November 4, 2022
It seems like we've made a lot of resonator dulcimers lately. We had a big surge after Bing Futch won the International Blues Challenge a few years ago. He played his 3-string diatonic resonator dulcimer and took first place - beating some of the world's best blues guitar players. We've also seen small spikes here and there - usually after a festival, or online class, where a great instructor impresses the audience with a resonator dulcimer's capabilities. But 2022 has been a sustained push as more people start wanting that "sound."
Kind of metallic, very loud (the resonator guitar was created to allow an acoustic guitar to compete, volume-wise, with big bands of the 1920s, before amplification of guitars became common), and definitely fun.
Resonator dulcimers are dulcimer versions of the earliest resonator guitars. Our resonator dulcimers, specifically, are modeled after my grandmother's 1936 National-branded guitar. With appropriate enhancements to make the original design work with a (smaller, wood) dulcimer body. We made our first resonator dulcimer for a member of the Dayton, Ohio dulcimer club.
Some resonator players play with 3 or 4 strings at a regular string height (action), and play it like a loud dulcimer. Other resonator dulcimer players have the strings set up "high action," which allows them to use a metal or glass slide - which gives a very traditional bluesy sound. Our most common setup is a "medium action," which works for both fingers of the left hand, and also for a slide in the left hand. This setup isn't perfect for either method, but allows the most flexibility, and lets the player switch back and forth between techniques in the middle of a song. We even offer a nut set up for both three high strings and three low strings, allowing the player to switch back and forth in just a minute or two.
The two photos? ThIs instrument-only photo shows the metal cone that's the sound-generator inside the dulcimer. You can't see it when the chrome cover is installed, but the dull, spun-aluminum cone is what the bridge sits on, and this is what makes the sound you hear. The "instrument-with-Richard" photo (below) shows the chrome-plated cover plate installed. Resonator dulcimers are visually striking, for sure. And I enjoy playing each one before it leaves our shop.
We have a design tool on the Folkcraft website where a player can go through all the various options, and create the perfect resonator. Here's a link:
Thanks for reading - Have a great dulcimer weekend!
Richard Ash, Luthier