General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
Welcome Barlow45 to our happy little corner of Musical Paradise! We'll gladly give you lots of advice on getting your wife started on this musical journey. I might suggest that you start a new topic here in the General Mountain Dulcimer forum as more folks will see your query there than in this Introduction thread, and later folks will find our answers to your questions more readily.
There are literally more than a hundred possibility solutions to your basic question. In general we recommend avoiding "mass manufacturers" who in other countries, who sell "deals" on Ebay and such. Brands like First Act come to mind.
Most of us recommend you start with "Student" model -- dulcimers made specifically to play well and sound good, but which don't have some of the 'bells and whistles' of more expensive dulcimers. You can find two or three builders of Student models who sell their works for $100 to $175.
Another option is a cardboard dulcimer. Yep -- cardboard. The body anyway. The critical part of any dulcimer is the fretboard and the accuracy with which the frets are spaced and installed. Without a good fretboard all you have is what we call a Dulcimer Shaped Object -- suitable only for wall-hanging. There are, I think, 3 makers of cardboard dulcimers, all of whom make really good fretboards, which can -- after she really loves the instrument -- be installed on a wooden body.
We can, and will certainly help her learn to play as well. There are thousands of written and video lessons, song books, audio files and much much more.
Several years ago I wrote an article for beginners called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What? which is an illustrated glossary of dulcimer terms (so we all talk the same jargon) plus answers to many beginner questions about tuning, playing, care and feeding of their new instrument. You can find an electronic copy here: