Care and Maintenance of your Hammered Dulcimer
As a Dulcimer player it is important to understand how to care for your instrument. By following a few simple rules you will help prolong the life of your instrument and keep it looking, and sounding beautiful.
Dulcimers, as with most instruments, can wear over time if not treated looked after properly. Insufficient care of your instrument will increase the risk of issues arising such as strings becoming rusty and/or breaking, the wood becoming dull, warped, or cracked and the sound becoming distorted. It is therefore important to understand the causes of these problems in order that you can take measures to prevent them from happening.
Weather conditions and changes in temperature can drastically affect your Dulcimer.
Direct sunlight causes discolouring of the wood. This is an issue if you use decorative stickers or notation strips on your dulcimer. When these are removed you may be left with patches of lighter wood. Direct sunlight also causes the wood to shrink, which in turn weakens the joints and in severe cases can cause the Dulcimer to distort. These effects are amplified of your Dulcimer has a black lacquer surface.
In the same way that direct sunlight makes the wood shrink, damp conditions will make the wood swell. Because of this, it is best to keep your Dulcimer in a dry, well ventilated surrounding.
The ideal environment for your Dulcimer is to be kept at constant room temperature. If a Dulcimer is subjected to sudden temperature changes, the tuning will quickly become sharp or flat.
For those of you who play your Dulcimer outside, this is usually ok for short periods. It is however best to keep you instrument out of rain and extreme weather conditions.
Constant room temperature is ideal
Don’t place near a radiator/fire,
Don’t place near a window or direct sunlight
Ensure the area is dry and ventilated.
It is best to keep your Dulcimer in a case when not being played. A dulcimer that is kept on its stand has a higher risk of being knocked and falling. A knock or fall is one of the most common causes of the bridges shifting on your Dulcimer. If you think this may have happened to your Dulcimer then please refer to the’ bridge adjustment’ page on this website.
If you do not have a case, then make sure you cover your dulcimer with a lightweight cover to protect from dust, sunlight damage and spillages. A quality case is the safest way to guard against, scratches, knocks, and helps to keep your instrument at a constant temperature when not being used.
Be extra careful when lifting your Dulcimer onto its stand or carrying it to and from its case. This is when your Dulcimer is most vulnerable and it is surprising how easy it is to damage the wood by knocking it against a wall or hard surface.
Don’t ever place items on top of your Dulcimer, as this will put stress on the strings and cause them to break.
Keeping your Dulcimer clean
Dulcimers are very good at collecting dust and cleaning them can be tricky. Dulcimers with a black lacquer surface may need cleaning more frequently as the dust is much more visible. To clean the main body of the Dulcimer, I have found the most effective method is to use a slightly dampened piece of old (clean) sheet. Pass the sheet under the strings at the bottom of the Dulcimer then carefully push and tease it until the other end reaches the top. Hold both ends of the sheet at the same time, and wipe back and forth reaching as far to the outer edges as you can.
A long bristled paintbrush can then be used to clean around the pins and hard to reach areas. Your brush must be brand new and slightly damp.
Try to avoid touching the strings with your fingers wherever possible. The salt in your sweat is corrosive. If your strings show signs of rust, then use fine wire wool (grade 0000) to gently buff the strings.
Do not ever use oil on your Dulcimer as it can get into the tuning pins causing them to loosen, and resulting in an un-tuneable instrument. Use a damp cloth (not too wet) to wipe off any stubborn dirt or marks.