High quality Masterworks instruments are used by professionals all over the world for performance and recording.
- Mahogany soundboard with laminated birch back.
- Walnut Endrails
- Rosewood Bridge
- 16 treble & 15 bass courses
- Harrison Rose Inlays
- Over 3 octave range; 1 3/4 octave chromatic (16-15)
- Extra slots along the edge of the soundboard to make it more vibrant
- Extensively tapered soundboard & bracing unique to a Master Works instrument!
- Approximately 14 lbs
16/15 Ultralight In Detail - by Russell Cook
- Considered somewhat extended in range by the number of notes. Better for intermediate and advanced players but not a burden for beginners. Players are not as apt to grow out of this model as it will grow with you as you develop greater needs in the future (see 5-C below).
- Contains a complete "chromatic" 2 1/4 octaves with a retuned top bass bridge (again, commonly highly unused duplicate of the "D" on the top right treble bridge). It has 3 octaves of the diatonic scale of "G", 2 3/4 octaves of the key of "D" and "C", 1 3‚Äö/4 octaves of "F", 2 1/3 octaves of "A", and 1 3/4 octaves of "E".
- Most commonly plays in the keys of C, G, D, A, Am, Em, Bm, and some in Dm, Gm, F and E.
- The extended range of this model is in the lower register giving a much bigger, lower pitched voice to the instrument. The full key of "A" and partial key of "E" is important for playing with other folk instruments. The added lower register on the bass bridge adds the important "tonic notes" of "D" and "E" for the very common keys of D major and E minor.
- The extra course on the treble bridge provides several important advantages.
- Many times, when playing in a particular key, you need the 3rd of the diatonic scale above the higher tonic note of that scale. For example, in the key of D, move an octave higher from the first D, the tonic of the scale, which is, of course, again D. If you continue from that high D to E then to F#, it would be the 3rd note of the 2nd octave. F#, the higher octave 3rd proves to be needed to play many tunes in the key of D. Now, to my purpose for this explanation. C is the highest normal key on the treble bridge. On the 16/15, the tuning continues up to E on the left, which is the higher 3rd of the scale. This permits the player to utilize the key of C much, much more by simply having one extra course!
- The lowest and highest note on a 15/14 is D three octaves apart very important as this is the most common major key used on a hammer dulcimer. (Another important reason for owning a full-sized over a 12/11 student). But the most common minor key is Em. The 16/15 gives you the highest E to complete the scale (more importantly the arpeggio of Em) to the higher E.
- One of the most important reasons for opting up to a 16/15 "Ultralight" verses a "Full-sized" is its ability to grow! No not in range but in its chromatic capability (refer to the description of a 16/15c). At anytime you may return your 16/15 "Ultralight" to Master Works, and¬†it can be changes into a 16/15 chromatic. It costs $250 to add chromatics to an existing "Ultralight" verses $200 when purchasing a 16/15c to start with, but it sure beats selling and repurchasing a newer instrument, especially if you have grown very attached to it! This gives you the ability to purchase an instrument at a lower cost now and invest further towards your chromatic needs at a later time! How great is that? I don't know of another builder anywhere who offers such an option.
- Though larger in range, the 16/15 "Ultralight" remains very light (14 lbs.) and only slightly larger than the 15/14: 43 3/8' x 17' x4 1/4 '.
- Though somewhat more expensive, the 16/15 "Ultralight" is still very reasonably priced (priced any American made handcrafted guitars lately?) It is constructed of hand-picked woods, by me, including Mordillo Rosewood, Genuine Mahogany, Finland birch, select white Hard Rock Maple, vertical grain Spruce or Fir, plus dozens of varieties of custom American and foreign exotic woods. I¬†hand pick all materials from 100,000s of board feet of wood each year. I have touched virtually every stick of wood incorporated in your instrument. More than three decades of continuous hard work and experience (11,000 plus instruments) means more than I can explain when it comes to dealing with the inconsistency of wood from countries all over the world as well as a variety of glues and finishes. I certainly don't know it all but I know a lot more than I did my first, fifth or even tenth year of building or my 1st, 100th or even 1000th hammer dulcimer! Quality and consistency comes from succeeding and failing, while discovering characteristics of wood in all phases of instrument building through many decades of experimenting, as well as production.
- "Ultralight" - what does that mean? Materials alone do not completely dictate the tone of an instrument. Even more important is the design-what you do, or don't do, with the woods and glues and finish and hardware. After years of building large, heavy, over-braced traditional American style "floating soundboard" dulcimers with four strings per course, I saw the light of "less is more". When there are more strings per course there is more stress to brace against. This makes the instrument more massive, which makes the instrument less vibrant which dictates even more strings! I own an antique dulcimer that has ten strings per course and it weights a ton! Yes, it sounds awful as well! Anyway, my design went from 50-60 lbs. to 18 lbs. and everyone went nuts! I often heard "I don't have to get someone to carry my hammer dulcimer for me anymore!" Continuing in that train of thought, I continued searching for a slightly leaner "thoroughbred" of a design. So, for more almost three decades I have been building the original lightweight hammer dulcimer reasonably d the "Ultralight". It now weighs in at approximately 14 lbs. There is a 4 lb. difference from the first "Ultralight" to now. This change came from a simple but extremely important concept -"tapering". From the beginning of the "Ultralight", I chose to taper the pinblocks, removing a ton of unnecessary hard maple. You now see many instruments incorporating this logical concept. But it can be integrated in many other ways as well. Braces need not be full thickness and height all the way across the instrument. The stress is mostly in the center where the back is being pushed downward by the cresting strings over the treble and bass bridge. So, we make them shorter where the pressure is less and full height where the support is needed! The soundboard not only vibrates but also supports the treble and bass bridges just like the braces. The areas not directly supporting the bridges do not need to be as thick and should be thinned. The supporting areas should be stronger and be made thicker. The edges are strengthened by being attached to the endrails and pinblocks thus the perimeter is stiffer than the central areas of the soundboard. This allows us to make it thinner around the outside and shave off a few ounces! The pinblocks have a lot of stress but are fully attached to the back, endrails and soundboard thus they are stiffened and need not be as thick and wide as you might suspect. The back is supported by the braces, endrails and pin-blocks. It does not require thickness to be stiff. The bridges create the cresting strings, of course. Since the hammer dulcimer is designed logically in a trapezoid shape, the higher-pitched shorter strings crest more sharply. We taper the bridge¬†- a shorter height on the narrow end of the instrument¬†- thus removing some very heavy rosewood from the bridges and relieving a bit of stress on the body by yielding a less severe crest of the strings over the bridge. The "Ultralight" utilizes a double endrail design. The first "internal" endrail is inside between the pinblocks and above the back and beneath the soundboard just like the visible endrails in the 12/11 and 15/14 design. You can see the "Ultralight" internal endrails through the back handle ports. The second endrail is the flat external visible material, which covers the internal endrail and ends of the pinblocks on both short and long sides of the hammer dulcimer. Since there are two, both the internal and external endrails are thinned to reduce weight but remain even stronger than just one thick endrail.
- Voice¬†- The "Ultralight" is the instrument Master Works/Russell Cook is known for. It is rich, mellow, reasonably loud and evenly toned from top to bottom. Rosewood bridges are a part of this rich mellow voice but Maple may be chosen to brighten it slightly. Those who play a lot of faster tunes may prefer Maple bridges on their instrument. Maple bridges also affect sustain slightly. It is a little softer and less dense than Rosewood yielding slightly less sustain. Softer lighter woods, such as Walnut or Cherry, transfer energy less effectively and reduce sustain even more. But the tone becomes 'tinny' and 'thin'. Sustain is far less understood than it should be in the hammer dulcimer world. Every piece of wood, hardware and all aspects of design affect the voice and sustain in various degrees. Even the arched soundboard affects sustain slightly. But, by in large, sustain is the product of bridge material and design as well as bridge cap material and design. Side bridges are included in this concept. Again, harder denser bridges yield more sustain just as harder denser bridge cap material yields more sustain. Long continuous bridge cap rods yield more sustain and sympathetic vibration (hit a 'D' and all "D's" resonate, etc.) while short little multiple bridge caps yield less sustain and sympathetic vibration. Softer bridge caps such as "delrin", a fiberglass type plastic rod, yields less sustain while metal caps yield more. Bridge design affects sustain dramatically. Extremely low sustain is evident in instruments with individual "chessman" style bridges, versus long continuous bridges of one piece of wood. Separating the top of a continuous wooden bridge is somewhere between. Side bridges are similar in affect but not as dramatic. The most dramatic variation of side bridges is the Howie Mitchell design where all strings go through the side bridges and turn up to the hitch pins. Since they are in direct contact with the wood, sustain is dramatically reduced. Some players determine they need a lower sustain than average. They might play a lot of Fiddle tunes, Jigs or reels. Some folks need it to comfortably perform jazz or ragtime tunes. Some players are just used to a low sustain voicing from previous instruments. Whatever the reason, we can accommodate you with the "Low Sustain Setup". It includes a less massive wood for bridges. Cherry fills the job well. The slots on top are much wider (taking mass from each pedestal). The bridge is then tapered from a narrow top to a wider bottom making the bridge somewhat shaped like a triangle verses our traditional round top, straight sided rectangle shape. Again, the result is less mass. Then, the bottom of the bridges are scalloped to lower mass, as mentioned before, but mainly to make the bridge less stiff -- a little more like individual chessmen style bridges. Last, but not least, we drill extra small holes in the lower half of the Bass bridge, Guess why -- yep, it's to lighten the bridge where sustain is commonly the most prevalent. The lower treble is typically not a problem. All together, the process dramatically lowers the sustain of the entire instrument offering players the full, mellow tone of a Master Works Hammer Dulcimer with the flexibility of adjusting for taste concerning sustain.
- Endrails -There are two standard choices of endrails, Walnut and Cherry. Maple is available but is rather bland in appearance so we choose to use only Curly or Birdseye Maple (which cost a little more) on these nicer instruments. It is an extra cost along with many other exotic wood choices. Endrail choices do not dramatically affect the tone of the instrument. They mostly affect appearance, which is very important as you look at it day after day!
- Sound-holes are not important in varying the tone or voice of a hammer dulcimer as there are so many slots and handle ports elsewhere in the instrument. In smaller instruments, such as violins, the sound-holes affect the tone a great deal. We include at no extra charge beautiful Harrison Rose sound-hole inlays in your "Ultralight" hammer dulcimer. It is based on a quilt design with a little Celtic rope styling on the side. We have a few custom design inlays available for an extra fee or you may produce your own and have us incorporate them into your ordered instrument.
- Stained soundboard - Red, brown or black stained soundboards are available (these enhance the players ability to see the silver strings versus the average caramel colored soundboard).
- The "Ultralight" model comes with receptacles in the back to accept monopod legs (for playing without a stand) or video camera tripods (to be used in the place of a typical wooden stand). Two handle ports are located in the back for ease of handling.
Master Works Ultralight Hammered Dulcimer