CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > 'British' dulcimers 1800-1945

Reader's queries and their answers

In the years 1876-79 the magazine Design and Work, A Home and Shop Companion published some three dozen readers' items, queries and their answers, about all aspects of making and tuning dulcimers. The correspondents whose addresses were quoted lived in Fulham, Great Yarmouth, Loughborough, Liverpool, Bishop Aukland and Paisley, and the information given includes references to the following:

One sad writer had an instrument which suffered from a "harsh shaky sound", while that of another featured "semitone rests", which remain an enigma even after his description.

Most contributors used pseudonymns and 'Young Willie' wrote in 1877 that he had made an instrument taking an idea from the "cottage piano" giving it neither bottom nor soundholes and he said that it "sounds sweet but not very strong"; in reply, 'M.R.' sternly reprimanded that it was "impossible to make a dulcimer perfect without having seen one, and was of the opinion that Young Willie would do far better if he put the bottom on and gave it sound-holes (7).

Particularly interesting is the tuning given, also in 1877 (8), for it features a minor sixth between the two parts of the strings divided by treble bridges 5 and 6; such an interval was used on baroque instruments with divided long bridges (type 1/3 1.2, for instance), but nowadays is characteristic only of East Anglia.

Dulcimers were apparently a marketable commodity even after they had ceased to give musical pleasure:

"Exchange 2 1/2 octave dulcimer for lathe or good concertina; H. Stratten, Bars Alley, Fulham SW1"(9);

"I will exchange my new dulcimer 75 strings and tuning key for a 214 lathe in working order; Wm. Grant, Railway Cottages, High Bandgate, Bishop Aukland" (10).