How to Eliminate Fret Squeak (Or Not)
October 6, 2023
Good Morning, Y'all!
I get the following email (or something similar) from people pretty regularly:
"In Steve Eulberg’s “Dulcimer Joy” exercise book, beginning with Exercise 12, the melody is played on the bass string. I guess because it is a wound string, when I slide from fret to fret along the bass string, there is a very noticeable zinging/squeaking sound. Is that my technique? It seems like I have learned that sliding along the strings is the preferred technique for dulcimer music. However, in this case, do I need to learn to simply pick up my finger rather than sliding it from fret to fret?"
Great question, of course, and very clearly written. So I replied to the player with this pithy prose:
"There are lots of ways to look at this:
1) Ignore the squeak - it is part of the sound of a fretted instrument. Look up Andrés Segovia, a renowned classical guitarist, on YouTube - squeak is part of his (world-class in every way) playing.
2) Minimize the squeak - sliding is good (makes you smoother as a player), but has some squeak involved. We use a brass-wound string that has been flattened just a bit (they're called "roller wound" at Folkcraft.com) so it doesn't squeak near as much as a standard bronze wound string (which isn't flattened at all).
3) Try to eliminate the squeak by going with a non-wound string. (We sell these, but only for hammered dulcimer.) Don't try them on your mountain dulcimer! The tension of the non-wound bass string string will likely collapse your fretboard. You don't want this!
So, here's my suggestion: Try some roller-wound strings. These have been stock on all Folkcraft and FolkRoots dulcimers for many years. A lighter touch in the left hand, but will still slide (that'll reduce, but not eliminate, the squeak). Also, you might experiment with a fretboard lubricant (click the link to check it out). A fretboard lubricant will reduce friction, and thus lower the volume of the squeak.
But really, my absolute favorite approach? Don't worry about it. Nobody will notice but you."
So, that's my thinking. What do you all think? There's no such thing as a "squeak-less" string, just a string which "squeaks less." I don't recall ever noticing Bing, or Dave, or Wendy squeak when they perform. I'm sure it happens. They're amazing players, but even they can't get past physics. So, let me know?
Thanks for reading, Y'all - Have a great weekend!
Richard Ash - luthier-who-has-squeaky-fingers