Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

July 23, 2014

Adventures in New Instruments

The latest addition to the family is this mountain dulcimer, lovingly handcrafted by Hugh Hunter of Rockwood, Ontario.

Mine is a bit darker than the model pictured here (the wood is cedar instead of spruce) and has a couple of extra sound holes as well. It looks great, feels great and sounds great, and because it's diatonically tuned you almost can't play a wrong note. In fact, I learned my first song by accident in less than five minutes: The Rolling Stones' "2000 Man." If you capo a dulcimer—and you need a specialized capo; guitar capos won't fit—the tuning and mode change. At Capo 1, for instance, you suddenly find yourself in a minor key. Standard tuning for the four strings is DAdd, the latter two being an identical "melody" pair. It's a haunting, mellifluous instrument and I'm blessed to be a proud owner.

Meanwhile, the fine folks at The Twelfth Fret were setting up and repairing my Nonno's Strad-O-Lin (mandolin), and they did a fabulous job. It's now eminently playable: I just recorded with it today, and even capoing at the 4th fret didn't throw off the intonation one bit. The repairman estimated the instrument to be of 1950s vintage, and though the tuning pegs are still rather stiff, it sings like a bell.

And finally, remember the violin I bought last October? I made my first recording with it today, and with help, my playing is approaching musicality. By "help" I mean that through the marvel of multitrack recording, I stitched together a nice-sounding accompaniment by playing only a few notes at a time, all on the same string. Huzzah! The fact that the song was in B certainly didn't make things easier, I'll tell you that. As you may know, learning the violin can be tough sledding. Tone, pitch, timbre and to a lesser extent timing are all hit-or-miss propositions for me at this point, and to get a decent take I have to nail all four simultaneously. Sometimes, I can do it ... for a few notes at a time.

Oh, and I've recently posted some sample music on my web site: studio recordings, an open stage appearance, plus a live-off-the-floor living room session recorded a few weeks ago. Come have a listen!

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