The following scale is offered as a means of defining the degree to which a particular dulcimer can be considered traditional. A dulcimer can be considered more or less traditional based on the number of traditional features it possesses. I have come up with the following traditional features.
1. Traditional Shape (KY Hourglass, WV/OH/NC Hourglass, VA Oblong, VA Teardrop, TN Music Box /Rectangular) 2. Tuning Pegs (Wooden Friction Pegs, Iron Autoharp Style Pegs) 3. Diatonic Fretboard 4. No Overlay on Fretboard 5. Traditional Soundhole Shapes (Hearts, Circles, Diamonds, F or S) 6. Non-Commercial Frets (Bent Nail, Bent Music Wire, Fencepost Staples, etc.) 7. Partial Frets 8. Fiddle Sides/Overlapping Top and Bottom 9. Constructed of Native Hardwoods and Softwoods Only 10. Scroll-Shaped Peghead 11. Limited to 3 or 4 Strings Only
A dulcimer is awarded 1 point for each traditional feature it possesses.
Based on this scale both the Thomas dulcimer and the Prichard dulcimer score a perfect 11 out of 11 on the scale. A standard Leonard Glenn dulcimer scores an 8 out of 11. It is missing features 6 , 7, and 8. A modern McSpadden scores slightly lower at 7 out of 11. It is missing 2, 6, 7, and 8, and could also be missing 3, 4, and 10 depending on what features were included when purchased.
How do your dulcimers measure up to the traditional scale? Do you own a perfect 11 traditional dulcimer? What traditional features are most often omitted in modern instruments?
It should be noted that each instrument has to be evaluated separately, as builders often change their design over time or make changes on individual instruments to satisfy a customer's request.
Last Edit: Aug 7, 2023 13:36:56 GMT -5 by Banjimer
Here are some features that make the dulcimer less traditional.
A. Unique shapes B. Geared or mechanical tuning pegs C. Non-traditional soundholes (hummingbirds, cats, dogs, etc.) D. Commercial frets E. Full-width frets F. Top and bottom flush with sides G. Exotic hardwood construction H. Overlays I. Unique peghead designs J. 6 1/2 frets, etc. K. Chromatic fretboard L. More than 3 or 4 strings M. Added features such as banjo heads, resonators, cigar boxes N. Longnecks, strum sticks
Interesting scale Greg. On your "Less Traditional" scale I would argue against A. Unique shapes
There are many "unique" shapes in The Catalogue of Pre-Revival... which are not on your Traditional list such as diamonds, coffins, and the Buckeye shape. Additionally there are two dated shapes which LAS didn't include -- the independently conceived Holly Leaf patterns from North Carolina and Virginia which Bobby and I build.
Also, IMHO, N --- Wiessenborn, strumsticks etc -- aren't even dulcimers. Dulcimers -- by international musical instrument definition -- do not have any "neck" extending beyond the body.
The scale defines the degree to which a particular dulcimer is or is not traditional. Three more features of traditional dulcimers have been suggested.
KenH suggests that traditional dulcimers have "no extended neck". Clawhammer that traditional dulcimers are not "electric or amplified". Richard suggests that the "presence of feet" might be considered traditional.
If the original scale is modified as follows, a perfect traditional score would be 14 out of 14. The Prichard and Thomas dulcimers get a perfect traditional of 14. In addition to the original 11 out of 11 score they earn additional points for having:
12. No extended neck 13. No electric amplification features 14. The presence of feet on the bottom of the dulcimer
The question might arise concerning the number of points necessary to be considered traditional. Obviously, traditional dulcimers do not require perfect scores. Some of the features are optional. The absence of feet, for example, does not mean a particular dulcimer is non-traditional. The presence of an electric pick-up or an extended neck might very well disqualify an instrument from being considered traditional.
The scale is not meant to determine if a particular dulcimer is traditional, but rather how many traditional features it possesses. More features (higher score) = More traditional, Less features (lower score) = Less traditional.
The Thomas and Prichard dulcimers set the standard to which other dulcimers can be compared.
Strum hollows are absent on many vintage dulcimers, but the presence of a strum hollow does not disqualify a dulcimer from being considered traditional.
Likewise, feet are found on many vintage dulcimers and not found on others.
It would appear strum hollows and feet are optional features of traditional dulcimers. Their presence is neither defining nor disqualifying. Which leads us to the question, "Which features are absolutely required and which features are optional?
I believe we have missed the most important qualification, age.
That would disqualify your dulcimore as well as any other present day builder. Wouldn’t age be better applied to what we call “vintage” instruments rather than “traditional “? I think the word traditional is defined as something done in the ways of an established pattern. Of course I guess that leaves the possibility that as what we are now calling traditional instruments becomes replaced with dulcimers with what would be considered “modern” traits, then eventually what was considered traditional is technically no longer traditional because the new traits have become the new traditional way. And now I’ve done it…I think I’ve confused myself. Haha
I think most of my future models (if and when I get back to building) will be disqualified.
I've decided to only make two models of my own design in the future: Dewdrop Concert Model and the Double Dewdrop.
“It is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it." ~H. Rider Haggard~ But first, before you can blow the bugle horn, or follow the hounds, you must be content to chase the woodpecker. ~Maurice Thompson-1878~
On looking at this further we are discussing a scale, so what dan says is true. If age is assigned a point in rating how traditional a piece is, then his piece would still be traditional but with a point less assuming all other qualities are present. And Bobby your pieces would be traditional as well with maybe a loss of a point or 2. So both would be traditional, but not a “perfect” score traditional. I think I got it now.
Now let’s move onto something easier like “what key is a dulcimer in”? Or understanding modes and why. Haha
Obviously, the descriptor "traditional" refers to the features of the instrument, not the builder. Dan, Bobby, and John's standard dulcimers would all rate pretty highly on the traditional scale. But all three builders could easily build more modern dulcimers by changing specific features.
John has built electric dulcimers and he has used geared pegs on his Galax model, but his Thomas reproductions would rate very high on the scale, lacking only age. Dan`s dulcimers rate nearly perfect scores on the scale, but at my request he has used flush edges, full-width frets, and other less traditional features to accurately represent Frank Proffitt, Leonard Glenn, and Edd Presnell dulcimers. Those reproductions would be slightly less traditional than Dan's standard dulcimores, but they accurately duplicate what Proffitt, Glenn, and Presnell were building.
Bobby's early builds would rate perfect or near perfect scores on the scale. And if we expand the definition of traditional shapes to include a wider variety as pictured in L. Allen Smith's book, his newer builds would still get relatively high scores on the scale.
kenh: I'lll take that over a cheeseburger any day, John! Good choice!! Love chiles rellano!
Sept 18, 2023 16:33:00 GMT -5
saltsprings: Amen to that.....I've been looking for Poblano peppers forever........no luck.
Sept 18, 2023 16:39:45 GMT -5
clawhammer7: That's ok, John...a chile relleno can be a Mexican cheeseburger...sort of.....
Sept 18, 2023 17:24:01 GMT -5
clawhammer7: Yer lookin' in the wrong places, Salt...Come on over to Texas...yer sure to find 'em here....
Sept 18, 2023 17:27:25 GMT -5
kenh: Heck we've even got Poblanos down here in Fort Myers... and theveggie markets over in Immokalee
Sept 19, 2023 6:22:53 GMT -5
saltsprings: You would think Publix would have them.......there used to be a Mexican Grocery in Ocala, but now it's moved about 60 miles from here, go figure.
Sept 19, 2023 15:59:52 GMT -5
richard: Hey Salt---did you loan your resident bear to Disney World? I heard they had one a couple days ago.
Sept 19, 2023 19:04:58 GMT -5
saltsprings: Yup, they did and they captured him and brought him/her up to this neck of the woods. Did you read about the Amazon driver bit by a Diamondback Rattler that was on a porch when she dropped off a delivery? She's in tough shape.
Sept 20, 2023 0:49:29 GMT -5
clawhammer7: That was a big 'un...Hope the driver's ok.....
Sept 20, 2023 9:29:50 GMT -5
richard: Hope that delivery driver will be okay. That is such a danger where rattlesnakes live.
Sept 20, 2023 19:17:23 GMT -5
saltsprings: Yup, I remember dispatching a monster of one on Crosslink road in Raleigh, back in the day when I was a cop on the midnight shift. Sun came up and kids were starting to walk along side the road and that rascal was right out there with a bad disposition.
Sept 20, 2023 23:12:16 GMT -5
saltsprings: I should have added that that was 51 years ago, before all that development out there......it was all swampy along that section of road.
Sept 21, 2023 8:04:03 GMT -5
johnknopf: I was a mere child in ninth grade back then, before I discovered dulcimores.
Sept 21, 2023 8:27:57 GMT -5
clawhammer7: I'm still a mere child.....Ya gotta think young...keep yer mind active...You might have all the aches, pains, and mis'ries,but keep yer sense of humor; spend yer kids' inheritance; now THAT's funny!
Sept 21, 2023 16:05:36 GMT -5
johnknopf: Got no kids, nor wife for that matter. Or dependents. Just my faithful barnacles, leeches and tapeworms.
Sept 21, 2023 16:46:31 GMT -5
clawhammer7: Maybe you oughta see a veterinarian 'bout them worms, John...for them barnacles, I'm afraid you're on your own.....
Sept 21, 2023 22:30:02 GMT -5