by Linda Ratcliff
It merely amplifies what was already inside you.
– Linda Ratcliff
Oops. With a gentle-sounding instrument like the mountain dulcimer, being heard is sometimes a challenge. Unplugged mountain dulcimers don’t put out a lot of volume and seniors are often hard of hearing. That’s not a good combination for the first time you dipped your toe in the performance arena.
But there’s a solution. You just need some kind of input device to capture the sound, as well as an output device to amplify that sound … make it louder.
- Microphones are by far the most common input device. They work by sensing the vibrations of the air around your instrument and turning that into an electrical signal that an amplifier can use.
- Pickups work by directly sensing the vibrations in the instrument itself, and converting those vibrations into electricity. An “under-bridge pickup” is built directly into the bridge of your instrument. A “surface mounted pickup,” can be attached to the wood quite easily with a bit of removable adhesive, and can be moved from instrument to instrument.
- The Direct Box is a device used to send the instrument’s signal through long lengths of cable. This device has many additional features, but can be confusing for a newbie.
- The Electric Guitar Amp might be your easiest option if you know someone who already has one that you can borrow. You simply plug in and start playing. The biggest problem is that these amps are designed to also modify the sound of the instrument as well as make it louder. If you want a more natural sound, this won’t be your best choice.
- The Acoustic Amplifier gives a very realistic sound, and there are even battery-powered models that are very handy for playing outdoors.
- The Public Address System is recommended for a musician who plays in many different locations and needs to amplify a number of instruments. Most dulcimer players won’t need to go this route.
But that’s not all – you will also need cable, and plan to bring a little more cable than you think you’ll need. Cheap cables are a short path to disaster, so take the plunge and buy a better quality of cable right from the start. In addition, purchase a high quality extension cord to reach the power outlet.
One of the best things you can do to prepare for a public appearance is to practice at home with the sound system you have selected before going public with it. Don’t expect to be an expert right away. Ask someone to listen to you from different places in the room, to find out if you are getting static feedback or if you’ve turned up the system too high. Don’t be surprised if you have to move your mic around to get the best result. Many like the sound of their mic best somewhere in the middle of the instrument.
At DulcimerCrossing.com, Steve Eulberg offers a number of videos on the issue of sound reinforcement in a series called “So You Want to Be Heard.” He examines and demonstrates specific products and models of input devices that he has personally used. Sign up here to become a member and have access to this series and many others.