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Dulcimer Safety

August 25, 2023 - Dulcimer Safety

Good Morning, Y'all!

With temperatures in the upper 90's this week, it has been a scorcher! Our part of Indiana (way north, near Fort Wayne) is generally a lot more moderate. But since this is our first foray into the 90's this summer, I guess it hasn't been too bad.

The high temperature bring up an important discussion - about dulcimer safety. I will (try to) keep it short and simple, and share some helpful hints on how temperature, humidity, and travel can impact your dulcimer.

Low temperatures. Cold absolutely won't hurt your instrument. But a sudden change to room temperature - from frozen-to-comfortable - will. So, if you travel in the winter, the trunk is fine for your dulcimer. But when you get to your destination, leave your dulcimer in the case, and let it come up to room temperature SLOWLY. Don't put it on a radiator or near a heat register. And don't open up the case! Give it hours, or even overnight, and then play as usual the next day. Easy!

High temperatures. Hot is bad! Anything over 100 degrees (ish) will soften the lacquer and soften the glue joints. Your instrument could well come apart, glue/lacquer itself to your case, and have a host of other problems. So. when traveling in summer, generally your trunk will be okay, but in the cab of your vehicle - with all those windows? No! As a rule of thumb: Don't have your dulcimer in the passenger compartment, unless you're there, too. If you have to go inside somewhere (say, for lunch, when you're driving to a dulcimer festival!), take your instrument with you. Don't cook your dulcimer!

Humidity. I've never seen a mountain dulcimer (don't get me started on hammered dulcimers - this article is all about mountain dulcimers!) crack from low humidity, or warp from high humidity. That really isn't a concern for us MD players. I drive, every winter, from 20% Indiana humidity to 90% Homosassa, Florida, humidity. My trailer full of dulcimers gets frozen solid on the drive to Florida, and as the instruments thaw out in the Gulf Coast warmth, they soak up a LOT of moisture. But other than the intonation going sharp (as the instruments expand from the moisture, the strings get tighter) it isn't a problem. I've been doing this trip every winter for 10+ years and never had an issue.

Travel. Dulcimers are like dogs. They like to go for rides and to see new people. But they detest airplanes. Ha! I have done SO MANY repairs from people who flew with their dulcimers and regretted making that decision. There are lots of internet rumors about "the airlines are required to allow instruments in the cabin," but the rumors aren't true. There's even a TSA letter floating around, but it has absolutely no authority over an airline's private property (the plane) in regards to passenger luggage. Too many dulcimer players think they'll "carry-on" their instrument, but end up having to gate-check at the last minute. And then they have to ship the instrument to me for repairs and reconstruction. And guess what? Getting an airline to cover the cost of repairs? Pretty much impossible. So, I highly suggest that (if you fly) you ship your dulcimer - via UPS or FedEx - and have it waiting for you at your destination. It isn't cheap, but is a lot less hassle. I've never had an issue with a hotel holding a UPS parcel for me.

So, good news about cold temperatures, but bad news about heat - and airplanes. 

If You Wait - It Will Be Too Late

I need to say this now, because it'll be too late after this weekend: If you want us to custom build you a dulcimer in time for Christmas, you really need to order it NOW. By this weekend - or Monday (the 28th) at the very latest. After that, we'll "try," but won't "promise" delivery. Realistically, you should be thinking about Valentine's Day delivery dulcimers after this weekend. That seems weird to say, after a discussion about the summer heat, but our lead time is still about four months on our instruments.

annie back - low dulcimer safety

This back is from "Annie" - Bing's first Folkcraft double neck dulcimer. We kept this part after doing the repair from a gate-check mishap between Illinois and Indiana.  

Thanks for reading, Y'all - Have a great weekend!

Richard Ash - luthier-who-has-made-multiple-mortgage-payments-from-making-airline-damage-repairs