Dulcified & Amplified

02 Jul
Dulcified & Amplified

by Linda Ratcliff

Your success in learning to play the dulcimer is not something new.
It merely amplifies what was already inside you.
– Linda Ratcliff

Dulcified & Amplified
You’ve been playing your dulcimer for a while now, and you’ve learned how to play several tunes. Your friends have told you that you sound pretty good. So you decided to play at the local nursing home. Afterwards, you thought the mini concert went very well until the seniors gathered around. They thanked you for coming, but they also asked if you could play a little louder next time because they couldn’t hear a thing.

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.

Input Devices

    • 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.

Output Devices

    • 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, 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.  


As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,

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4 responses to “Dulcified & Amplified

  1. Nancy Beaudrot

    July 2, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    The sound toblem can be solved without amplification by playing in a group ofdulcimers. I have a group of 10 people who play together. We play in senior residences and folls have never hsd a problem hearing us.

    • Steve Eulberg

      July 2, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Nancy! The tradition volume boost–play with friends 😉

  2. johnbrownson

    July 2, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Linda, thanks for addressing what many – of us have experienced as a necessary “next step” in our performing.
    Just a couple of comments: I tried the “stick on” pickup, initially, and just couldn’t make it work for me. I was forever accidentally pulling it off, by pulling on the cable, somehow as I played, and not discovering until I was done that I wasn’t connected. Too, the “stickum” stuff left marks on my instrument that I didn’t like. I finally had a local instrument repair guy install an internal pickup on my McSpadden, and I’ve been very happy with it.
    Second, I want to second your comment about smaller, battery powered amps. I see by the illustration that you are using the same Roland “Street Cube” that DJ and I chose- largely because we can plug both a mic and the instrument in. We have matching amps, and they’re great for busking or any situation that requires an “acoustic”, but louder, sound. (It’s fun, sometimes, to play with the effects, too, cranking the reverb just for laughs.) They are so much more convenient than the separate amp and speakers, that we hauled around for a few years.
    Agree, too, about not stinting on cables. A cheap cable will wait until just the wrong moment, and than fail (or partially fail, which is worse) on you. May as well spend the bucks, in front, and feel more secure.
    bottom line is, a small, good amp, like the Roland Cube, will give you a clean sound that doesn’t really sound “amped”, at all, once you’ve set it right. I love practicing, and playing with it.
    Thanks for addressing the issue, and be well. -Buffalo (1/2 of “The Dulcimates”)

    • Steve Eulberg

      July 2, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience and your equipment review!


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