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.
1.49 – 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.
1.48 – 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.
1.47 – 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.
1.35 – 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.
1.52 1980s? Anonymous English 3 String Hourglass £160 No case
A basic but quite neatly constructed dulcimer found, and probably made, in England. Narrow body means a smaller sound.
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.
1.63 and 1.64 2 x 1990s? McSpadden M8 4 String Kit Hourglass £230 each no case
These are two nice-sounding examples of McSpadden’s smaller bodied dulcimer, designated I believe the M8, and well put together from a kit. Both have flat peg heads, quality Gotoh chrome tuners and the classic low action/excellent intonation of a standard McSpadden fingerboard. Cheap entry point into McSpadden quality…
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.
1.74 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.
1.75 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.
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.