TL/DR; Nell, if ball-end strings are ok, maybe you could try D’addario “Chromes” flat wound stainless steel for the wound string. Mellow toned, and no squeak. And if you play with a pick, definitely try a heavier and/or less pointy pick, as it will produce a darker tone.
Hi Nell. I’m new to dulcimer and I haven’t tried the Curt Mangan strings, but I have tried and compared a lot of strings on guitar over the years, and recently on dulcimer. I’m pretty geeky about this sort of thing. Hoping not to derail the topic, but maybe you’ll find something here that’s helpful.
First, if you use a pick have you tried using a heavier and or less-pointy pick? Or even just rounding off your present pick with sandpaper or a nail file so it’s less pointy? The tone will be a little less trebly, and maybe that’s all you will need.
If you’re wanting to experiment with strings, read on at your peril. :)
Here are my initial impressions from experimenting within a single gauge on one dulcimer, acknowledging that Ron is right about different instruments having their own tonal characteristics and Ron, Corvus and Ken are right about gauges being important, with heavier strings generally being a little less bright.
My short experience is with DAD tuning, 12-14-24 gauges, on a 26” VSL instrument. And note that on the dulcimer I really don’t like squeaky strings that make scratchy sounds against the pick. Maybe that will change with experience.
Guitar or dulcimer, the thing I notice is how well the tones of the plain and wound strings match — I don’t like having a really bright-sounding or dark-sounding wound string next to the plain string. I don’t like an obvious difference in tone when going from string to string, and you can’t change the tone of the plain strings very much and keep the playability the way you like it. Given that, I have been sampling the tones of wound ‘D’ strings and hoping for a pleasing match with my plain strings’ tone, here is my current list of wound string impressions:
Round wound phosphor bronze .024: I think round wound strings generally sound brighter than flat, “half-round” or “ground wound” strings. Anyway, when new these strings are too bright and shimmery for me as compared with the plain 14-gauge string, but also way too squeaky. I won’t bother trying round wound 80/20 bronze because of the squeak.
D’Addario Ground Phosphor Bronze .023: Better tonal balance with the 14, but still a little bright/shimmery, and a little quiet, so the ‘A’ string jumps out. I should try .024 gauge.These are ground to an almost smooth finish, so they’re only a little bit squeaky/scratchy.
GHS Burnished Nickel Rocker .024: Also ground to a pretty smooth finish. Louder than the D’Addario ground phosphor bronze. It has a bright edge but also a strong fundamental note so there’s a nice balance with the plain strings. I really like this string.
D’Addario Chromes .024 flatwound: Darker than the GHS above, but not dull. I really like this string too. Super smooth finish, no squeak at all, and to me sounds very matched with the plain A when played open. As you go up the fretboard it starts sounding a little darker compared with the plain strings. I think this string might work well for you, and if it strikes you as dull, then try the GHS Burnished Nickel Rocker or the D’Addario Ground Phosphor Bronze.
GHS Precision Flatwound .024: Really dark and plunky to my ear, and despite being flat wound they have a little grittiness to their feel which I don’t like. They just sound dull and percussive to me.
Plain .022: I don’t remember where this was on the dark-light scale, sorry. Really did not like this. Took it off after 5 minutes. It didn’t intonate well higher up the fretboard, and just didn’t ring nicely up there either.
At the moment I’m switching back and forth between the GHS Burnished Nickel Rocker .024 and the D'Addario Chromes .024, and I like them both. I realize of course that others will hear differently, have other opinions and desires tone-wise, and that I should probably just practice more… :)
P.S. Note to Ron Gibson — Thanks that instrument is totally addictive!