I've started a small production run of strum-stick style instruments to sell at craft fairs along with my turned items such as bottle stoppers, ice cream scoops, magnifying glasses, etc.  I'm fretting most of them with a diatonic scale, including the "6-1/2" fret, but I just found out about a so-called "1-1/2" fret (regular 3rd fret on a chromatic scale) that is being used sometimes to make it easier to play a C or F chord when tuned DAd.  My target audience for these will mostly be new, beginning players who will probably have little knowledge of diatonic vs. chromatic scales, blues scales, etc.  I want to supply them with an instrument that is fun, easy to play, and can grow with their abilities.

My question to the group:  Anyone have experience with the "1-1/2" fret, does it make the stick dulcimer easier or harder to play, and can anyone lead me to sheet music or tabs of public domain songs using the 1-1/2 that I can supply my customers with?  Any videos showing a stick dulcimer being played with the 1-1/2 would be most appreciated as well.

BTW - here are some pics of the first batch of 4.  All have necks made of Spanish Cedar.  The bodies are either Paduak, Eiberia, or African Blackwood.  Fretboards are EIR, Wenge, or Paduak.  Finish is sanded to 1000 grit, sealed, then given three coats of hand rubbed antique oil.  I'm planning to build about 2 dozen or so, some will be 4 stringers, some will have full chromatic fretting, some will have electrics built in.

P.S.: None of the craft fairs that my wife and I did last year had anyone selling any type of musical instrument.  

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Hey Hal!  Glad to see you got your shop together. Those are great looking strummers.

Whats your price on one?

Hey Rooster!  Good to hear from you!  I've had the shop together, but most of my time has been spent on the lathes.  Plus, the store where I sell most of my CBG's is undergoing a remodel/transformation into an upscale classic rock-themed coffee shop, so CBGs are on hold for a while.

Haven't settled on a price yet for the strummers.  I know what I SHOULD sell them for, but don't know if the venues will support that.  I'll probably start them around $100 and go up depending on 3 or 4 string, electric or not, you know.  

Hey that sounds cool. I still haven't got to do much building yet. Still renting here and have a lot of stuff still in boxes. Hope to get something going soon.

Those look very nice. What is the VSL? I have often contemplated buying (or building) one. I really like the "A Sticks" by Wendell Powell, although I am not sure if he still walks among us. I have not seen a post from him since about 2009 or so.

As for the 1 1/2 Fret, I play Diatonic Dulcimer. There is a lot of beginner music out there that makes use of the 6 1/2 fret, but little for the 1 1/2 fret and 13 1/2 ( an octave higher). Even the 6 1/2 fret is pretty easy to get around, but I do make use of it. I do not have the 1 1/2 and have never missed it, if I built one, I would omit it.

Thanks for the props.  The VSL, or scale length, is generally 635mm or 25.25"  I slot my fretboards with a .023 kerf blade in my tablesaw with a template and indexing pin.  Works super!

If one were to use a 1-1/2 fret, I think the corresponding octave fret would be called the 8-1/2 and line up with the 15th fret on a chromatic?

Hey Hal - Interesting concept and nice dulcimers - I've only built one and it didn't have the 1 1/2 fret, but I found this video that I thought did a nice job of explaining it.


It does give you a lot of different options, but I'm wondering if it would just complicate things for the beginner?  I don't know, I can kind of see both sides...

A bit more complicated, but so much more versatile!  An excellent video and explanation.  Thanks for the link!

Very nice line of strummers. I think that they should sell like hot cakes. With all that nice wood they look pretty enough for display when not being played.

As for the 1 1/2 fret, my take is to leave it out. The 6 1/2 has a lot of value without adding too much complication. Once you start adding more frets you're on the way back to full chromatic. For a beginner - keep it simple.

I've made and played many diatonic fretted instruments and never found the need for 1 1/2 ( and 13 1/2) frets, but find the 6 1/2 very handy.

Just my 2 (euro) cents' worth!

Wow! How is the tone? I would suggest including an mp3 file with every image of your instruments. Might help sell if folks could hear them first. 

The tone is similar to most CBG's.  What you'd expect for a 3 string shallow box - kinda banjo-like.   I'm selling these at craft fairs where people can pick them up and play them, not on the internet so I doubt I'll put up any mp3 files of my horrible playing.  Also, I don't like to ship instruments, they always get damaged unless you spend a ridiculous amount packing them.  

So far I've only built mountain dulcimers for myself. All of them include the 6 1/2. Even my youngest kids know that when you get to that fret to count it as a half.

I built a chromatic dulcimer to see how I liked it. I guess I'm not a good enough player yet. All those extra frets really slow me down.

On my most recent build I put on the 1 1/2 fret. I love it. I doubt that I will build another dulcimer for myself without it. It makes playing songs with other non-dulcimer players so much easier. No more "what do you mean you can only play a root-less F chord"? I thought it might get in the way, but it doesn't.

Not a lot of dulcimer tab out there that includes the 1 1/2 fret though.

I've never built for sale, but many of my dulcimers are built like strumsticks. Based on watching my guitar playing friends use my builds I'd say either go full chromatic, or diatonic with just the 6 1/2 fret. While I love my 1 1/2 fret, I probably represent a pretty small target audience.


I can't comment on the fretting, but your dulcimers a look wonderful!
Good luck!


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