Options & Extras

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

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  • 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 some different bracing. Both the Forte and the Little Light Dulcimer (LLD) 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.

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Carbon Fiber (CF)

carbon fiber 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 and Extended Range, the LLD uses carbon fiber as a thin overlay to the wood.

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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.

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Soundhole Roses and Inlay

rosesRoses 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. I can also inlay abalone, in black purfling, but as it can't be bent to follow the pinblock slopes of the soundboard it can't be run all 'round the outside edges like the wood inlay.

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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. Recommended for the Compact Extended Range, useful for any.

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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. The preamp sends out a signal to the sound system which is either high impedance or low impedance, (sometimes also called unbalanced or balanced). The cables for each are different. High Impedance is what most electric guitars and basses are, and it's fine for short distances. After eight feet, though, high-impedance cables can be noisy, tune in radio stations or the hum of the current from the electrical system. Low-impedance is what most microphones are, and low impedance cables are lower noise. High impedance or unbalanced cables are called a 1/4" cable, or sometimes guitar cables. For low-impedance or balanced, they're called XLR cables, or microphone cables.

For an instrument with such traditional roots, it's fine to avoid electronic enhancement; but pickups are and will continue to be very handy things for performing. The choice for the pickups has been three; the Basic, with no preamp; a low-impedance setup Low Z), with an XLR jack, or a high-impedance setup (High Z), with a 1/4" jack. The High Z setup needs a 9-volt battery, the Low Z has needed phantom power. Phantom power is 48 volts, and compared to 9 volts, there's more headroom, a little less noise. But not every sound system - and very few portable amps - have it.

The Dalai Lama is one with everything, both a 1/4" and an XLR jack, a preamp that has a battery box or, if there's phantom power with the XLR connection, the preamp can run on that.

Please note that I am perfectly happy to install any other pickup in my instruments. I myself install a piezo sensor in the bridge. But there are other options for pickups. Pickup the World uses a flat piezo tape, that's to be stuck with double stick tape to the inside of the frame rail. A bridge sensor gives a little more low-end response, isn't liable to have one resonant frequency like the tape mikes, and I like this because you can blend the signal with that from a decent microphone to give more of a sturdy sound in the main speakers. But the Pickup the World tapes can be mounted to work pretty well. If you'd like to use one of these, however, you should be able to check the state of the adhesive tape from time to time to make sure the sensor is not peeling loose. Also, often the manufacturers supply the sensor simply wired to a plug, which then is supposed to hang off the instrument. It's much better to have it securely wired to a jack inside the instrument, instead. Mount and wire the jack yourself: or if you want to use one of these with one of my instruments, I will wire up a jack to it for $30.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, want to be able to easily troubleshoot problems on the road by swapping out sound system components, and/or are just gear heads and want to be able to try new equipment anytime as it comes available.
  4. Dalai Lama Setup: I make you one with everything. XLR and 1/4" jacks for both Low- and High-Z outputs. Battery box supplies current if there's no phantom power available.
  5. 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.