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How To Choose A Dulcimer

The ideal way for you to find just the right McSpadden dulcimer would be to come to our shop in Mountain View, AR and visit with us. We try to keep dulcimers on hand representing almost all of the options of body styles and wood selections.

The second best way would be to visit one of our dealers and try the dulcimers that they have. Some of our smaller dealers may only have one or two dulcimers but most will have several for you to try.

Another idea is to visit a local club and discuss with the members the characteristics of their instruments. Many of them will be glad to show you their dulcimers and allow you to try them.

If you can't do any of the above, we are glad to accept your order for a dulcimer direct from our shop. We are so confident in our dulcimers that should you order one and not be pleased with it when it arrives, you may return it (within 2 weeks of receipt) for your choice of an exchange for a different dulcimer or a complete refund. You will pay only the shipping unless we have customized or modified the dulcimer to your order. In that case there may be some charge based on the extent of the modifications and how saleable that dulcimer might be.

What are the differences between models and wood types and how should you select one? We can offer some general information and guidance. What we cannot do is tell you that one is “the best”. Different players need and want different things from their dulcimer. Also, which one sounds best is in the ear of the listener. In addition, your dulcimer needs to please you on all levels including appearance and feel. We have provided sound tracks comparing typical dulcimers of each body type and of similar bodies with each of the wood combinations. We have also provided a photo of a typical dulcimer of each type in the standard line.

Following are some additional thoughts on the various options.

  • Standard, Ginger (3/4 size), or Baritone – The standard size and standard tuned dulcimers offer the maximum range of available arrangements and instructional materials. Also, if you attend workshops, this is the tuning that the instructor and the other students will be using. For these reasons we generally recommend a standard dulcimer for beginners. The Ginger and the Baritone offer additional voices to enrich ensemble playing and to give a better fit to some players' singing voices.
    • The Ginger dulcimer has a brighter voice, very reminiscent of a mandolin. They are usually tuned higher (key of G) but can be tuned in the key of D if needed.
    • The Baritone has a deep voice similar to the low strings of a guitar. When played with a standard tuned dulcimer, the Baritone can add a depth to the duet that is very interesting and satisfying to the ear. For a singer with a low voice, the Baritone can provide a beautiful accompaniment.
  • Hourglass versus teardrop – Most players find that the sound of a McSpadden hourglass shaped dulcimer is richer and fuller than the equivalent teardrop shape. Some feel that the teardrop's thinner, simpler sound is closer to the roots of the dulcimer and preferable for old time music. Listen to the sound tracks and decide this for yourself.
  • Wood selections – The body on a McSpadden dulcimer unless it is a custom instrument will be either Walnut or Cherry. Some players find the physical appearance of one or the other to be sufficient reason for choosing. Certainly that is one valid reason. If you are selecting for sound, we suggest that you listen to the sound tracks but here are some general comments:
    • Walnut versus Cherry body – Walnut typically has a sweeter, mellower sound than cherry. Cherry may be a bit louder and brighter sounding.
    • Walnut or Cherry top (matching the body) versus Spruce or Redwood – An all Walnut or all Cherry dulcimer will have a rich look and sound. Substituting a Spruce top will give a little bit louder and brighter sound. A Redwood top will give a similar effect but may result in a fuller sound than the Spruce top. A further consideration is that Redwood is a very soft wood and may show handling damage more than a Spruce top. Either Spruce or Redwood is more prone to handling damage than a hardwood top.
If you are a left handed player, we do not charge to build your new dulcimer with the string setup reversed for you. Be sure to let us know at the time you place your order that you want it set up for left handed play.