The finding a dulcimer whose sound you like is a good idea except for the fact that where I am, it seems the only dulcimers I find in shops are McSpaddens with walnut or redwood tops and the people around all seems to have McSpaddens - walnut with spruce or redwood tops. Other than all I have heard other people with are those by one local builder whose dulcimers all just sound loud, no matter what they're made of. Jammers like them, but there is nothing "sweet" about them to me. The only other people around here seem to have are by yet another local builder, but again his are geared toward being loud, and I don't find his that pleasant sounding. I have only gotten to try one Blue Lion (a Jam model), and it was loud, but mellow for a Jam model, it seemed to me, and a TK O'Brian which probably has the most suitable sound Ive found thus far, though the other features I don't much care for. The first one I ever played was buy a small local maker. It was (and still is) cherry - prettiest slabs of cherry Ive ever seen too - but I think all the wood is too thick because it is definitely not a projector. The strongest sound is the sound of the strings. Not a good thing. If I knew anything about woodworking, I'd love to take it apart and try to re-work it since it the wood looks so nice. lol.
One thing I know from my attempts with dulcimers, guitars and ukes - Spruce does make a big difference, and I don't like it.
I could live with a McSpadden, I guess, but again, the only ones I have been able to find and try are walnuts with spruce and redwood tops,and there is definitely a difference. Maybe not to other ears, but to mine with my physical issues, yes. Spruce is a no go. Redwood in a pinch. Still the McSpads are not exactly the sound I am looking for (the TK O'brian I have sound better), though I like their feel. Trade offs. Still, before laying down some money on the dulcimer I want, I would like some choice. The makers around here don't seem to be putting out what I am looking for, and others are far away, so I am trying to get some ideas as to what I might be looking for - not a definitive scientific end-all statement of fact. What has been said thus far has all been very helpful, especially since people are trying to figure out my situation with my ears.
As for this topic coming up every year, so what? TThere are a lot of thoughts on it, and people either want to know or want to opine. Otherwise, the question would be asked and ignored, so no harm done.