People often ask me to explain my instrument. What’s it called? Where’s it from? How old is it? How did I get it? How did I learn to play it? well, there’s a lot of answers to those questions.
This is my instrument, I call it a hammered dulcimer but it is really a hybrid between the Greek instrument called the sandouri and the Romanian tsimbal. It was built by Kurt Bjorling in Evanston IL. The reason I call it a dulcimer is because I speak English and that’s the English word for it. But a hammered dulcimer has lighter wood, lighter strings and looks like this:
It’s mostly used for American and English folk music and it’s especially popular in the music of the Appalachian mountains. The bridges (the long pieces of wood going down the front of the instrument) hold the strings up. Where they are placed divides the horizontal string placement and determines the note pitches. This is predominately the main difference between all these types of instruments.
Above is a Greek sandouri, you can see several differences in the bridge placement, size, wood and string gauge.
This is a Persian santoor, obviously the names are related but there’s quite a few differences.
The hammers for all these instruments vary as well. Persians prefer a hard surface for the hammers so that the sound is more metallic. Greeks prefer to cover the striking end of the hammers in leather to soften the sound while eastern Europeans prefer to wrap the hammer in wire and then cover the wire with cotton. This gives the hammer weight and a percussive bounce but a soft harp like sound.
Here are some of my sticks. The little ones are from Bellorussia, the medium are American made and the large ones are eastern European. I prefer the large ones because of the way they sound. The longer the stick, the more it bounces and the rounder the tone.
This is a Hungarian cymbalom. It is much larger because it has a lot more notes making it capable of sounding like a piano. These extra octaves require a lot more infrastructure because there’s so many strings meaning a lot more tension on the instrument. They are very heavy and difficult to tune and move around. On the other hand, the sound is very beautiful.
So how old are these instruments? I’ll let Wikipedia take that one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santur
Judging from these pictures, probably very, very old.
How did you learn to play? Well, I pretty much taught myself. It’s a difficult instrument to get your hands on, it’s difficult to tune but if you can get past those two hurdles, the rest is really fun. Of course like anything, the more time you spend doing it, the better you get at it. But with this particular instrument, the joy is in the journey.