Options & Extras
See Prices & Ordering if interested in purchasing any of these options.
- Soundboards: I generally use 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. In an effort to be more ecological, I was asked about using recycled wood and have found a source, reclaimed wood from recycled wine vats. It's noticeably more purplish in color and the smell is a little "winey", but it doesn't linger; which is perhaps a shame.
I have also used mahogany, chestnut, spruce and western red cedar 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: can be African mahogany, Western red cedar, or redwood, depending on the model; the softwoods give a quicker response, slightly more diffuse tone and weigh less; the hardwoods like mahogany give a slightly clearer and harder edge to the tone and weigh a bit more. I use softwood backs for the smaller instruments; for the larger ones either choice is possible.
- Bridges: generally cherry. The new design looks good, the markings are clear, and the bridges (usually a weak spot) 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.
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 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.
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, and rose designs offered, but be aware that most artwork does not translate well, nor am I a great translator of it.
I also make the inlay. At extra cost, I can inlay all around the top of the instrument. This is often quite pretty when the top and back of the instrument are bound (edged) with a wood contrasting with the sides.
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. Recommended for the Compact Extended Range, useful for any.
Here are the basic parts of a piezo pickup system. You need to have:
- A piezo sensor - this is called the pickup;
- The signal the sensor sends has to be buffered and amplified - for this there's a preamp (short for preamplifier). The preamp can be internal, inside the instrument, or external, outside the instrument in a little box;
- The preamp has to be powered - either by a 9 volt battery or phantom power from the sound system the instrument's plugged into. And the preamp sends out a signal to the sound system which is either high impedance (unbalanced) or low impedance (balanced); and,
- There has to be a cable to connect to the sound system; for unbalanced, it's called a 1/4" cable, or sometimes a guitar cable. For balanced, it's called an XLR cable, or a microphone cable.
I have experimented with various piezo pickup systems for a long time. For hammered dulcimers, it was long a matter of trying to adapt systems intended for piano or guitar, and though the sound was often OK-to- good, reliability was not. Making my own, I was able to greatly improve the durability of the piezo sensor itself, but the preamps sometimes could be fried by static, voltage transients got to sensitive components. In 2011, engineer Tom Dawson responded to my laments about the need for something really bullet proof, and I am happy to say the 2012 designs are now very durable.
- 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 cable (though it can't be real long, over 8 feet or so, without the risk of noise). 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.
- 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.
- Basic Setup: The pickup is wired directly to a 1/4" jack in the back. You supply your own preamp, which can be a choice of various guitar preamps- the Baggs Paracoustic being a good example. This is a good choice for people who want maximum flexibility, and/or are gear heads and want to be able to try new equipment.
- Cable Amp: I put a simpler phantom-powered preamp into a handy little cable. It hasn't quite as much gain as the on-board version, but it's very space efficient. Also works for other piezo pickups in guitars, mandolins, etc.
Custom Options: If you have been using a pickup system that leaves the pickup cable and jack dangling off the instrument, I can often wire the piezo sensor internally, connecting it to my preamp and a jack, so your instrument won't look like it's getting an EKG.