Hammer Dulcimers, Ultra Light

On this page:

carbon fiber flex-shaft hammers
ultralight arch back hammer dulcimers
carbon fiber hammer dulcimers
some sample tuning charts

Carbon fiber reinforced with resin is a wonderful material with many space age uses that require strength with light weight. I’ve used it in boats and airplanes, and over the years I have explored the potential of its surprisingly good acoustic properties. My carbon fiber dulcimers are among my favorites due to their pleasing tone, light weight, and tuning stability. Carbon plays an important roll in my current hammers also.

DULCIMER HAMMERS

Carbon Flex-Shaft hammers are the result of many years experimenting to achieve the best tone and playability. Carbon fiber has the best physical properties for making the flexible shafts. An optional ergonomic hand grip is available to ease wrist, finger, and joint problems. See the Hammers page for photos and details.

HAMMER DULCIMERS

Nicholas Blanton and I make hammer dulcimers with optional carbon fiber backs and resin-sealed interiors. These features improve strength and tuning stability while reducing weight. See the Hammer Dulcimer page for models and prices.

Currently, my personal dulcimers use many carbon fiber components, including some of the soundboards. The carbon instruments are very light weight, strong, and resistant to humidity. Tone is so pleasing that I rarely play my other dulcimers. Carbon fiber EXTENDED RANGE and COMPACT dulcimers are used exclusively on my recent CD Dulcimer Fandango. See the Recordings page or: Hear sound clips; buy at: Rizzetta at CD Baby.  

ULTRALIGHT ARCH BACK HAMMER DULCIMERS

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Arch Back Compact with spruce top and carbon sides. 10.0 lb.

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Arch Back Compact with mahogany top and bubinga sides. 10.6 lb.

The latest development in my design quest for ultra light weight hammer dulcimers is the Arch Back Compact. This design enables me to build dulcimers with wood soundboards and carbon frames, or all-wood dulcimers, that are as light as an all carbon fiber dulcimer. Weight is 10.0 lb. with carbon frame and about 10.6 lb. all wood. The tone and tuning stability are excellent while avoiding the much higher cost of all-carbon construction. They are durable, trouble free, and I love the tone.
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The arch design allows the middle of the dulcimer to be very strong, to resist string tension, while unnecessary excess weight is eliminated toward the pin blocks. Tone is very articulate, clean and clear. Sustain is well controlled resulting in less muddiness for rapid musical passages. For sophisticated, wide range dulcimers that are truly ultralight, the arch back concept appears to be the most cost effective approach. I am now experimenting with arch backs on larger dulcimer models.

CARBON FIBER HAMMER DULCIMERS

Carbon COMPACT hammer dulcimer

Prior to the Arch Back experiments, the best way to make ultralight dulcimers was to make extensive use of carbon fiber parts. The first all carbon dulcimer to be completed was a RIZZETTA COMPACT model. It is several pounds lighter than all-wood COMPACTS or COMPACTS with carbon backs and redwood soundboards, making it easier to carry. The carbon soundboard is an important feature for tone and tuning stability. Carbon soundboards typically impart a rather “glassy” and attractive bell-like tone. My prototype carbon COMPACT is made to be ultra light weight and is therefore strung with very light gauge strings. The tone is sweet, rich, articulate, delicate, and musical with a lush warmth and balance throughout the entire range. Sustain is controlled to a pleasing level and individual notes are well-defined with great clarity and very good projection. Tone is slightly reminiscent of a mahogany soundboard dulcimer but with an especially nice and strong tone for its small size and light strings. Dulcimers with carbon soundboards tend to sound great with all hammers from soft to hard, making them especially versatile.

The soundboard, back, and frame, are carbon fiber. Wood is still used for bridges, pin blocks, and internal braces. The exceptional properties of carbon allow me to save a lot of weight while still making a professional, high quality dulcimer that stays in tune. Weight is 10 lb., about 60% the weight of an all-wood COMPACT. Since the carbon structure is impervious to moisture, humidity has no effect on tuning. This greatly reduces the risks of traveling or performing outdoors.

The twill weave pattern of the carbon cloth shows through on the frame rails.

On the first carbon COMPACT I made the soundboard purple just for fun! Later carbon dulcimers have natural carbon black soundboards. My usual decorative soundholes are absent. Soundholes would weaken critical areas of the top and add weight by requiring heavier bracing, so soundholes are in the back and sides.

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This carbon COMPACT was also used to develop a fourth playing bridge that enables playing the “third bridge” Super Bass courses on both the left and right sides of the dulcimer. Structural integrity and tuning stability are preserved and tone of the Super Bass courses is improved. This feature is available on Rizzetta dulcimers as well as the Dusty Strings D570 and D670 dulcimers. See tuning charts at the bottom of the page.

Rizzetta carbon EXTENDED RANGE hammer dulcimer.

For recent recordings I have been using a carbon EXTENDED RANGE dulcimer. The soundboard is natural uni-directional carbon while back and sides are carbon twill weave.

ER with carbon reinforced Bubinga wood frame rails. Bridges are purpleheart.

Carbon frame rails are overlaid with highly figured bubinga wood decorated with abalone inlay.

Top view of carbon EXTENDED RANGE hammer dulcimer.

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COMPACT hammer dulcimer with carbon soundboard. Frame and bridges are jatoba.

Pictured above is another experimental COMPACT designed primarily for jam sessions, portability, and rough use. The soundboard is carbon fiber while the rest of the structure is wood of relatively light weight design. Exterior frame wood is jatoba. Weight is 11.8 lb., and I plan to sometimes use it without a case to minimize carrying weight. It has a longer scale length and slightly heavier strings than my ultralight carbon COMPACT discussed earlier. I also wanted a minimum number of strings to tune, so range is limited to 16-15 with two strings per course throughout. Adding extra bass and chromatic bridges, as I do on most of my dulcimers, would have required a heavier structure and more weight to carry or lighter strings resulting in less volume. I wanted a very portable dulcimer that could still be heard in a large jam session. This dulcimer meets that goal providing a full but mellow tone, well-controlled sustain, and especially good volume and projection for its size and weight. It is equal in volume to some of my larger and heavier dulcimers. It has been easy to use for airline travel. Since it is less valuable, I can use it in situations where I would rather not risk my other dulcimers.

In the early 1970’s I devised an adjustable bracing system, and this COMPACT, like the majority of my dulcimers, has that feature. So, I can adjust this instrument to have a loud and open tone or a more gentle and sweet tone. Initial set up was for loud tone which has worked well in jam sessions.

I do not take orders for dulcimers but will sell them when I have some available. This frees my time to develop more advanced, experimental dulcimers.

SOME SAMPLE TUNING CHARTS

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