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STANDARD STEEL STRING DULCIMERS
Many thanks to Aaron O'Rourke for generously offering to record sound files of my steel string dulcimers. He has provided one each of strumming, flat picking and finger picking to give an impression of how the instrument responds to the various styles.
Innovative mountain dulcimers for the professional and serious amateur musician
Mountain dulcimers have had steel strings since the originators of the instrument pulled a few wires out of a screen to be able to express themselves in a new and unique way. My instruments attempt to honor that tradition, while giving the dulcimer a rebirth through innovation and modern manufacturing methods. As described below, the design is full of elements that are unique to my instruments. They are designed to improve the longevity of the instrument while also improving tone and volume. Among the unique features of the current production dulcimer are:
The top of the instrument is not the soundboard as in the typical dulcimer. The soundboard is internal to the instrument allowing freedom to optimize it for acoustic properties without aesthetic or structural constraints. The bridge passes through the top and rests on the soundboard to generate sound in a manner similar to a flat top mandolin.
The modern school of classical guitar makers use extensive internal bracing to focus the energy of the string into the soundboard rather than exciting the entire instrument. Stephens dulcimers use this same principal to maximize volume and enhance the clarity of the sound produced.
Optional Sound Hole Placement
The sound holes can be placed in either the top or sides of the instrument depending on it's intended use and the player's preference.
Bindings play an important role in protecting the body from the inevitable bumps of an instrument used for performance. Stephens dulcimers have bindings on the upper and lower edges of the body.
Solid End Blocks
Solid hardwood end blocks at the head and foot of the instrument protect the fragile sides, top and bottom from handling damage.
Internal Beam Construction
Internally, there is a rigid I-beam that runs the full length of the body of the instrument. This provides the rigidity and strength to resist the 80 pounds of string tension that is trying to bow the top of the instrument over time.
The neck is bolted to the body of the instrument with four 5mm socket head screws that are concealed within the body of the instrument. This not only facilitates production and the generation of a fine finish, it allows for the flexibility of changing the neck if in the event of damage or a desire for an alternate string configuration
All Stephens' dulcimers have a double bottom so the vibrations of the soundboard are not dampened by the musician's lap.
Quality Grover Tuners
The tuners chosen have proven themselves on fine guitars for for many years. These are not the less expensive stamped tuners that Grover makes, but the superior cast versions that offer years of smooth, secure tuning at a weight that is significantly less than the enclosed tuners typically used.
Nitrocellulose Lacquer Finish
Nitrocellulose lacquer has been the choice of fine acoustic instrument builders for decades. The multi-coat process follows a three coat epoxy pore filling on open pore woods to achieve a true professional finish. Each instrument receives a two stage buffing on a custom, variable speed buffer designed specifically for achieving a deep gloss finish.
Carbon Fiber Reinforced Neck
The neck is reinforced with two extremely rigid carbon fiber bars that assure it will stay straight for generations to come.
The bridge can move to adjust sting length for compensation. It also has vertical adjustability to optimize the action to your style of playing.
The use of a cnc router allows the fret slots to stop short of the edge of the fretboard. Each end of each fret has it's tang cut back so the end of the fret completely covers the slot. A hemispherical end is then put onto the ends of the frets for the ultimate in player comfort. As the wood of the neck expands and contracts with changes in humility, there will never be a sharp fret end protruding from the fretboard.
Fast String Changes
The performing musician may need to respond quickly to a broken string and the simple string retention system allows for very rapid and secure string changes.
Custom dual transducer pickup system. All instruments include a pickup system that has been custom designed in collaboration with JJB Electronics to transmit the instruments true sound without coloration or distortion. These special surface mount transducers are under less pressure than under saddle pickups thus decreasing the likelihood of them transmitting a percussive or harsh sound. The piezo transducers are located to pick up the resonance found on both the treble and bass sides of the soundboard. These do not "fade" or distort at high volume or with high-power systems. The highs are crystal clear while the lows are, low.