Dulcimers For Beginner/Intermediate Players
Note on jargon: VSL = Vibrating String Length, i.e. the scale length of the dulcimer. Longer scale lengths often give better tone, but playing is a little more difficult because the string tension is higher and fingers have to stretch further. There is no accepted standard length, but 27½“ is about the middle of the range – which varies from 25″ to over 30″. FBW = Fingerboard width. Standard modern fingerboard width is around 1½”, which is ideal for chording and fingerstyle playing. Earlier instruments, particularly those intended for noter/drone playing (i.e. on the melody string only), can be much narrower. The 6½ or 6+ fret is standard on modern dulcimers, which are usually tuned DAD and need the added fret to complete the D major scale. Older instruments were more commonly tuned to DAA, where the D major scale starts on the third fret and does not require the extra fret.
1.86 1978 FolkRoots D50ST 4 String Teardrop £245 inc. original shell case
I’d forgotten how stunning these big, old FolkRoots teardrops are. This is a remarkable survivor of the first modern dulcimer craze, now updated with 6+ fret. Has real presence and, despite its simplicity, works really well. NB long 29″ scale might not suit smaller hands.
1.84 Recent O’Brien 4 String, 3 Course Hourglass £275 inc original case
Recent standard hourglass from O’Brien. This is a decent quality instrument from the Ozark Mountains, Missouri, produced by the same family concern (the Hagens) that builds the Cedar Creek range in the US and the Red Kite, sold in the UK by Bird Rock Dulcimers. Made from solid walnut with a red gum top. In excellent condition, except for a few almost invisible hairline cracks – now stabilised and repaired – along the grain of the slightly porous top. No effect on playing or appearance – a very pretty top!
1.83 “Dusty Strings” Solid Cherry 4 String 3 Course Teardrop £230 + choice of case at extra £
Nice looking simple teardrop based on the Scott Antes and Folkcraft designs. Bought from Dusty Strings in Washington State, better known as hammered dulcimer makers. Good starter model. Further details to follow.
1.81 Here Inc. [Stoney End] 4 String 3 Course Hourglass £195 Case extra
Early instrument from the Stoney Wood concern who build no-nonsense, reliable, all-solid wood dulcimers for the mass market in the US and UK. Probably over 25 years old, but despite a rather clumsy addition of a 6+ fret, sounds fine and has a decent action.
1.76 2002 Off the Beaten Path 4 String 3 Course Hourglass £245 Case extra
Entry level instrument from a craft shop in one of the great tourist hotspots of the Appalachians. Looks striking and sounds OK, but without great depth.
1.74 Burge Searing 4 String Teardrop £230 + £20 shell case
Well made mahogany teardrop from a small scale maker. Looks fine and plays well. A good starter/intermediate instrument.
1.63 1990s? McSpadden M8 4 String Kit Hourglass £230 Case extra
This is a nice-sounding example of McSpadden’s smaller bodied dulcimer, designated I believe the M8, and well put together from a kit. Has a flat peg head, quality Gotoh chrome tuners and the classic low action/excellent intonation of a standard McSpadden fingerboard. Cheap entry point into McSpadden quality…
NEW 1.60 Late 80s Anon “Shamrock” 4 String, 3 Course Hourglass £190 + choice of cases at extra £
A neat but unlabelled dulcimer bought from Maine, New England and possibly made there. A neat dulcimer with decent tone and volume. The intonation is good and the action reasonable, although higher frets would have helped. This is well built, good-looking and has few vices. A change of tuners (at extra £) would improve its practicality, but I’ve kept it affordable deliberately. As is, would enthuse most beginning players.
1.52 1980s? Anonymous English 3 String Hourglass £180 Case extra
A basic but quite neatly constructed dulcimer found, and probably made, in England. Narrow body means a smaller sound.
No markings, so probably non-professional, given the flaws in the finish and the soundholes. All mahogany body, nicely flamed and bookmatched on the back, with fiddle edges. The overlapping top appears to be a soft hardwood. Rather inelegant mahogany “scroll” and pegbox. Original long, quite elegant but rather spindly wooden pegs have been replaced by machine guitar-type tuners with a white button. The fingerboard is a 3 sided box profile, made of a mahogany/beech (?) sandwich, and with a nice maple overlay. Ebony (or dark-coloured) nut and floating bridge; similar material strainer on top of tail for strings to pass over. String anchors are simple pins. The square-edged heart soundholes are not perfectly cut. Very narrow frets, originally no 6+/13+ frets, 6+ now added.
Overall length 37¾”, upper bout 4½”, lower bout 6½”, height 1¾”, FBW 1¼”, VSL 27¾” (medium scale), weight 2lb 5oz (1050g). 6+ fret, no 13+.
1.49 – 1980s? Folkcraft 4 String Hourglass – £190
This is a good, early Folkcraft design – solid wood, nicely proportioned hourglass body, simple one piece head and fingerboard. This is probably a kit and it’s needed a little work to get it right, but it now plays well and sounds really good for an entry level instrument.
1.47 – 1970s? Camac 4 String Hourglass – £180 no case
Ornate French dulcimer from the small Societe Camac concern, based near Nantes in Brittany. It was created to catch the vogue for dulcimer playing in the mid/late 70s and has no great subtlety of tone, but it’s pretty and plays well. With its short scale, wide fingerboard and straightforward action it is ideal for beginners. N.B. I’ve now added a 6+ fret, even though the (early) photos don’t show it.
1.44 – 1970s (?) McSpadden Sweetsong 4 String Hourglass Kit – £175 no case
McSpadden kit dulcimer from the 70s. The kits were a popular way of buying a cheaper instrument from one of the best known and most reliable larger scale dulcimer makers. This is an hourglass model based on the traditional, small body Thomas design, with heart-shaped soundholes on a narrow, shallow body. Top, back and sides made of high quality, attractive walnut laminate.
1.42 1976 Green River 4 String Hourglass #567 £190 no case
These are big,classy dulcimers with a distinctively clear and mellow tone. This is a model towards the cheaper end of the range, but it’s a serious instrument and it plays well. Check out this and other more expensive models by clicking on the link below…but just note that these long scale dulcimers might not suit some players with smaller hands.
1.53 2015 Sweet Woods Student 4 String Teardrop £Sold
Neatly made in the USA. Laminated maple body, but well designed with good quality hardware and an accurate fingerboard. A great starter instrument.
1.54 1990s? Anonymous 3 String, 3 Course £Sold
Rather attractive long scale length US dulcimer with a mahogany/sapele body and laminated spruce top. Low, easy action but not suitable for players with smaller hands.
1.67 2009 Stoney End 4 String Hourglass £Sold
US-made plain hourglass design, but with solid woods. Sold over here as Hobgoblin’s “intermediate” instrument. Not showy, but it makes a decent sound.
1.75 2007 Stoney End 4 String Hourglass £Sold
Another US-made plain hourglass design from Stoney End Instruments, featuring a solid wood body. Sold over here as Hobgoblin’s “intermediate” instrument. Not showy, but it makes a decent sound and is in excellent condition.
1.82 1990 Walnut Valley Model SC 4 String 3 Course teardrop £Sold Case extra
Well made, all-solid wood teardrop dulcimer from a concern that used to market dulcimers at Disneyworld. They are handsome, easy to play and have an interesting design which produces a more forward sound than many dulcimers of the day. Great introduction to the instrument. Pictures to follow
1.85 Stoney End Early 1990s? Walnut 4 String 3 Course Hourglass £Sold + used carrying case
All-solid dulcimer from the U.S. Stoney End concern, although not marked as such. These were the intermediate instrument sold by Hobgoblin in the UK. Fairly well used but a very playable starter instrument.
1.80 Recent (2015?) Red Kite 4 String 3 Course Hourglass £Sold
Another recent dulcimer from the Hagen Family in Arkansas, produced exclusively for Bird Rock Dulcimers in North Wales. It has a walnut body and (probably) a butternut top. Good looking and excellent value as always.
1.48 – 1991 (?) Heatherwood 4 String, 3 Course Hourglass – £Sold
Dulcimer very much in the mould of the Cripple Creek, built by two ex-employees of that company. Well made from solid woods, with a big walnut body and cedar (?) top and nice bluebird-and-vines soundhole design. Slightly better than average beginner/intermediate instrument.
1.35 – 2003 Cedar Creek – 4 String Hourglass – £Sold
This is a quality modern instrument from a family concern in the Ozark Mountains, Missouri. Their small workshop produces good-looking, decent-sounding, solid wood dulcimers under a variety of brand names, including Cedar Creek and O’Brien in the US, and Red Kite over here in the UK. The dulcimer is now in excellent playing condition, following the repair of two short, non-structural cracks. The price reflects this – a bargain for beginner or improving players.
CLICK the heading or picture to see all the Beginner/Intermediate instruments sold prior to September 2016.
This page contains the short catalogue listing for each sold dulcimer, but links to the detailed individual descriptions are still live if you click on the pictures.