By Jack Barnes
Dulcimer, with an unusual name, is a simple ancient stringed instrument, which history and origin aren’t known well. It gained popularity mostly among the USA people who inhabited areas near the Appalachian Mountains.
Mountain dulcimers’ users are very demanding, so choosing the right one for them is not an easy task. There are four most important features that you must consider first if you are one of them. Here is a mountain dulcimer buying checklist:
Type and quality of the wood
Before you go to the music stores specialized in acoustic instruments, inform yourself about the quality of the wood used for making the chosen instrument. The best mountain dulcimers are made of solid wood and you can recognize them by evenly and predictable vibrations, which amplify the strings’ vibration continuously.
It’s also important which wood is used for making a dulcimer, as each builder has his favorite. If you want to have the instrument with characteristic traditional plaintive sound, it’s the best to choose the one made of American hardwoods from the Appalachian area: poplar, cherry, walnut chestnut and similar.
Since the first dulcimer appeared in the USA, it has never been regularized how many strings the mountain dulcimer should have. Usually, there are three to four. But the number isn’t that crucial. When you buying a dulcimer, it’s important to know which string length perfectly fits you.
Usually, the string length is from 28” to 30” inches. Longer string lengths give a tone that sounds twangy and nasal, ideal for a traditional style of playing. If you have small hands, then the shorter string lengths (25” to 27”) are much better option for you. These type of string provides much quieter tone.
Every time you want to play dulcimer, you need some time to make the tuning adjustments. So when you buying a mountain dulcimer, this is one of the major concerns.
If you want dulcimer with traditional wooden friction pegs, surely you pay attention to aesthetic. But, it’s often very hard to make fine adjustments of strings with it.
Metal friction pegs are much better for adjustments because they consist of the metal shaft in two pieces and collar. There is also a plastic button for turning and to adjust the tension, you just need to use a small screw at the top of it.
Geared tuning machines are the best option for your future mountain dulcimer as they allow you to make extremely precise adjustments.
Quality of the finish
If you are looking for the best mountain dulcimer, finishes are also very important. The quality of the finish has the great influence on the instrument’s tone. Usually, finishes are focused on creating a bright and crystalline tone or warmer and softer ones. But many of them are somewhere between these two versions.
For the very hard finish is mostly used polyurethane which can provides a treble response and also the increase of the dulcimer’s volume.
Penetrating oil gives the dampening effect, increasing instrument’s basic vibrating structure. It also gives the wood much deeper, softer and warmer tone.
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