Single or Double Melody Strings?

7 months ago
552 posts

I have a few dulcimers & some have 3 strings & some have 4 & one has 5 & one has 6.

    The ones with only 3, I took one of the melody strings off because I finger pick with one of the dulcimers & the other just sounded better with 3.

    The ones with 4, sound good that way & I don't have any trouble with pull offs, hammer on's is still a problem no matter if it's 3 or 4 strings. Still working on the force & position to the string, also which finger works best & depending on where my fingers need to go afterwards.

   As everyone is saying 'personal preference ' but also the dulcimer may have a say in what works best for it. If I was building a dulcimer I would go with 4 strings, that way the player can decide what they think works best for them.

Noah Aikens
8 months ago
37 posts

My Grandpa has a robert mize dulcimer with 4 strings but 6 notches so that equidistant stringing can be used.

8 months ago
177 posts

Thank you for all the responses.  Based on what has been said so far, I am going to build for 4 strings (double melody) option, but will be stringing for 3; unless otherwise requested. 

Patty from Virginia
8 months ago
289 posts

I agree with Dan. With wood pegs I would definitely prefer three strings. I also find it easier to play with the three string set up. If I had a custom made dulcimer I would have it set for three strings. I can see Rob's point with the four equidistant. I've not tried that yet but plan to just to see what that is like. Although, I do prefer to play noter drone. Some may say the double melody is better for noter drone. Well, I have two responses for that. The old traditional dulcimers didn't have double melody strings and when doing the semi tones, going in between so to speak, it's easier to press down a single string with the noter than double. It's easier for me. I think you will find that personal preference is the deciding factor on this topic. 

Sheryl St. Clare
8 months ago
335 posts

Rob, 4 strings with 6 notches makes a lot of sense to me. 




Rob N Lackey
8 months ago
453 posts

I started with four independent strings.  Then I got a couple with doubled melody and started using them.  Folks told me I should take one off, so I did on a couple.  Then I saw videos of the late David Schnaufer and of Alan Freeman playing with a doubled melody, so I put them all back.  I don't know; maybe it's because I played guitar and mandolin before the dulcimer, but I have none of the problems with hammer-ons and pull-offs.  That being said, since this is my year of no extra frets and my trying to embrace Roger Nicholson's style more I am playing 2 instruments with 3 strings, as did he.  For playing with the band I do prefer 4 independent strings. So, I'd say do a four string with 6 notches on the bridge and nut, so it can be configured in many different ways.


Dusty Turtle
8 months ago
920 posts

Sometimes questions are posed at the wrong time and get covered up by other recent activity.  

I played with a double melody string for a few years, arrogantly assuming that because I also play the mandolin and 12-string guitar I could ignore all those people suggesting I remove the extra melody string. But now I see the error of my ways.  I only play with three strings now, and my favorite dulcimer is m Modern Mountain Dulcimer partly because it only has three strings and somehow seems more streamlined that way.  I find a single melody string just provides a much cleaner sound, and as others have pointed out, a single string is easier for hammer-ons and pull-offs.  Plus,it is impossible to accurately bend a double string.

It can't hurt to build dulcimers with four strings in case people want to play with 4 equidistant strings.

Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

Ain't no money in poetry; that's what sets the poet free.
I've had all the freedom I can stand.
-- Guy Clark
John Shaw
8 months ago
66 posts

Mostly I prefer a single melody string - for melody/drone style and for more "modern" styles (cross-picking, melody notes on lower strings etc).  I like the clarity of a single treble string, and the even-ness of tone compared to the other strings.

We have visited this topic before - it's one of those that comes up every so often and is always worth debating.

8 months ago
128 posts

My new project is a 5 string dulcimer with double melody string. Its my first at this style. The body is 2 1/4" deep so it should be nice and full sounding.

updated by @bob: 02/21/17 11:29:42PM
8 months ago
18 posts

Played with double melody strings for 4 years.  Changed recently to single string which I find considerably easier for finger picking, hammer ons and pull offs.  My wife changed to single string for the same reason especially because she is really into finger picking.

8 months ago
232 posts

I build with 4 tuners, play using 3 strings. It allows double melody, 4 equidistant or single melody string setups.

Dan Goad
8 months ago
173 posts

That particular thread may have no responses but the subject matter is often mentioned/debated on these pages.  My own opinion is that it is a personal preference item.  I have and play both and notice very little difference.  If the dulcimer has mechanical tuners I tend to like the double melocy, wooden tuners, single melody.

Ken Longfield
8 months ago
527 posts

Unless I'm doing a reproduction of an older dulcimer, I make them four string. My personal preference for playing is 3 string. It's easier to do hammer ons and pull offs on a single string.


"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

8 months ago
177 posts

This question was asked a couple years ago without any responses.  I, being a new builder/player, would like to pose the same question.  I have looked and have found very little discussion on this topic and look forward to hearing from those with more experience.  Bottom line it may be simply a matter of 'personal preference' but I would like to hear others opinions: Single or double melody strings? dulcimer

updated by @kusani: 02/21/17 08:44:48PM