Top 5 Best Dulcimers


Appalachian or Mountain dulcimers are fretted string instruments that probably originated in the 1700s, when early craftsmen living in America’s mountainous regions lacked the proper tools for violin making. Part of the zither family and not to be confused with unrelated hammered dulcimers and lap harps, the original Appalachian dulcimers probably took their inspiration from the Norwegian langleik, the German scheitholt, the Swedish hummel, and the French épinette des Vosges. The current dulcimer trend got its start around 1950, when urban folk music began to gain popularity.

Fun to play on its own and fantastic when enjoyed with a group of fellow dulcimer players, this instrument is relatively easy to learn. There are a variety of shapes, sizes, and finishes available, all with unique character. Beginners often opt to purchase an inexpensive dulcimer rather than paying a craftsman for a custom-built instrument, however it is worth noting that a medium- to good-quality dulcimer will stand the test of time and provide many wonderful hours of enjoyment. We have omitted poor performers from our list

Brand Model Package Dimensions Package Weight Rating Price
Applecreek ACD100 33” x 3.6” x 7” 2.2 lbs Check
Backyard Music 3-String Simplicity Dulcimer 35” x 3” x 9” 5.25 lbs Check
Roosebeck Grace Mountain Dulcimer Not listed Not listed Check
Seagull Merlin 32.1” x 2” x 7.9” 2 lbs Check
Seagull M4 18” x 14” x 42” 2.9 lbs Check

Applecreek ACD100 Dulcimer

With a laminated spruce top, sides, and back plus a stout maple neck and fingerboard, the Applecreek ACD100 Dulcimer features a natural finish for a beautiful, traditional appearance. It arrives pre-strung and many reviewers found that their instruments were already in tune or needed minimal tuning for playing right out of the box.

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Pros:

  • Traditional dulcimer sound
  • Attractive appearance

Cons:

  • Nowhere to attach a waist strap
  • Included strings are not the best

Customers Who Purchased This Said:

  • Very good sound for this price and size. Smaller than my other mountain dulcimer, so it’s easy to haul around.
  • This dulcimer, for the price, is a work of art. Nice wood, well made, and sounds terrific.

Who will Appreciate this Dulcimer?

If you’re currently playing a cardboard dulcimer and want something better, or if you’re a beginner looking for a decent starter instrument, then this may be a very good choice for you. While it is less resonant and unequal to a higher-priced dulcimer, it is ideal for learning and deciding whether you really do want to play the dulcimer before investing in a higher-priced instrument.

Seagull Merlin Mahogany SG Dulcimer

A beautiful, portable instrument inspired by the Appalachian dulcimer, the Seagull Merlin Mahogany SG offers a sweet, melodic sound with plenty of richness. A solid mahogany top and 3-piece rock maple body impart an attractive appearance, and quality components including a mustache-style Tusq bridge, open geared tuners, and a compensated saddle make for hours of pleasurable playing.

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Pros:

  • Diatonic tuning makes for easy, fun playing
  • Fits regular dulcimer strings, no need for anything special

Cons:

  • Low saddle sometimes leads to slipped strings
  • Less resonance than a true mountain dulcimer

Customers Who Purchased This Said:

  • This instrument has a very unique folksy / Celtic sound that’s just fun to play around with.
  • Projects very well despite its small size.

Who will Appreciate this Dulcimer?

Both guitar players and dedicated dulcimer players have fun trying this instrument, and those who are completely new to music find that it is relatively easy to learn thanks to diatonic tuning. Its sound is pleasant, and many reviewers mention playing for hours on end thanks to the lightweight, comfortable feel in hand. The Seagull Merlin SG is a great choice for anyone who likes to make music – and with such affordable pricing, it is readily accessible to most.

Seagull M4 Mahogany Dulcimer with EQ

The Seagull M4 Mahogany EQ Merlin SG combines the best features of a traditional dulcimer with electronics for amplified playing. Suitable for acoustic or electric use, it features a solid mahogany top and a silver leaf maple neck as well as a maple fingerboard and bridge. B-band electronics with a built-in tuner and volume controls add versatility, and a lovely satin oil finish provides protection.

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Pros:

  • Fun and easy to play
  • Sounds great, plenty of volume

Cons:

  • Built-in tuner isn’t the best

Customers Who Purchased This Said:

  • The sound fits well with bluegrass, Celtic, and folk
  • Great for banjo players, everything you play in double C tuning, caped, translates to this instrument

Who will Appreciate this Dulcimer?

While the Seagull M4 dulcimer with EQ is not a traditional mountain dulcimer, it does offer a sweet, melodic sound. An excellent choice for anyone who enjoys playing, it makes a fantastic addition to any serious musician’s collection, whether for hobby use or onstage performances.

Backyard Music 3-String Simplicity Dulcimer

If you’re looking for a cool starter dulcimer that’s a lot of fun to play, then you might want to give this one a try. The 275-pound strength cardboard soundbox features traditional heart-shaped cutouts and a pretty paint job, and it provides a crisp, pleasant tone. The 3-String Simplicity Dulcimer comes with a protective rain bag, a pick, a noter, extra strings, and a quick-start, 28-page songbook called “Meet the Friendly Dulcimer.”

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Pros:

  • Very easy to get started, especially with the included book.
  • Decent sound and a great price for someone who’s just beginning, or for kids.

Cons:

  • Furnished strings are not the best; instrument benefits greatly when they are replaced
  • Reports of finish flaws, particularly when purchased as a kit rather than pre-assembled

Customers Who Purchased This Said:

  • The Backyard Music dulcimer is probably the best cardboard dulcimer available.
  • Surprising tone, volume, and melody from this little instrument. Give it a chance!

Who will Appreciate this Dulcimer?

Kids and beginners are very likely to enjoy this dulcimer, particularly as it is a budget-conscious choice that also happens to sound pretty good while providing a fun introduction to the easy art of playing the Appalachian dulcimer. Individuals with more experience are likely to prefer a higher-end instrument that will stand the test of time.

Roosebeck Grace Mountain Dulcimer

Built in the tradition of the Appalachian dulcimer, this beautiful instrument features a vaulted fret board, a spruce soundboard, and contrasting walnut details. With a classic hourglass shape and four mechanical geared tuning machines, it works well with a variety of tunings although the traditional dulcimer tuning of DAD is recommended. Four f-holes and a silver, crown-shaped tailpiece provide the final touch. A pick, a dulcimer noter, and an owner’s guide are included for added convenience. This dulcimer includes 6 ½ and 13 ½ frets for added versatility.

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Pros:

  • Vaulted fretboard for lighter weight and better sound quality
  • Double melody string adds richness; removable for versatility

Cons:

  • Does not come with a case
  • Takes a little time to become accustomed to 6 ½ and 13 ½ frets if you’re unfamiliar with them

Customers Who Purchased This Said:

  • Beautiful instrument, easy to pick up and play. It is fabulous, and so is the price.
  • The availability of extra frets allows for major scales beginning on the open string, and makes it possible to play songs with “accidental” notes.

Who will Appreciate this Dulcimer?

Those who are already familiar with the mountain dulcimer are likely to appreciate this fine instrument, which allows for old standards as well as an expanded repertoire. Additional frets and quality components make it a good step up for intermediate players who are ready to take their dulcimer adventures to the next level.

What to Look for When Buying a Dulcimer

Because mountain dulcimers come in so many different shapes and sizes, choosing one of these instruments is a highly individualized process. This short dulcimer buying guide covers the basics and is intended for beginners rather than those who are already familiar with the instrument and its many fantastic quirks.

Wood – most dulcimers are made of wood, with American hardwoods being preferred, but often more costly. Less expensive options like mahogany, spruce, and plywood are often acceptable. Some inexpensive dulcimers are made with heavy-duty carboard bodies. These aren’t meant for professionals; they’re intended for use in practice situations and “just for fun.”

Tuners – Like guitars, dulcimers come with different types of tuners. Wooden friction pegs look beautiful but can be difficult for beginners – and even some advanced players – to work with. Metal friction pegs are a bit better, and modern geared tuning machines are superior due to their outstanding adjustability.

Strings – Dulcimers have anywhere from 3 to 8 strings, sometimes arranged in double configuration for added versatility. Double strings are pressed down simultaneously when they are present.

Soundholes – Celtic knotwork, hummingbirds, hearts, and traditional f notes are some of the most popular soundhole designs. Choose a shape that appeals to you! It has little impact on the sound quality.

Sound – The sound of a dulcimer should be light, sweet, and melodic, without any buzzing on the strings, and with no real “twanging” or harshness.

Cost – A high-quality custom dulcimer may cost over $1500, and a desirable antique dulcimer may be worth over $5,000. Luckily for beginners, good, playable dulcimers can be found for around $100, and prices are often a bit lower than that. For most, a custom dulcimer is a goal worth working toward – but beginners and those who are deciding whether the dulcimer is an instrument they’ll enjoy playing are normally happy with options like the ones we’ve reviewed here. Whichever you choose, we hope you enjoy your latest musical adventure. Happy playing!

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_dulcimer

http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-instruments/seagull-m4-mahogany-eq-dulcimer

http://www.handcraftedworldinstruments.com/product_p/dmgs4.htm

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/season/18/richmond-va/appraisals/appalachian-dulcimer-ca-1880–201308A20/