During my adventures over the past few decades, experimenting with various small acoustic instruments from around the world, I often investigated unusual stringed instruments.
That is to say, stringed instruments which differ somewhat from your regular Guitar or Violin. Of course there is nothing wrong with a good old Guitar, but apart from finding six strings a bit of a handful, I have always preferred the sounds of more exotic stringed instruments, like for example the Bouzouki or the Pipa.
Indeed, many stringed instruments passed my way over the years. The single stringed Dan Bau, the multi keyed Bulbul Tarang, the Baritone and even Bass Ukulele… and even the humble Tumbi.
Aye, in fact one experiment of mine revealed, that the somewhat bland Indian Tumbi can actually be played with a Violin Bow. Go ahead… give it a try!
Yet the one instrument that kept calling to my heart would only do so from a cage of incompatible design.
The Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer is traditionally a three or sometimes four stringed instrument, with a diatonic neck. This is a neck where the individual frets are spaced according to a major scale.
This means, whilst the strings are tuned DAD, the fretboard allows for perfectly harmonious melodies throughout a major or minor key.
Indeed it is a very beautiful instrument with a very long ancient history, having grown, changed and evolved over a number of centuries.
Especially, it is very meditative, harbouring wonderful resonances and pleasant harmonies, creating the perfect accompaniment to singing or other lead voices.
However, even though I knew deep down that this three stringed instrument would probably be the most appropriate for my needs, I simply COULD NOT sacrifice all my lifetime’s experience of the Piano unto a diatonic fretboard.
It just did not make sense.
Oh, more painful was that the neck also happened to be the PERFECT length, allowing for similar deep frequencies to that of the Guitar. The sound and shape of the Dulcimer also coincidentally happened to be EXACTLY both the sound and shape of what I was seeking.
Yet no. No, no, no. In the face of all the work I had put into researching world instruments all these years… this almost perfect creature… had a hitch.
You see, the problem with a diatonic fretboard is it makes it practically impossible to play anything non-diatonic. That is to say the chromatics are not there.
There would be no Indian, Oriental or Transylvanian… neither the Arabian or the Spanish… and even the Blues would have its limitations.
This was a sacrifice I was not prepared to make.
Enter the Jeppsian Cfa.
This is a conceptual instrument I was entertaining in the back of mind ever since I first set eyes on a Dulcimer.
The concept is thus:
- A three stringed, Chromatic Neck Dulcimer, tuned C3, F3, A3.
Pronounced, “Kuh-fah”, this new branch of Dulcimer would enable all kinds of musical styles, many kinds of chords, exquisite meditative arrangements and limitless creative possibilities.
If only I was good at carpentry and engineering. The trouble is, even if I could find the skills to create something like this, the level of precision required when assembling a fretboard to a guitar-like instrument is… phenomenal.
It would never happen.
Even searching the interwebs for Chromatic neck Dulcimers, week after week, month after month, year after year… as much as I thought it was a good idea, it seemed nobody else did.
Then, one day shortly after the 2021 New Year, to my incomprehensible awestruck surprise… I… found… one.
A chromatic neck Dulcimer.
And no sooner than you could finish the word “I” – I had bought it. And a little while later… I was holding it.
For those of you interested, I will include more details about the master craftsman behind this instrument at the end of the article.
A standard Dulcimer is tuned DAD and features a Diatonic fretboard. The Jeppsian Cfa is tuned CFA and features a Chromatic fretboard.
This tuning is actually similar to the TOP THREE strings of a Baritone Ukulele, D, G, B, only pitched a tone lower.
So in frequency, C3, F3, A3.
I had actually spent many years prior learning the Baritone Ukulele, albeit in secret. Whilst a tonally “reserved” instrument, I certainly found its tuning an absolute breeze to experiment with and even became lightening fast at various Arabic and Spanish compositions.
Yet when I say “tonally reserved” I mean to reflect on the often conveyed opinion that the Ukulele is somewhat flawed by design. This is because due to its much shorter neck, it can only be tuned so low before it begins to sound “unpronounced” or “off-voiced”.
Indeed, the higher you tune a Ukulele, thence the more tonally pronounced it sounds… but alas, a bit of a headache.
So whence conceiving the Cfa, I wanted an instrument that harboured the same technical wizardry of a Baritone Ukulele, but who’s voice resonated with a similar profundity to that of a Guitar.
And the Cfa harbours all those traits.
From the rolling desert sands of Arabia, through the bountiful birds of the Indian jungles, unto the dust covered outback of a lone wolf blue-strung highway…
… welcome the Cfa.
He is the master craftsman behind the Chromatic Dulcimer of which I happened to stumble, whilst on my last, almost musically exhausted legs.
In a way then, he is somewhat of a saviour to me.
Tim crafts many wonderful instruments, indeed of course the Dulcimers, both with Diatonic and also Chromatic neck fretboards, but also some eccentric items, like his simply amazing Steam Punk Guitars.
Please do check his pages out below and help give him some more recognition for his very good and hard work.
Thank you Tim, live long and prosper.