Thanks, Lisa. I have a McSpadden and my melody strings are closed together, too. There are times when I am quickly sliding my thumb while anchoring the other strings in chord playing where the bottom two strings separate some. I might see if I can try out someone’s dulcimer in my group. That is a great idea.
To remove one string or not to remove, that’s the question
Well, the second-easiest way to find out is take one of the melody strings off your dulcimer and see how you like it. You can always put the string back (or use this as a opportunity to replace all the strings, which is usually a good idea). See if you can loosen the string that's closest to you and drop it down off the side of the fretboard. Some dulcimers have a tiny nail where you can tuck the string to keep it out of the way -- then you don't have to remove the string entirely and you can switch between 3 and 4 strings whenever you like.
The most-lazy way (and therefore my favorite!) is next time you're at a group meeting ask someone with a 3-string setup if you can borrow their dulcimer for a song or two. Try to borrow a dulcimer that's similar to your own so it's a fair comparison.
My own preference is double-melody for drone-style in DAA or DAG tuning. I don't have a problem with hammer-ons or pull-offs because my McSpadden's melody strings are placed very close together, the action is not ridiculously low nor too high, and the string tension is fairly tight. Floppy strings or strings that are far apart can be a problem. I have met some ducimers that are not good with double-melody strings and I don't blame the strings, I blame the dulcimer.
I prefer a single-melody string for chords, fingerpicking and tunings like DAD that often require melody notes on the middle string. In these situations I don't want the melody string(s) to sound vastly different from the other strings.
But that's just me. Try it and see what works for you. As you continue to explore the dulcimer, you'll want to try a lot of different setups (try 4-equidistant next!) Strings are (relatively) cheap and easy ways to experiment.
Thanks, Dusty, I appreciate it. I played rhythm guitar on an acoustic in the past and didn’t want to give up the extra string either. I just went to my first dulcimer festival and one of my teachers suggested I remove the string. I am a chord player and want to improve on hammer on’s and pull offs, etc... I think I should try it.
Hi . When I first started playing the dulcimer I played with a double melody string because, well, that's how my first dulcimer was sold to me. I was advised by more experienced players to remove one of them because it would be "easier" to play with just three strings, but I arrogantly ignored that advice, thinking that since I had played mandolin and have a 12-string guitar, the double strings would not be a problem for me. One day when putting on new strings I decided to leave the extra melody string off to see what it would be like, and I immediately knew I liked the sound better. A single melody string just makes for such a cleaner and less cluttered sound. I never put a second melody string on a dulcimer after that moment.
There are other benefits to a single melody string which you point to: it is easier to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs. And it is nearly impossible to bend strings well with a double melody since the two strings do not bend at exactly the same rate.
Luckily, you don't have to make this decision permanently. Switch to a single melody string, play for a while, and see how you like it. If you don't you can always put the extra string back on.
I understand that noter/drone players enjoy zinging up and down the fretboard, and supposedly the double melody strings create a better balance between the melody and the drones. But if you fret across all the strings, using a single melody string actually creates that balance since all strings play the melody more or less equally.
If you search through the past discussion here at FOTMD, you will find that several address this very issue. Here is one of them . (And looking through that old discussion, I realize that I posted nearly the same comments I added here. At least I'm consistent.)
Dusty T., Northern California
As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
updated by @dusty-turtle: 11/25/19 11:36:03AM
So, everyone in my dulcimer group plays with 3 strings. I have resisted removing one of the melody strings. I thought the sound would be better with 4. However, after 8 months of playing I am doing more flat picking, hammer on’s and pull offs. Pro’s and cons to removing the extra melody string is encouraged. Thanks!
updated by @silverstrings: 11/25/19 11:00:10AM