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There is a lot of detailed information in our Hammered Dulcimer Owner's Guidebook, which is included with all of our dulcimers.
Our dulcimers are finished with several layers of clear nitrocellulose lacquer, which doesn't require polishing or conditioning to keep it looking nice. Aside from paying attention to the humidity (see below), the best thing you can do to keep your 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 thin sock or handkerchief stuck on the end of a yardstick. If you encounter stubborn dust or anything sticky, a cloth slightly dampened with water or mild glass cleaner should be enough to get it off.
We don't recommend using instrument or furniture polish or oils, as certain types can interfere with the ability to do future repair work on the lacquer finish. However, we have successfully tested one type of furniture oil called Tibet Almond Stick, which can safely be used on your Dusty dulcimer to help hide dents and scratches in the lacquer. See the Anti-Aging Kit for more details.
There is so much to say on the subject of humidity and dryness that we've written a long article about it, as well as a couple of shorter informational sheets, and we strongly encourage you to check those out. Basically, with too little moisture in the air, your dulcimer is at risk of cracking, and with too much moisture, the soundboard could swell and warp. But don't worry - there are relatively easy ways to monitor this and to keep the humidity in a safe range!
Blog article about keeping instruments safe from extremes of humidity and dryness
Be sure to guard your hammered dulcimer from extreme changes in temperature. Keep it out of direct sunlight, hot cars, freezing attics, etc. It can be surprising how fast a car interior can heat up to dangerous temperatures. On an 80 degree day, even if you're parked in the shade with the windows cracked, it can take less than half an hour for the interior to get hot enough to soften the instrument's glue. It may not show right away, but once the glue is softened, the tension of the strings will gradually pull the instrument apart. A good rule of thumb is that an environment that would make a human uncomfortable will also make your dulcimer uncomfortable.
It is also important to pay attention to the humidity in the dulcimer's immediate environment, and you can read more about that above.
Our padded cases work quite well for protecting your instrument from dents and dings in most transport situations. For car travel, it's best to either lay the dulcimer bridge-side-up on top of your other gear, or stand it up on the rail with the case handle facing up, braced so it won't fall over. If you will be driving a distance with the sun shining on your dulcimer, you can put a space blanket over it to reflect some of the heat. Make sure to read the Temperature section above for more information about the dangers of leaving your instrument in a parked car on a warm day.
Flying with your dulcimer can be a more challenging proposition. Most likely you will not be able to carry it on the plane, and the regular soft or chipboard case will not be enough to protect it as checked baggage. If you plan on flying with it a fair amount, you might want to invest in a rigid flight case, and there are companies who specialize in making custom flight cases. We've also heard that some trapezoid-shaped archery bow cases and bicycle flight cases might fit particular dulcimer models.
For occasional trips, it's often easier to pack the dulcimer in a cardboard box and either ship it to your destination or check it with your luggage on the plane. You'll need a box big enough to fit a few inches of packing peanuts or bubble wrap all the way around the dulcimer. Make sure it's packed snugly so it can't shift around and so the dulcimer itself isn't touching any part of the box. You can go to a packing service to find a box, or think creatively about what local businesses might have extra boxes in the size you need.
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. You can find out by locating the buzzing string and pressing down on the string right next to the tuning pin while you strike the string. If the buzz is gone, you've found the culprit and can fix it by loosening the tuning pin and re-winding it while pushing down on the string. This will help it to wind down towards the soundboard and give the string a solid contact point with the side bridge.
It is also possible for the treble or bass bridge to have been knocked out of position, which can cause the strings from the other bridge to buzz against that bridge where they pass through the holes. This can also be fixed, but you want to be very careful not to break or bend the bridges in the process of moving them.
For the clearest information, we recommend using a guitar pick to pluck the strings while tuning. This will give you a crisp, loud sound and allow you to isolate and tune one string at a time. An electronic tuner with a clip-on pickup (or the Dulci-Tune) will also help you to get a good reading.
The most frequently-mentioned source of tuning frustration is with the treble bridge, where it can sometimes be difficult to get the notes in tune on both sides of the bridge. There are a few common reasons why this can happen, and we cover those and their solutions in our blog article on Tuning the Treble Bridge.
If you are repairing or maintaining a Dusty Strings dulcimer, we can most likely help you find the parts you need. Some of the more commonly-requested items like bridge caps can be found on our website, but feel free to call us if you need something you don't see there.
If you are building your own dulcimer, we have high quality zither pins and hitch pins available for sale, but unfortunately we don't have the resources to advise you on design or to provide plans or other parts, such as bridges. However, our friends at Musicmakers may be able to help with some of those things!
If you're not sure how to set up the dampers and pedal on your dulcimer, here is a useful instruction sheet.