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The Acoustical Characteristics of the Concert Cimbalom

The Acoustical Characteristics of the Concert Cimbalom

by Janos Pap

Originally published in American Lutherie #61, 2000

We may be surprised that the sound of the concert cimbalom, or Hungarian hammered dulcimer, is occasionally similar to that of the piano. But we can be sure that it is not a piano, only related to it. The cimbalom produces a little more nasal sound, with a rougher timbre. The acoustical differences derive from the construction of the instrument and the manner of playing. I have devoted much time to making acoustical measurements on concert cimbaloms at the Acoustic Research Laboratory of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in an anechoic chamber, and on a cimbalom model at the Institute of Musicology at Cologne University, hoping to satisfy my curiosity about the causes and effects of the cimbalom’s sound.

In instruments of the hammered dulcimer family, the form is determined by the mode of playing. The player strikes the strings with two hammers. The strings must be divided to give a large range of notes, and the struck parts of the strings must be raised for playability. The string-dividing determines the damping features, and thus the timbre and the decay. The raising of the strings results in high downward force on the bridge, which determines the sound indirectly, by the mode of energy transport and radiation.

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