Frequently-Asked Questions

Hammered Dulcimers

I lost/broke one of my hammers. Can I get a single replacement?

We sell hammers only in matched pairs. They are hand-sanded to final shape as a pair, so that their balance and feel is identical. This might not seem significant, but an unmatched pair can easily be bothersome. Even a variation in leather thickness, which is common, impacts the feel.

How should I clean my dulcimer?

The best thing you can do to keep your hammered dulcimer in good condition is to dust it. A feather duster works well for the large areas, and a paintbrush is a great way to get in and around the pins. For dusting underneath the strings, try a sock stuck on the end of a yardstick. If you encounter stubborn dust or anything sticky, a cloth dampened with water or mild glass cleaner should be enough to get it off. Don’t spray anything directly on the instrument, and be careful about rubbing too vigorously or you might end up with a shiny spot in the semi-gloss lacquer. We don't recommend using instrument or furniture polish or oils, as these can interfere with any future repair work on the lacquer finish.

If you notice the strings becoming tarnished, you can usually clean them with a string wiping or polishing cloth. If they are heavily tarnished, a very fine steel wool will clean them, but it will also take off some of the protective coating so they will likely tarnish again more quickly after that.

How can I amplify my dulcimer?

You can get a functional sound from any one of the many single spot, stick-on acoustic instrument pickups that are on the market. They are inexpensive and easy to install, although you may experience that your sound is not very well balanced or natural sounding.

If you want to invest in a more professional level of pickup, we've found that a brand called Pick up the World does a good job of natural sound reproduction on the dulcimer. There is a dual-element model for the hammered dulcimer that you can buy through Dusty Strings. Call us to find out about current pricing.

The Pick up the World pickup applies with double-stick tape, and can easily go on the top of the soundboard. The elements are in view then, and the wires and jack have to be secured to the instrument somehow so they don't rattle. The elements usually sound best with one placed between the treble and bass bridge near the bottom edge of the soundboard, and the other near the top edge, between the two bridges. It's a good idea to try a few slightly different placements to find the best sounding spots.

For Dusty Strings Dulcimers we have a more involved internal installation solution that hides the pickup and wires from view. We attach the elements to the underside of the soundboard, going through the sound slots at the top rail and the handle hole near the bottom rail. We cushion the wires with soft sleeving, so we can route them through the soundbox without risking buzzing, and then mount the jack discreetly into the back.

Should I keep my dulcimer at a certain humidity?

Yes! The recommended safe range for wooden musical instruments is between 40% and 50% relative humidity. Excess humidity is not a common problem, but if the instrument gets too dry the wood can shrink and crack. It’s important to monitor the humidity in the room where you keep your dulcimer, and to humidify if it’s getting too dry. We highly recommend reading this PDF on Humidity, Dryness and Musical Instruments for more details about the risks and for advice about combatting dryness.

When I tune one side of the treble bridge, the other side is out of tune.

There are a few possible reasons for this, and we go into detail about it in the Tuning Hints section of our dulcimer support page.

What should I do if I'm missing a black or white bridge marker?

The black and white delrin bridge cap markers can sometimes pop out and get lost when changing strings, so we sell small packs of replacements. While you’re waiting for a replacement, it’s probably a good idea to take the tension off of that course of strings so they don’t dig into the wood of the bridge. When replacing a bridge cap, you don't actually need to glue it in place because the string tension will hold it, but if you decide you want to glue it down, you can use a tiny dab of acrylic medium.

Can I put dampers on my hammered dulcimer?

We have designed dampers for our PD40/D45 and Chromatic Series dulcimers. We do not make dampers for other makes of dulcimer. While they are simple in concept, they are difficult in execution if you want the kind of evenness and responsiveness that we've achieved. They must be fit precisely to the instrument. If you have a PD40 or D45, the holes for dampers are pre-drilled and you can buy a damper kit from us and install it yourself at any time, or ask us to install when you order the dulcimer. We install dampers on the Chromatic Series in our shop, only. They are a complex enough stringing arrangement that the fit and adjustments must be done carefully by hand, which requires a felt-cutter and shaver, plus other specialized tools we've developed. You can order them with your dulcimer, or send your dulcimer back to us for installation. Sometimes people do this and get a re-string at the same time. Be prepared for a hefty shipping investment, though! We can fit dampers on any D300 newer than #13378, D500/D550s newer than #13169, and any D600/D650. 

How do I know when to change my strings?

When to change your strings is ultimately a matter of personal taste. You won’t hurt the instrument by leaving the same strings on there forever, but if you’re bothered by your dulcimer not having the same brightness and ring that it used to have, it might be time to change the strings. If you have one of our larger models with wound strings in the lower register, often changing just the wound strings will do a considerable amount to brighten up the whole instrument.

How do I replace a hammered dulcimer string?

Replacing your first broken string can seem daunting, but with your tuning wrench, a pair of wire snips and our step-by-step instructions, you'll be a pro in no time. If you have the Hammered Dulcimer Owner's Guidebook that came with your dulcimer, the section called "Replacing Broken Strings" will walk you through the whole process. If you can't find the booklet, click here to open a PDF copy. As always, if you have any questions or run into any snags, feel free to give us a call!

Note: If you are restringing the whole instrument, we recommend changing the strings course by course. If you take all of them off at once, your bridges will move around and it will be more work to re-position the bridges and get the instrument back in tune.

Why is my string buzzing?

If you hear a raspy, buzzing sound when you play your instrument, the most likely cause is a string that is resting too lightly on the side bridge, causing it to vibrate against the bridge when struck. If you suspect that this is happening with one of your strings, press down on the string right next to the tuning pin and strike the string. If the buzz is gone, you've found the culprit and you can fix it by lowering the string so that it makes solid contact with the side bridge. Do this by loosening the tuning pin about a half turn while pushing the string down toward the soundboard on whichever end is buzzy. Hold this position while you re-tighten the pin. In the case of some of the bass bridge strings, since you do not play on the right-hand side of the bridge, you will not alter the tuning if you find it easier to raise the string completely off the side bridge instead of pushing it down. On the treble bridge, it is critical to the tuning that both ends of the string make solid contact with the side bridges.

Can I use your strings on my non-Dusty hammered dulcimer?

The short answer is that you probably can, but you'll need to know what materials and sizes of strings you need, or be willing to experiment. For more details about this, as well as the types and sizes of dulcimer strings that we sell, see our Dulcimer Strings page.

Can I order dulcimer strings online?

You sure can! Follow this link to our online string ordering page.

What if the Snark tuner breaks on my Dulci-Tune?

It is relatively easy to replace the tuner head, and we sell reinforced replacement heads for this purpose. There are no tools necessary - you can just pop the old one off and snap the new one on.

How do I set up my dampers?

The Dusty Strings damper system can be confusing the first time you set it up, so we recommend printing out our Damper Instruction Sheet to help you.

Harps

How should I clean my harp?

Your harp has multiple coats of clear lacquer finish on it, which provide protection and allow the true color and character of the wood to shine through. To keep the lacquer in good condition, we recommend routinely dusting your harp with a soft cloth or a feather duster. A soft paintbrush is a great way to dust around the levers and tuning pins. If needed, you can wipe the harp gently with a damp cloth. To remove skin oils or more persistent grime, spritz some Windex on the moistened cloth. Avoid spraying water or Windex directly on the harp, and be careful about too much vigorous rubbing, which can put a shiny spot in your harp's semi-matte lacquer. We don't recommend using instrument or furniture polish or oils, as these can interfere with any future repair work on the lacquer finish.

Should I keep my harp at a certain humidity?

Yes! The recommended safe range for wooden musical instruments is between 40% and 50% relative humidity. Excess humidity is not a common problem, but if the instrument gets too dry the wood can shrink and crack. It’s important to monitor the humidity in the room where you keep your harp, and to humidify if it’s getting too dry. We highly recommend reading this PDF on Humidity, Dryness and Musical Instruments for more details about the risks and for advice about combatting dryness.

What is regulation and do I need it?

Regulation is the process of readjusting the sharping levers and bridge pins so that when you flip a lever, the note changes by an exact half step. Your harp was regulated when it was built, but over time the soundboard will bow up a bit (this is normal, and actually helps develop the sound), and this combined with the normal bumps and knocks of life will eventually change the precise relationship between the lever, string and bridge pin. These changes are greater when the harp is new.

If you start to notice that your harp is in tune with no levers engaged, but out of tune once you put a few levers up, it’s probably time to get it regulated. If you're not sure, you can check by tuning a string with an electronic tuner, then flipping the lever. If it's still in tune, you don't need regulation. If it's more than a few cents sharp or flat, it might be time for regulation.

If you’re near Seattle, you can bring your harp to us. If not, you can look around for a harp technician in your area, or you can check out out our Levering Guide and regulation tools and learn to do it yourself!

How do I know when to change my strings?

There is no rule about how often to replace your strings. The easy-to-identify situations are when a string breaks, a wound string begins to unwrap, or a wound string has become stretched out enough that the wrapped section passes over the bridge pin. The more subjective situations are when a string sounds dull to you or you notice an overall loss of tone in your harp. Changing the strings will usually brighten it back up. Ultimately, however, you should do whatever feels right to you. If the harp sounds fine to your ear, there's no reason to change the strings unless they break!

How do I replace a harp string?

The prospect of replacing your first broken string can be daunting, but with a little bit of practice and the right instructions, it's pretty straightforward. There is a string chart mounted inside your harp's soundbox (or you can download one from this page) and our PDF guide to Replacing Harp Strings has detailed instructions and diagrams for each different type of string. You might also find our videos on tying the harper’s knot helpful. And remember not to remove all the strings at once, as your harp is primarily held together by string tension!

What are sharping levers and how do they work?

The function of sharping levers is to raise the pitch of an individual string by a half step, which allows a harpist to be able to play in more than one key without re-tuning the harp. Different levers work in different ways, but at the basic level, engaging the sharping lever shortens the length of the string, thus raising the pitch. The more levers your harp has, the more keys are available to you. For a more detailed look at tuning schemes, lever configurations and available keys, you can read our PDF on Using Sharping Levers.

Can I use other strings on my Dusty Strings harp?

You can use any nylon monofilament strings on your harp, provided they are the diameter specified on your string chart. However we make our own custom wound strings for each model of harp, and for this reason we highly recommend purchasing wound string replacements that are made by us. We take great care in our stringwinding and each string is designed for a particular note on a particular harp model. This means that the wrap ends in a very specific place for that length of string and the materials have been designed to give what we feel is the best combination of sound and performance. We also measure and maintain tight tolerances on the diameter of each string, which is what ensures that the lever will fit the string and sound good when it's engaged. You can read more about our string making and design process here.

If you do have someone else design a string set for your Dusty harp, you must be sure that you don't put more tension on the harp than the standard set does. Doing so could cause serious damage to your instrument and void your warranty.

Can I use your strings on a non-Dusty harp?

If you have a harp by another maker, you can order our nylon monofilament strings if you know what color and diameter you need. However, unless the harp has been designed specifically for our strings (which is true in a few cases), it is unlikely that our wound strings will work very well. We make them specifically for each of our harp models, and unless they happen to be exactly the material, diameter and length that you need, they will not sound good on your harp, could interfere with the levers, and could potentially introduce more tension than your harp was designed to withstand.

If you are unable to reach the maker of your harp, we recommend contacting Robinson's Harp Shop. If they do not have string specifications for your harp on file, they can design a custom string set for you.

How can I amplify my harp?

If you're looking for a quick answer, check out our Harp Amplification page.

For more in-depth information, we have a series of posts on our blog that cover the basics of amplification and how to decide what will work best for you. We recommend starting with the first post about pickups vs. microphones.

Why is one of my bridge pins pointy?

If you notice that one or a few of your bridge pins up at the top look different from the rest, don't worry! There's nothing wrong with them. In the upper ranges of the harp, everything has to get closer together in order to achieve accurate regulation, and the beveled head allows the bridge pin to snug up more closely to the sharping lever without hitting it.

One of my levers is missing the fret pin. What should I do?

Sometimes people all of a sudden notice that one or a few of their levers do not have fret pins like all the rest, but this is actually part of the lever design. On the shortest strings with the smallest levers, there simply isn't room for a fret pin and those levers are designed to function properly without one.

Why is my string buzzing?

There are a number of easily-fixable things that could cause your harp to buzz. Sometimes the string is actually hitting something when plucked, and sometimes there is a loose connection elsewhere on the harp that vibrates in sympathy with a particular note. To help you track it down, we've created an interactive troubleshooting guide that walks you through all the possibilities, starting with the ones that are the easiest to find or are the most common culprits.

Can I order harp strings online?

You sure can! Follow this link to our online harp string ordering page.

Do you still sell cases for the FH32 and the older FH36?

Unfortunately, we do not have any cases left that fit these models. We recommend talking to the Colorado Case Company or Coon Hollow Canvas to get a custom case made.

Can you repair the zipper on my harp case?

Unfortunately, we do not have the capability to repair cases. We recommend talking to companies that do outdoor gear repair (fixing things like backpacks and sleeping bags) to see if they can help you.

What if the Snark tuner breaks on my Duo-Tune?

It is relatively easy to replace the tuner head, and we sell reinforced replacement heads for this purpose. There are no tools necessary - you can just pop the old one off and snap the new one on.

Shipping

Can you sell me a box to ship my harp in?

If you have a Dusty Strings harp, we can probably sell you a box and packing materials, although we can't actually pack up and ship the harp for you. We don't recommend this unless you are nearby and able to come pick up the box in person because freight companies charge mainly by size rather than weight, so it is actually just as expensive to ship you an empty box as it is to ship one with a harp in it.

If you're not nearby, try looking for a packing company that can construct a box for you. When packing the harp in the box, make sure no part of the harp is touching the box itself. You want it to be securely positioned in the box so it can't shift around, and well-cushioned on all sides with foam or multiple layers of large bubble wrap so it can withstand a short drop.

I just ordered a new harp or hammered dulcimer. What should I do when it arrives?

People are often nervous about the thought of their new instrument in the hands of a shipping company, but we ship harps and hammered dulcimers all the time and we have hardly ever had any problems. To help prepare you for what to expect and what you should do when the instrument arrives, we've put together some useful information in a PDF document called Receiving Your Harp. Although it is geared toward harps in particular, the same concepts apply to hammered dulcimers (which are usually shipped via UPS, just like the smaller harps).