens of teacher/performers scattered all across the nation and most of them dedicate their lives traveling all over the U.S. to helping folks just like you learn, progress and play the most wonderful instrument in the world.
Oh, yes, there is one other thing you should remember. Call us…we are here specifically to help you. If you succeed, we will too. If you don’t, neither will we, so call or email if you have any question at all. We can walk you through the process of becoming a successful musician…………..…we’re waiting! Call Master Works today.
Why of course! We would love for you to visit Bennington, OK located in the beautiful southeastern corner of the state. There are lots of rolling hills filled with rivers, various types of timber, wildflowers, wildlife (no, I don’t mean the casinos!), not to forget the Native American history throughout – home of more Indian tribes than any other state in the union. Sure, please come see us if you are traveling east or west on I-40 just north of us or I-30 or I-20 just to our south in Texas or going north or south on I-35, the Indian Nation Parkway or U.S. Highway 69 or 75 in eastern Oklahoma. Why not get off the freeways and travel U.S. Highway 70 that starts at the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Lookout near Beaufort, North Carolina. It parallels I-40 much of the trip to the middle of Arizona! It was one of the prime trails of travel from the east coast to California in the 1930s. Or if you are touring the famous Route 66, take a side-trip of a couple hours and come visit.
Instruments typically come with basic hammers and tuning wrench. To start, that is actually all you have to have. But there are a few definite need-to-have items for beginners.
- ELECTRONIC TUNER. Gotta have one. They are cheap and wonderful. Automatically gives you the tone and pitch of the string you pluck one at a time on a meter, then you tune the string to the middle of the meter (0)and “Wa La”, that string is tuned! Now move on to the other 61.
- TUNER CLIP…plugs right into the tuner and clips onto the instrument anywhere that won’t get scratched… like a tuning pin…any pin… and it will pick up the tone of any string from anywhere on the instrument, you don’t have to relocate the clip. Also, it automatically turns off the acoustic microphone built into the tuner and picks up the vibration of the instrument ONLY! How cool is that!?!
- CASE…gotta have one to carry your instrument around in. Helps protect your valuable investment from dents and scratches, from temperature changes in transport and from getting your bridges knocked out of place and changing the 5th interval…yuk! Also keeps your instrument from getting eggs thrown onto it when someone next to you performs really poorly! Ha! (I could of used one once!)
- STAND…gotta put it on something! Stand-up, sit-down, angled, flat, adjustable, you decide. Sit-down x-brace design fits into the case and makes a nice portable package. The stand-up or sit-down x-brace stand is the most sturdy design, most portable and least expensive choice.
- HAMMERS…you can upgrade the basic single-sided hammers to a nice pair of double-sided hammers that allow you to play on either side of the hammers which have different material on each side of the hammers which gives you a different voice on each side of the hammers. So which side of the hammers you gonna be on…Republican or Democrat?! Oops, wrong subject… The hammers you start playing with is the style you will likely play with for a long time, if not forever. Give it some serious thought. There are different weights also. Heavier hammers may be easier to use when playing in the wind but also gives you a bigger voice, great for those who play with a lighter touch, because of the mass, but tends to produce more “hammer percussion” or “thump” when you play with a heavier hand, especially on a lighter instrument. DO NOT EVER USE DIFFERENT LENGTH HAMMERS! Different weights are OK but not lengths. WE happen to only offer hammers that are all the same length …isn’t that convienent? Oh yes, NEVER USE CLAW HAMMERS ON YOUR INSTURMENT UNLESS YOU ARE VERY MAD. But if you do, come see us immediately for a brand new instrument.
- MUSIC HOLDER…that would be someone odd enough to stand in front of you and hold your music for you for endless hours! Don’t know of anyone? Well….guess what we make…music holders! They don’t block the view near as bad as your spouse, aren’t near as heavy to carry around, don’t turn while you’re playing to watch that pretty …. well, don’t get distracted, don’t argue and are much less expensive to keep around! Pure genius!!
- DUSTERS….oh, but you won’t need that. I know you never have to dust your home, and if you did, your spouse would do it for you anyway………..don’t worry, they’re cheap.
- STRING BRIGHTENER…brightens your rusty strings…..looks like an eraser….I’ve got nothing else.
- REPLACEMENT STRINGS…should have a few of the smaller gauges on hand in case one breaks. No, you can’t get them at War-Mart….yet….wait, maybe in the cheese slicer section of kitchen items….mmm…never thought of that before.
- MONOPOD…mono…that would be only one, right….pod, not as in peas but a wooden leg….like Captain Hook….no, that was his arm. Anyway, a monopod screws into the back of your 15/14 hammer dulcimer, or larger model, and props your instrument up on a table. Or, use a long table height monopod and lay the instrument on your knees and the monopod becomes your third leg out in front of you forming a tripod-like situation without having to carry a separate stand. Again, pure genius!!! Don’t worry, folks will quit laughing at you when you start making all that beautiful music….usually….good grief, that’s just rude, Russell.
BRIDGE BANGER….I’m sure this brings up some bad memories of when you were learning to drive…hope you healed up OK. Anyway, it is used to adjust the treble bridge to produce a perfect 5th interval when you tune. Won’t need it very often but sure is handy when you finally do get brave enough to set that “*%@$e*&^@#%$*&%$^!” bridge that won’t tune correctly. Don’t worry, it can only go one of two ways…have a 50/50 chance of getting it right the first time…… OK, better watch the instructional video first!
Chromatics are the “extra”, added, in-between notes, beyond the diatonic scale, which the hammer dulcimer is known for. The white keys of the piano are the diatonic scale of “C” (diatonic simply means “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do”) (starts and ends with “C” – there is a diatonic scale for each named note). The black keys are the “incidentals” or chromatics that complete the chromatic 13 note scale (“C, C#, D, D#, E, F, etc”). PLEASE don’t drift away yet! It ain’t that complicated!! That’s what makes the hammer dulcimer so easy to learn to play, especially if you don’t have a music theory background. But a little study of very basic music theory might benefit you at this point if you aren’t sure what a chromatic scale verses a diatonic scale is AND you are considering adding chromatics to your instrument. Did you know there are numerous National Hammer Dulcimer Champions who didn’t read music or understand the difference between diatonic or chromatic when they won? Honest!!!
But now, let’s talk about your decision. You can absolutely play tons of most any genre of music without chromatics added to your straight diatonic hammer dulcimer. BUT, if you think you might need them in the future, these extra notes are not located in the middle of your normal tuning scheme but are located off in the corners of the instrument where you never play, out of the way, so you only go to them when you specifically need those chromatic notes (you can interchange between a chromatic and diatonic instrument effortlessly). You can play your chromatic instrument without concern for these extra notes forever, if you wish. But one day, after a workshop with a great teacher/performer, you discover the need for these chromatic notes to play a new wonderful tune. Since you have chromatics, “wa-lah”, you finally use them and a grand new era in your dulcimer life starts to unfold!
The only negative to having chromatics is the cost, BUT it is an investment you will receive back if you ever resell your instrument.
- The Pioneer model is available with a high quality laminated Birch or solid Sapelli top and may be stained to improve the ability to see the strings. It comes with case, stand, tuner wrench and hammers – a great starting package with a full sized great sounding instrument!!
- The Full-sized instrument always has a Mahogany soundboard, which may be stained, and may have Walnut or Cherry rails with Rosewood bridges. (Rosewood bridges produce a darker, mellower tone). This model, our original 15/14 full sized instrument sounds almost as good as the 16/15 Ultralight.
- The Ultralight is available with the same choices as the full-sized model plus additional choices of endrail materials, contrasting bindings and the addition of the chromatic option, mics, or dampers. These options are available added to your instrument when ordered or even at a later time!
- Some less frequently chosen options available include wound strings (gives lower pitched strings a beefier sound), an additional bass course at the bottom of the bass bridge and lowering the sustain by separating the bridge caps (may be done at a later time).
Sustain is the length of time a vibrating string continues to emit a note or tone after you strike it. You typically play a lot of notes in a short amount of time on a hammer dulcimer. The strings continue to vibrate for some length of time every time you strike them so they start to overlap each other substantially. This effect is an important part of what makes a hammer dulcimer so beautiful but can become annoying if they continue to ring too long and create a bed of dissident notes overlapping each other in excess! The melody can be overwhelmed by these dissident notes and make the melody hard to recognize.
It is possible to dictate the amount of sustain a hammer dulcimer emits to some degree. You don’t want to control it completely or it will no longer sound like a hammer dulcimer. Everything affects sustain somewhat but the most important things that affect sustain are:
- Bridge cap material and continuous or separated sections of that rod
- Bridge material = hard, stiff, dense material emits more sustain and softer, more flexible, lighter weight material emits much less sustain
- Bridge design = more petite, flexible bridges emit less sustain and big stiff bridges emit more sustain
- Soundboard, bracing and back materials have somewhat of an effect on the sustain much the same as the bridges do
- Quality, age and condition of strings have some effect on sustain
I hope you can see there is no quantitative equation of how to attain your desired level of sustain but practice does help by constructing many instruments and conducting many experiments over the decades. We are very confident, here at Master Works, that we can build you the perfect instrument for your needs with the perfect amount of sustain to make your music the best it can be.
The Hammer Dulcimer is different than a guitar which varies very little from model to model in it’s range or musical ability. A student Hammer Dulcimer does not have a chromatic octave and has fewer keys and octaves of keys. A full-sized instrument has more range, keys, octaves and, of course, better tone. These may not seem important immediately but become immensely important very soon. A chromatic instrument produces over 3 octaves of fully chromatic range which gives the player the ability to perform more types of music in more keys! It is not any more difficult to play.
That’s not a simple question to answer but very important to understand.
- First things first, don’t over think the process and trust your builder to make suggestions based on what you tell the builder you want your instrument to sound like and look like. Then choose from there.
- It’s good to understand some basics. The parts that affect the tone most are the soundboard, the bridges and the back.
- Soundboard: mahogany is mellower, spruce is brighter and loud, cedar is similar to spruce but a touch softer in tone but loud. Redwood is very rowdy and loud but brittle , difficult to work with, cracks and crushes easily, not to mention outrageously expensive! Plywood actually works reasonably well, is not so loud, very inexpensive, is very safe but does not improve with age as solid wood does. We offer combinations of woods to give the instrument more dynamic range and expand the voicing capabilities. Starts getting deep about here. The best way to choose is to hear one you like!
- Bridges are very important. Rosewood is darker and mellower in tone. It is very effective in transferring energy from the strings to the soundboard and produces a bit more sustain than other woods. Maple, used in violins, is quite effective, less dense but hard, and does an excellent job of transferring the bright tones a violin is known for. Maple gives the hammer dulcimer a brighter tone with less sustain. Cherry is less dense and less hard, not as bright as maple, possibly, but definitely produces less sustain.
- The back promotes mostly larger wave length, lower pitch sounds that give the instrument a deeper voice, sort of like the “ker-plunk” you hear when you drop a rock into an old fashioned water well. A solid wood back is always better! Mahogany gives you a mellower lower ranger while soft woods produce more volume and sometimes more hammer percussion “thump”. The back sometimes takes a lot of abuse. A soft wood back will show wear and tear more so than a hardwood but stands up to the pressure of the design just fine…just a cosmetic issue. Softer wood is much lighter weight!!
- Endrails are primarily structural, bearing the pressure of the strings going over the bridges that tries to pull the instrument into the shape of a banana! Don’t want that! It is quite esthetical, too. Choose something you would like to look at forever. Consider the color of the stain or natural color of the soundboard, bridges, inlays and pinblocks. We offer at least 40 different species of wood to choose from, as well as variations of some species….good luck with that!
- Don’t forget your stand. Get creative and be matchy, matchy with your package! Ash is strong and a typical blonde color, medium heavy but very strong. Mahogany is a bit lighter, plenty strong, matches the soundboard but is much more expensive. Sapelli might be a nice alternative to mahogany as it looks virtually the same but is a bit heavier and costs about the same. Or we can custom build you a stand out of cherry, walnut, maple, curly maple, paduk, purpleheart, rosewood…any type of wood your heart desires and your pocket book can afford to provide you with.
- Soundholes are blonde in color and the consistent “Harrison Rose” design unless ordered otherwise for an upcharge. We can sometimes stain the soundholes to match other parts of the instrument…yes, an upcharge….sorry. You can have your own soundhole inlays carved or engraved elsewhere OR we can send you to Bill Blackwell who can do them for you for us….yes, an upcharge…so sorry! But you’ll be pleased!! Makes your instrument a one-of-a-kind…and it’s not THAT much to have your own personal artwork crafted and built in to your once-in-a-lifetime handcrafted instrument. I’d do it to mine!