Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Raffele - a European relative of the Mountain Dulcimer

Raffele - a European relative of the Mountain Dulcimer

The Raffele is a traditional folk instrument of the alpine regions in Europe (parts of Bavaria, Tyrol, South Tyrol). It derives from the Scheitholt, is tuned DAA - and it is one of the ancestors of the "modern" concert zither.
This instrument was built by Robert Grasser ( It is made of spruce, plum and walnut wood.

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Comment by Peter W. on February 7, 2013 at 5:32am

Thanks for your interest, Carrie! :)

Yes, the Raffele is rather loud. When played in a rural restaurant it has to prevail against talking, eating, drinking and laughing people. As the Raffele doesn't have the deep chord strings (as a modern zither has) it is often accompanied by a guitar.
But I still play the dulcimer as well - and the Raffele forces me to learn the DAA-tuning now!

Comment by Carrie Barnes on February 6, 2013 at 3:09pm

Peter, thanks so much for not only all the information, but the sample vid as well.  My fingers are itching!  LOL! I really the higher clear sound and seems as though it could hold it's own really well with other instruments.  Interesting history and setup on it as well.  Many thanks for your well thought out presentation and information!

Comment by Peter W. on February 6, 2013 at 2:39pm

Just to give a first impression of how the instrument sounds and how it is played:

This is not a certain song, just some easy typical sequences.

Comment by Peter W. on February 3, 2013 at 1:30pm

The Raffele is not played with a noter - the tall frets make that impossible. I don't know when this kind of frets became common for instruments of the zither family.

I remember that Keith Young has built some Raffeles for this duo. As far as I can see, he built his Raffeles with "regular" frets. There is still some information on his website:

And he has used the simple zither pins (you can find that on some Raffele models over here as well) instead of the geared tuners on mine.

The right hand strums with a pick / plectrum.

Comment by Ken Hulme on February 3, 2013 at 9:50am

Interesting - A diatonic fretboard with a 1+, but no 13th fret.  I understand the lack of a 13 fret on that short of scale.  Is it ever played with a Noter?  Or always with bare fingers?

Comment by Peter W. on February 3, 2013 at 5:44am

@Ken: To be more precise, I just made this fretboard comparison and labelled the frets with the numbers as it is common in the dulcimer world. So you can compare how the fret layout of the Raffele and the MD correspond. The confusing thing is, that fret no. 13 is left out on the Raffele - it would be to close to the 12th fret (you must consider, that we have 16 1/2 inches on the Raffele compared to 28 1/2 inches on the McSpadden Dulcimer).

Comment by Peter W. on February 2, 2013 at 4:15pm

Give me a few days to get familiar with the instrument - maybe I can record a little sequence tomorrow. But I have to get used to the short scale fretboard (415mm, about 16 1/2 inches).

The tall frets are typical for zither instruments. When you play the guitar, you press down the strings with your fingertips "from behind", so the fingertails won't touch the fretboard (provided you cut them regularly). As you press down the strings of the zither (like the mountain dulcimer) "from above", your fingernails might touch the fretboard before your fingertips press down the strings hard enough.

So these tall frets allow to press down the strings without even touching the wooden fretboard at all. But I have to get used to it - it's not as smooth as playing on a dulcimer with rounded frets.

The Raffele is tuned in DAA, and is basically diatonic. It has what we (dulcimer players) would call a "1+" fret, but traditionally there is no "6+" and no "8+".

Apart from that, the spacing is quite similar to a dulcimer. It only drifts away from the diatonic scale in the last two or three highest frets, because a "half-tone" fret would be too narrow to get a finger in it.

Some luthiers also make Raffeles with a chromatic fretboard (Robert Grasser does so as well on request), but I wanted to have the tradiational fret spacing.

This kind of peg tuners are also typical for zithers nowadays. Compare the tuners for the melody strings of the concert zither here (whereas the chord strings of the zither still have the typical "zither pins" you have to tune with a tuning wrench, i.e. the kind you also find on autoharps etc.).
The three-peg-tuners for the Raffele are made by a supplier (who also produces 5- and 6-peg-tuners for concert zithers) especially for the Raffele. Robert Grasser buys them.
In former time Raffele-like instruments (the Scherrzither and others) also had drone strings, but today it is usually played in chord-melody-style with fast strumming.

I hope I could answer your questions.

Comment by Ken Hulme on February 2, 2013 at 3:43pm

Very Interesting, Peter.  Your friend does great work. 

Very strange to American eyes to see such tall frets made from flat slices of metal rather than mushroom-shaped pieces. 

And the fret spacing scheme is equally interesting - it does not appear to be chromatic, nor is it diatonic. 

The other interesting thing for me as a builder is the three peg tuner with the unusual shaped body.  Are those a commercially available item, or does he have them made especially for his instruments?

Comment by Carrie Barnes on February 2, 2013 at 3:08pm

I find this fascinating Peter, and enjoyed the website link provided.  I notice it said it was played with a plectrum, but noting noted on how it was fretted/fingered.  Also, it looked like it did not have a 6 1/2 fret either.  Pretty interesting stuff here, thanks for sharing!

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