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What is “bridge compensation” and do I need it?
Last Updated: 09/02/2009
On any fretted instrument, when you press the string down behind a fret to change the note, you are stretching the string and changing the tension. This causes the note that is produced to be higher (sharper) than it would be if you simply pinched the string above that fret. To correct for this tendency of the fretted notes to be sharp, the position of the bridge is “compensated”. All fretted instruments have some sort of compensation or they would sound terrible. Normally the builder includes this compensation during the design and construction of the instrument. The problem with this is that if you change the gauge or the tuning of the strings, the amount of compensation it takes to be exactly on pitch also changes. This means that the builder must either assume what strings and tuning will be used or he must make the bridge adjustable by the player. In our experience most players are not able to properly make this adjustment so we use a fixed bridge. If you order a dulcimer from us, be sure to tell us what strings and tuning you expect to use so we can optimize the compensation to match. Otherwise, we will make the following assumptions:

Standard size dulcimers, standard models: Ionian DAA
Standard size dulcimers, Special or Custom models: Mixolydian DAD
Standard size dulcimers, Baritone Mixolydian AEA
Standard size dulcimers, David Schnaufer model: Mixolydian DAD
¾ size dulcimer, Ginger models: Mixolydian GDG

If you decide to change strings or tuning, does that mean that you must modify your dulcimer? The best answer to that is, if you try it and are happy with the results then it is close enough. If you try it and your dulcimer seems to not play in tune, particularly if it get worse the higher up the fretboard you play, then you probably need to contact your builder for assistance.
The Dulci-Banjo bridge cannot be fixed in place so on this instrument the player has the responsibility for placement of the bridge and compensation.

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