The Hammered Dulcimer
Numerous versions of the hammered dulcimer are used throughout the world. In Hungary and Eastern Europe, a larger descendant of the hammered dulcimer called the cimbalom is played and has been used by a number of classical composers, including Zoltán Kodály, Igor Stravinsky and Pierre Boulez. In other regions for example, the khim is the name of both the Thai and the Khmer hammered dulcimer and the santur or santoor is a type of hammered dulcimer that originated in Mesopotamia and is found in Iran, Iraq and India.
The hammered dulcimer is a percussion instrument and stringed instrument with the strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board. Typically, the hammered dulcimer is set on a stand, at an angle, before the musician, who holds small mallet hammers in each hand to strike the strings. The Graeco-Roman dulcimer (sweet song) derives from the Latin dulcis (sweet) and the Greek melos (song). The dulcimer, in which the strings are beaten with small hammers, originated from the psaltery, in which the strings are plucked.
A dulcimer usually has two bridges, a bass bridge near the right and a treble bridge on the left side. The instrument is referred to as hammered in reference to the small mallets (referred to as hammers) that players use to strike the strings. Hammers are usually made of wood (most likely hard woods such as maple, cherry, padauk, oak, walnut, or any other hard wood), but can also be made from any material, including metal and plastic. In the Western hemisphere, hammers are usually stiff, but in Asia, flexible hammers are often used. The head of the hammer can be left bare for a sharp attack sound, or can be covered with adhesive tape, leather, or fabric for a softer sound. Two-sided hammers are also available. The heads of two sided hammers are usually oval or round. Most of the time, one side is left as bare wood while the other side may be covered in leather or a softer material such as piano felt.
Several traditional players have used hammers that differ substantially from those in common use today. Paul Van Arsdale (b. 1920), a player from upstate New York, uses flexible hammers made from hacksaw blades, with leather-covered wooden blocks attached to the ends (these are modeled after the hammers used by his grandfather, Jesse Martin). The Irish player John Rea (1915–1983) used hammers made of thick steel wire, wound with wool. He made these himself from old bicycle spokes. Billy Bennington (1900–1986), a player from Norfolk in England, used cane hammers bound with wool.