The questions come up often among Cigar Box Guitar builders: Is fretting worth it? Why would I want to fret my build? What do I need to know and what tools do I need to get started? Fretting can be a complex topic, but it doesn’t need to be a murky mystery to builders.
The questions come up often among Cigar Box Guitar builders: Is fretting worth it? Why would I want to fret my build? What do I need to know and what tools do I need to get started? Fretting can be a complex topic, but it doesn’t need to be a murky mystery to builders. This article will attempt to cover some of the basic concepts to help you decide whether you are ready to take the plunge, as well as point you to other resources to help you get started.
The tablature in the PDF link below will show you exactly how to play the melody and chords for the classic Christmas carol Deck the Halls.
All of the cigar box guitar tablature here on CigarBoxGuitar.com is presented by The Southbound String Company, the only strings specifically chosen and voiced for cigar box guitars. Be sure to check out our line of Open G GDG cigar box guitar string sets here!
Most folks are familiar, at least by sight, with the six-string guitar – whether an acoustic guitar like a Martin or an electric guitar like a Fender Stratocaster™. So it is natural that when people think of frets, or a fretboard, they think of a guitar fretboard – an evenly distributed collection of frets that get closer together the further you go up the neck towards the guitar body.
First, let’s start with what Diatonic (Dulcimer) fretting is NOT…
On a standard guitar, like the Fender Strat mentioned above, or the cigar box guitar in the photo below, it is said to be fretted on a chromatic scale. We are not going to get into the theory behind what that means here, but just take away this tidbit: a chromatic scale, like on a standard guitar, allows you to play every note you could possibly need for a song. All of the sharps, “natural” notes and flats. It’s all in there, and if you aren’t sure of what you are doing it is pretty easy to hit a sharp or a flat when you don’t mean to, causing potentially jarring discordance. Continue reading “Diatonic (Dulcimer-Style) Fretting – What it is, How and Why to Use It”
When it comes to electrifying a cigar box guitar (or really any stringed instrument, for that matter), there are two basic options: either a piezo pickup (sometimes called a contact pickup), or a magnetic pickup. Well, really there is a third option – a microphone – but we’ll not cover that here. So, what are the main differences between a piezo element pickup and a magnetic pickup?
Here’s a cool old patent from 135 years ago, showing a double-necked dulcimer with a rectangular body. These “double” dulcimers were meant to be played by two people at once, usually seated on either side of a table.
It is interesting that the inventor does not actually refer to this instrument as a “dulcimer”, but rather as being like a zither. So this must pre-date beginning to call this style of instrument a dulcimer or Appalachian dulcimer.
These were also sometimes known as courting dulcimers, because when a young man came calling on his sweetheart, her parents would seat them at the table with one of these in between. The parents could then leave the room, and as long as they heard both sides of the instrument being played, they’d know that the young hands were not busy elsewhere.
You can see in the patent’s drawings that the fretboards also were marked with shapes, which harken back to an earlier form of musical notation that used shaped note heads to help indicate pitches.
This may not be the earliest dulcimer patent, but it stood out as being of interest to homemade instrument builders.