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POLL: Do you play a dulcimer before buying it?

Voting has Ended

Do you buy dulcimers without always trying them out in person first?  Do you never buy a dulcimer unless you've had a chance to play it and examine it yourself? Choose the answer closest to your approach on this subject!

I never buy a dulcimer unless I can play it in person first. It has to be a good fit for me and the instrument really has to 'speak to me'. Or, I've regretted purchases in the past so I now hold myself to playing it first before buying.
I try to play a dulcimer in person before purchasing it, because I think that's important. I'm ok with making an exception if special circumstances come up, but mostly it's "try it out in person first" for me.
I can go either way- I like to try a dulcimer out first if it's convenient, but I also buy dulcimers without playing them first. It's just not a big criteria for me.
I never play dulcimers before buying them. Maybe I don't live near enough to any sellers to try the instruments out, or I just don't get a chance to try them out before buying. Or I don't know enough about what to look for anyway, or am so new to playing that I can't 'try them out' because I can't play yet. For whatever reason, I always buy online without trying them out in person first.
I build all my own dulcimers, so this doesn't apply to me.
John Gribble
01/29/20 07:42:53PM @john-gribble:

Of the four I currently own, only one did I play before buying, my Warren May. But to be completely honest, I was seduced by the wood grain, a varicolored walnut. The tone is lovely, but I fell in love with her pretty face. What cn I say? I'm shallow.shrugger

Here in Fuji Machi, there aren't a lot of dulcimer choices.


01/28/20 06:47:12PM @greg-gunner:

My first dulcimer was purchased from a reputable retailer (Elderly Instruments).  After I learned more about dulcimers and attended a few dulcimer festivals, I became aware of which builders had a well-earned reputation for making consistently good dulcimers (McSpadden, Folkcraft/Folkroots, Blue Lion, Kudzupatch, etc.).  That was followed by the small-volume traditional builders (Leonard and Clifford Glenn, Homer Ledford, Edd Presnell, etc.), all of whom had good reputations for quality.  More recently I've been looking for reproductions of historic dulcimers (John Knopf for Uncle Ed Thomas Dulcimers, Kevin Messenger for Charles N. Prichard Dulcimers and Beech Mountain Replicas, Bobby Ratliff for Early Virginia Style Dulcimers, etc.). I've also purchased a handful of used dulcimers along the way, once again based upon the maker's reputation.  In every case except my first purchase from Elderly Instruments, I've purchased the instrument online or through the mail based upon the reputation of the builder.  

I've also sold a number of used dulcimers along the way, either through E-Bay or through ED or FOTMD.  

In every case, there has been a certain level of trust between the parties involved in the transaction.  It's not always possible to visit the builder and try out their instruments, so online or mail-order purchases are more common than not.

Lisa Golladay
01/28/20 06:40:43PM @lisa-golladay:

I am (at this writing) the one who voted "never."  To be honest I will consider buying a dulcimer without playing it first.  But only if I have played a similar model from the same builder, and I trust that builder for consistent quality. 

I had a bad experience years ago with a builder who is no longer in business. The dulcimer I played was lovely but the one they sent me was garbage.  If I was a confident player I would have sent it back... but I was less experienced then and not immediately sure if the problem was with me or the dulcimer. I couldn't give it away; nobody wanted it.  Maybe a genius could fix the setup, but I am not that kind of genius.  It's still in the corner, 20 years later and still unplayable.  A good learning experience.

I think the "buy now, play later" approach works better for people who are handy at fixing bad setups.  And for newbies who simply need a decent dulcimer to get started with.  Choose a well-recommended builder in that $400 range and run with it.

For me nowadays it makes sense to be picky.  I'm not good with setups or selling stuff on eBay and I already own several nice instruments.  There is no earthly reason for me to buy a dulcimer that's merely adequate.  Besides, "play it first" is a good rule for managing Dulcimer Acquisition Disease ;-) 

01/28/20 01:07:37PM @strumelia:

One great thing about mountain dulcimers is that it's a fairly simple "folk instrument" and most of them cost well under $1000. Many perfectly fine dulcimers are less than $400, or even perfectly playable cardboard ones! That means that (unlike guitars, violins, mandolins, etc) it's within almost everyone's budget to purchase a dulcimer in order to 'try it out'.  It wouldn't be a major issue to find it just doesn't suit your taste and then resell it, or even give it to a friend, or use for traveling.

Penny whistles are kind of the same but even more so... decent ones can be had for $25 and you can learn on those or give them away.  Of course with both whistles and dulcimers one can spend way more if you like, to get custom high end or collectible examples.

So nice that these lovely folk instruments are so accessible to everyone!

Ballad Gal
01/28/20 08:05:03AM @ballad-gal:

Wish I could say I'd never buy a dulcimer without playing it first, as that's what I'd like to be able to do. That's not been the case so far, so I'd have to say I can go either way. And I'd like to have another with just intonation, but no one close by makes dulcimers with JI--so I may never get to play one first!

01/26/20 12:44:37PM @bob:

I haven't bought a dulcimer yet. If I ever do, it probably would be an old one, for historical interests.

01/26/20 09:48:18AM @dulcinina:

As a general rule, I want to play a dulcimer before I buy.  I want to hear it and feel it to make sure it's a good fit for me.  I tried out both my dulcimers before buying them  One was brand new, the other used and 20 years old.  However, I would buy sight unseen from a reputable builder.  So #2 is the best answer for me.  Nina

01/26/20 07:34:04AM @garret-olberding:

I have never purchased a dulcimer without hearing it first, whether in person or in Youtube videos in which an advanced player plays them.  The sound I can produce with them is everything.  I buy very, very sparingly. 

Paula Brawdy
01/26/20 05:40:12AM @paula-brawdy:

I have bought the majority  of dulcimers online as there really are not any close to me to try out.   I have been satisfied with the description and the sound 90% of the time.  Dulcimer people are generally very good to work with!!

01/25/20 11:42:59AM @strumelia:

My two main mountain dulcimers were made twenty or so years ago to my specifications by well known builders, so I didn't get to try them out until they arrived at my door.
Personally, unless I know a dulcimer was made by a reputable builder, I do feel hesitant to buy without trying it first.  But not saying I would 'never' do that... I'm just as susceptible to temptation as anyone else!  So, I'll vote with the "I can go either way" choice.

Ken Longfield
01/25/20 11:09:10AM @ken-longfield:

Of the four dulcimers I have that I did not make myself, I tried two of them before I purchased them. The others were built by reputable dulcimer makers whose work I knew well.


"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Jon W Harris
01/25/20 10:34:34AM @jon-w-harris:

I strongly recommend that shoppers play, if possible, before buying.  The first exception is buying for collection purposes and at #2 would be "I just can't help myself".

Stay in tune 

Robin Thompson
01/25/20 07:15:34AM @robin-thompson:

With only an exception or two, I have either bought used instruments made by known makers or had instruments built for me.  When the reputation of the maker is stellar, only my limitations as a player are in play on my end-- that is to say I'm the only limiting factor.  I learned a long time ago that when I have a certain idea of a sound I want in an instrument, it can be very limiting.  Lots of happy surprises by getting different sounds!      

01/24/20 10:12:18PM @irene:

My first dulcimer I made two big rugs in exchange for that first one.  Now I make all the ones that I mostly play.   However, I've gotten a few in 2ed hand stores for such a good deal....I'll get them.   then share them with folks that have never played one before and share the joy of learning a dulcimer. Such a trip. 

01/24/20 07:49:17PM @strumelia:

Hey everybody, a new POLL to vote in!
Select the poll choice that best describes you!