I can second Ken L's recommendation of David Lynch's student dulcimers. The McSpaddens I have found to sound very consistent one to the next in the same wood or wood combinations. One nice thing is that McSpadden has some sound clips on their website. If you find a used one if you can take someone along to see it/play it to check it out would be helpful.
If you can get to a club or a festival many dulcimer friends are willing to let you play their instruments so you can hear different ones.
I know how hard it is to find a mountain dulcimer when there are none available locally. I have several dulcimers made by folks other than myself. My every day, go to instrument is a very basic hourglass Folkcraft. It has great action making it easy to play. I also have a high end Blue Lion which is a little more guitar-like in its sound. Another one is a Warren May dulcimer which I seldom play, but is a very nice dulcimer. The other one is a James Edward Thomas dulcimer made in 1931. Again, I only play this one when I do presentations on the history of the American dulcimer. I have a dulcimer made David Lynch (Harpmaker). He makes wonderful sounding instruments. His student instruments are a great value for the money. In selecting a dulcimer it is helpful to think about what style of play you plan on; noter/drone, finger dancing, chord/melody. Some dulcimers are better or certain styles. The Blue Lion sound better finger picked than noter/drone. If you have any questions on dulcimers that I can answer for you, please feel free to ask. I built my first dulcimer in 1974 and have been playing since then and attending festivals.
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
Hi S Burke, and welcome to the wonderful world of the Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer. It's a good place to come, spend some time, learn about the dulcimer, and to meet some good people.
Welcome to FOTMD SBurketopdog. It's good to have you aboard.
Hey Topdog, welcome aboard. Glad ya found us.
Welcome SBurketopdog to Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer. This is a great community of people who love the dulcimer and her sweet song. So glad you joined. May I suggest you post a forum topic asking about what to look for in beginner dulcimer. I'll send you a private note. Best wishes on your dulcimer journey.