What is “sustain” and why should I care?

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:

  1.  Bridge cap material and continuous or separated sections of that rod
  2. Bridge material = hard, stiff, dense material emits more sustain and softer, more flexible, lighter weight material emits much less sustain
  3. Bridge design = more petite, flexible bridges emit less sustain and big stiff bridges emit more sustain
  4. Soundboard, bracing and back materials have somewhat of an effect on the sustain much the same as the bridges do
  5. 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.

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