Thanks to holiday temporal creep, the Hammacher Schlemmer Christmas catalog showed up in the mail yesterday. Back before the World Wide Web—that dark, dark age when Abe Vigoda’s complete filmography was esoteric knowledge, people with extreme opinions talked mainly to themselves, and pornography was mildly difficult to procure—the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog was actually something, full of things that one really couldn’t find anywhere else. Nowadays, it’s lost a little of its wherewithal, but, as a loyal American—and thus unable to resist the siren song of consumerism—I dutifully flipped through this year’s catalog.
On page 37, there’s something called the “No Wrong Notes Strumstick.”
“It uses the unique, diatonic fretting of an Appalachian dulcimer,” the description says, “tuned in a drone relationship such that there are no wrong notes.” Now, I was all set to exercise my inner Victorian parliamentarian on that wrong-note thing. That is quite the sweeping generalization of systems of musical hierarchy and coherence you are making, good sir! But then I kept reading:
A major scale is played by simply fretting just one string and strumming like a guitar.
Now, I try to be forgiving when non-musicians trip on musical terminology, which—let’s face it—can be quirkier than a Wes Anderson movie. But it’s a red-letter day when I can’t even figure out what they’re trying to say. My best guess is that, if you fret one string in a particular place, or maybe fret all three strings, you get a major chord. But the more I think about it, the more I like the thought of propping this thing on your lap, randomly fretting one string, and then strumming away while cascading major scales pour forth. Can you imagine what Terry Riley would pay for something like that?
All is revealed:
They weren't kidding, fret just one string and strum all three (although you can do lots more, of course). Actually looks sorta fun.
Yeah, actually, I want one. (This guy is a pretty good salesman.) I couldn't find any video of anybody who had deviated from the dulcimer tuning, but I'm thinking, tune those strings F-B-F instead of F-C-F and you've got a chromatic instrument.