Choosing Strings

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
one week ago
1,819 posts

Nate -- we've mentioned this before -- dulcimers are NOT guitars.  String gauges and tensions are different.  FWIW, 26"-26.5" is a little on the short side for dulcimer VSLs.   Use the Strothers String Choice calculator; know that it runs light in gauge, and you can go up a size or two.  Don't worry/think about string tensions. 

As Dusty says, one you figure out which gauges work for you, just buy singles from a local music shop, rather than sets.  However, since most of my instruments have the same few VSLs, I tend to buy in bulk from; packs of a dozen strings of a given gauge .09, .010, .012 in my case. If I'm building an instrument with special requirements, I pick up singles locally.  Another thing you can do is buy 10-12 ft small coils of music wire of your commonly used gauges, and make your own strings -- it's not particularly hard.

Since  your apartment building is so prone to Porch Pirates, perhaps you should get an "accommodation" address.  I have one a local 'pack & ship' store nearby 

Richard Streib
Richard Streib
2 weeks ago
155 posts

If you check some online companies you may be able to specify shipping in a small package by USPS and hopefully the parcel will fit in your mailbox which I assume is secure.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
2 weeks ago
1,440 posts

Hi @natebuildstoys.  I never buy packaged string sets for my dulcimers.  I buy single strings, although for some gauges that I use a lot, I buy them in bulk through or Folkcraft.

But the first step is to figure out what gauge strings you like.  I prefer strings a little heavier than most, tuning DAd, I use .026 bronze wound for the bass, .016 for the middle, and .013 for the melody.  I think .024, .014, and .012 is probably more standard.

Once you figure out what gauges strings you want, just buy them as singles at any local music store. You only have to specify whether you want ball end or loop end.

And yes, the string gauge calculators err on the light side. But once you know that, and once you've developed your own preferences, you can still use the calculator, making the necessary adjustments.

Your bridge might have to be adjusted slightly depending on string gauges. But if the intonation seems OK, don't worry about it.  On my dulcimers with moveable bridges, I tend to check the bridge placement periodically, as in whenever I put on a new set of strings or perhaps before a performance.

Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
2 weeks ago
60 posts

Hello all. I go through a lot of dulcimer strings, and because my apartment is very prone to package theives I cannot order them online, so I am limited to what is locally available.

For a while, I would always just buy packs of Mandolin strings, since they only cost a couple dollars more than a pack of dulcimer strings, and come with spares since there are two of each. They come with two 11s, 15s, and 26s. The only issue is due to the construction of some on my newer dulcimers they are not long enough.

Packs of dulcimer strings are very frustrating, and always seem to be insanely light gauge. A pack of martin dulcimer strings marketed for Dadd provide a 12 for the A string! Even if i tune the whole thing up to Ebee, the B string is still insanely wimpy, and tuned to Cgcc it's basically inaudible. My dulcimers are 26"-26.5" VSL, which i believe is fairly standard. I have looked at string calculators which suggest 12-20 pounds on each string of tension but this seems insanely low to me. THis is far lower than extra light guitar strings for example.

At this point, what I have been doing is buying guitar strings, and using only the D,B, and E strings, which leaves me with extra strings every time, but gives me far better tone than any dulcimer strings Ive found. Do others have this same issue and what do y'all do about it?

Quick side question, my dulcimers have floating bridges so its not a big deal to move them, is this necessary or valuable to adjust them for different string gauges?