Friday, January 8, 2010

why sixty-four strings?

When I got my first instrument, a 12/11 Dusty Strings, I tried to tune it by ear using a piano and, later on, an electric keyboard. This was the wrong moment to learn that my ear is just a tad sharp, and when I tried to play with other people they made faces like they smelled something bad.

Thus chastised, I bought a real tuner with the little dial and the light and the clamp that goes on the tuning peg, and didn't need that sharp ear any more, and in a few years I moved up to a bigger James Jones. Which, I have to add, cost serious money on a writer's pay, but it made a swell racket and turned out to be exactly right for jigs, reels, and (my favorite) schmaltzy waltzes. My Jones has 64 strings, all of them with an opinion, not all those opinions the same.

If you're not familiar with the species, a hammer dulcimer looks like a piano that was parked overnight in a bad neighborhood. It sounds like a cross between a roomful of banjos and a classical harp--sweet, complicated, percussive, happy, and a little jazzy.

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