Need Advice--Buying a New Dulcimer

Molly McCurdy
Molly McCurdy
@molly-mccurdy
5 months ago
8 posts

Check out my dulcimers, Light o’ the Moon Dulcimers, at www.dulcimersbymolly.com. I build custom designed dulcimers.

Kusani
Kusani
@kusani
6 months ago
121 posts

McSpadden is what I chose as my first and never regretted it.  It is now my loaner. 

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
6 months ago
1,615 posts

McSpadden would be a great and reliable choice in your price range.  It's very well regarded, sounds wonderful, and you can resell it easily later on if you want.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
6 months ago
573 posts

A four string model gives you the option to play with three or four strings. Almost all modern dulcimers come with a 6 1/2 fret and its octave 13 1/2. If you plan to play in DAdd tuning those extra frets will come in handy. If you plan to play in DAAA all the time, the 6 1/2 can be a pain (only because it gives you a little extra bump sliding up to the seventh fret.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Mark
Mark
@mark
6 months ago
4 posts

McSpadden,not McFadden

Mark
Mark
@mark
6 months ago
4 posts

Thanks for all your responses!

I live in Long Island NY. Does anyone have a contact in the New York City area?

Money is not the main concern.

My kids are giving it to me as a 65th birthday present so I can pick a quality instrument in the $400 to $550 range.

McFadden has a nice web page where you can hear the sounds of different instruments; I'm tempted to buy one of theirs or buy a used one. They were also recommended by Jessica Comeau with whom I've had a correspondence. She seems very helpful. I emailed McFadden and will also call them after Christmas.

From my research, for my first instrument, I should get a 4 string model with 61/2 frets set to D. Is that correct?

 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
6 months ago
1,534 posts

Mark -- first thing you'll learn in the dulcimer world is that there is not such thing as "best".  The 'best' anything is what works for you... not someone else.

With 40 years experience as a dulcimer builder and player, my advice is to start with a "Student" model dulcimer such as the one made by Dave "Harpmaker" at www.sweetwoodsinstruments.com His student model is an excellent starting place without being terribly expensive.  There are two or three other student models out there.  I own one of Dave's and use it as a loaner. 

If money is a real issue, start with one of the cardboard dulcimers for about $75.  The fretboard is the important part of the instrument, and those fretboards are spot on.  When you decide you like the dulcimer, you -- or someone you know -- can make you a nice wooden body, to which you transfer the fretboard from your cardboard starter.   I did that recently for one of my students...

Builders like Dave will play their instruments for you over the phone, but generally don't have other builder's instruments to compare.  Without much knowledge of dulcimers, listening to "the sound" isn't that useful because instruments in different tunings will sound different and you won't recognize the difference.

Where are you in "the Northeast"?  We might be able to point you to someone.  Chances are you'll not find dulcimers walking into music stores unless they specialize in acoustic music, and then you'll probably only find one "brand".  A dulcimer Festival is the best place to check out lots of different dulcimers, but it will be a couple months before 'festival season' kicks in.

There is a ton of information here at FOTMD; start reading. As Lisa suggests, join the Beginner Group and start looking there.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
6 months ago
573 posts

Mark, I don't know where you are in the Northeast, but there are some dulcimer festivals coming up. One is near Albany, NY (Latham) the first weekend in March. Another is in East Stroudsburg, PA the last weekend in April. There will be several vendors at both festivals where you can try different dulcimers. I would beware of dulcimers in the $100-$250 range unless they are well cared for used instruments. Also, look at some of the individual builders who do quality work and sell dulcimers for less than the prices you mentioned.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
6 months ago
1,615 posts

Mark, i'm encouraging you to join our site's Beginner Group (click on Groups link at top of page)- and read several discussions there about advice on buying a first dulcimer- lots of good info there! nod  Be aware to in order to read the actual discussions ib Groups, you have to JOIN that group.  You can unjoin the group eaisily at any time, btw.

Beware of that big site that has paid to come up on top when you do searches for 'best dulcimer'. I saw that site and it's really just a big paid links ad disguised as a helpful dulcimer site. it's content simply consists of stuff they've pulled from other sites, too... they have not created their own content.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 12/25/18 01:04:55PM
Mark
Mark
@mark
6 months ago
4 posts

I am interested in buying a new dulcimer. I have never played a string instrument. I originally wanted to buy a banjo but I understand that the dulcimer has fewer strings and easier learning curve.  The other option would be a ukelele. I then heard Jessica Comeau on You Tube and was hooked. 

Does this logic make sense? I love folk music so the dulcimer sounds very attractive.

Now the problem. I can't find a dulcimer vendor in the Northeast to compare instruments. I would like to compare sounds. Can one do that online?

New McSpadden and Folkcraft instruments are expensive ($475 and up). Online searches for best dulcimers show instruments in $100-250 range.

Please help!

Dwain Wilder
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
8 years ago
10 posts

Melissa, there are a few very good articles and guides on the web about how to choose the right dulcimer for you. I've written on on my website, Dulcimer Buyer's Guide. There is another (which I also wrote, though long ago) on the Sweet Music index, hosted by bearmeadow.com. You'll find that at Buying a Mountain Dulcimer. Jerry Rockwell also has good things to say in an article on choosing the right dulcimer on his website at Buying Guide.

Read all these carefully and you'll get a lot of insight into how to choose best. Hope that helps.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,615 posts

Don't be afraid to be frank with him though- banjo players are used to being told to 'stuff a sock in it'.

LOL!

How can you tell if the stage is level at a bluegrass concert?

....the banjo player is drooling out of both sides of his mouth.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Melissa PNW
Melissa PNW
@melissa-pnw
8 years ago
4 posts
Thanks! It's actually a new banjo to him--he'd been concentrating on other instruments for a long time, so he's still adjusting to playing the banjo again, plus the power of his new instrument! It is such a neat sound; I'm just not used to it. I hadn't played with a banjo player before. I don't get out much. ;)
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,615 posts
You know, any banjo player worth their salt 'is' able to tone their volume down. just something you should know when 'negotiating' with them.


--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Melissa PNW
Melissa PNW
@melissa-pnw
8 years ago
4 posts
Thank you for your replies! It looks like I have some good options to consider. I think I will do some more reading and listening regarding Galax dulcimers. In addition to the dulcimer I will be buying for myself, I will be looking for a bomb-proof inexpensive beginner dulcimer for my son. I have visions of the dulcimer flying off his lap and onto the floor, and I hate to think of that happening to a more delicate instrument! If I want to fiddle around with chords, I could use his dulcimer. I don't know why I didn't think of that before.I hadn't thought of using a possum board. I wonder if a regular teardrop dulcimer tuned dddd, played on a possum board would be loud enough to hold its own against a banjo? Every time we play together, I am surprised for the first moment by how loud the banjo is!
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,615 posts

Speaking from my own personal experience... I honestly do not find my Galax dulcimer to be particularly louder than the non-Galax dulcimers I have played. It has a deep large box which makes it sound a bit deeper, so the tone is not 'brighter' either, which Melissa says she wants.

Melissa has no dulcimers right now, and she's looking for ONE that will do it all. Since she says she wants to do some chording as well, I'd recommend against a Galax dulcimer, unless she is going to string it in standard form with a heavy bass string....but why choose a Galax anyway if not stringing it in high octave?

Modern Mountain Dulcimers have the volume and the double back, and probably the brightness if you ask for it...but I doubt they'd fall under the $400 range.

McSpaddens would fit the bill- but Melissa didn't like the looks of the one she had.

Lots of things to consider!




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
1,534 posts

I would not worry about a built-indouble back to give more sound. For under $10 you can make a simple and effective possum board to accomplish the same thing.

Read some of Robin Clark's commentaries here about how useful and versatile he finds a Galax strung dulcimer to be when playing in sessions with fiddles and other instruments. He may make a convert out of you. If I had access to the kind of playing groups he does, that's what I'd choose.

Wood type is actually pretty far down the list of things that affect the sound quality. If you want a brighter sound you want a shallower and narrower dulcimer than you've had before. Relatively less volume of the sound body gives a brighter tone. Another good trick is to take off the wound 20 to 24 ga bass string and use say an 18 ga, plain steel string, to also enhance brightness.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,615 posts

Hi Melissa,

Though there are some good quality dulcimers made for $400 or less, that price will be a somewhat limiting factor, in terms of false-backs, custom wood choices, etc. Some McSpaddens will fall within that price range, but may go over w/case, shipping, etc. You might want to look in the beginner GROUP here at the several threads about choosing your first dulcimer- since you have a lot in common with them in terms of buying only one instrument to 'do it all' plus the modest price range. There is a long and excellent thread there discussing the good luthiers who produce modestly priced new dulcimers.

One more point- chording does not require a 26-27" VSL. Any VSL/scale from 26"-28" will be just great for doing anything.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
8 years ago
881 posts
Hi, Melissa! Since what one wants in sound is so subjective, I'll pass on offering a specific luthier. (I have instruments built by Gary Sager, Keith Young, Jerry Rockwell, the Bakers (of Blue Lion), Rod Hensley, and Paul Conrad.) That said, I'm so happy I had a false back put on my Timbre Hill (Paul Conrad) dulcimer!


--
Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
Melissa PNW
Melissa PNW
@melissa-pnw
8 years ago
4 posts

Hello all! I haven't been around this board for a while because I've been concentrating on my hammered dulcimer. (No tomatoes, please!) In fact, my MD was sold to finance said HD, but I'm discovering that I miss it too much to continue to be MD-less.

So, I've received my tax return andI am looking for a new MD. I play regularly with a fiddler and a banjo player, so I need it to be fairly loud to avoid being drowned out. I know that I should play several dulcimers, but I live in an area where MD's are uncommon. In the past I had a Black Mountain dulcimer, which I did not like because the frets were oddly placed, and an older McSpadden, which sounded nice very nice, but the VSL was too long to make chording comfortable, and I didn't find it visually appealing. Yes, I am shallow. I'm not fond of walnut.

I considered a Galax dulcimer, but I think that since I will have one dulcimer, I want it to be more versatile than a Galax would be. I suppose that my most important "wants" arecorrect fret placement, (which shouldn't be a problem on any of the well-known dulcimers, I would think) fairly loud, and not a walnut soundboard. I would like to spend at most $400 for dulcimer and accessories (case, capo, etc.). What should I look for? Would a false back be something to consider? I've read descriptions of which soundboard woods impart varioussound qualities, but the descriptions don't seem to be especially consistent. I am looking for a bright sound. I will be playing old-time music, mostly noter and drone style, but I would like the VSL to be not more than 26-27 in case I want to do a bit of chording.

I wish there were an application that would let me input my desired qualities, then spit outyou need a: McSpadden! or Gibson! orHensley! or whichever dulcimer would suit my needs. Since that doesn't exist, I figured this message board wouldbe the next best thing. Grin.gifDoes anyone have any suggestions? Thank you!


updated by @melissa-pnw: 06/08/16 09:24:05PM