Hammered Dulcimer Finder

This page is designed to help you understand some of the basic features that differentiate each of our dulcimer models. As you read through the information, you might start to get a sense of what features are important to you, and at the bottom, you'll be able to sort all our dulcimer models by things like size, type of soundboard, or tuning scheme.

Size and Range

Hammered dulcimer sizes are often described by the number of notes on each bridge. For example, a 12/11 dulcimer has 12 courses of strings on the treble bridge and 11 courses on the bass bridge, which translates to about 2½ octaves of overall range. Most commonly, dulcimers have two bridges, but some instruments have a third, often on the left-hand side, that extends the range lower than the bass bridge. We call this one the super bass bridge, and sometimes you hear those instruments referred to as extended range dulcimers because it's a way to add more low notes without increasing the size of the body. When you see three numbers (like 16/15/8), the smallest number refers to the super bass bridge.

In terms of body size, you can group our dulcimers into three general categories. We'll call them the 12/11, the 16/15, and the 19/18. The 12/11s have a 2½ octave range. The 16/15s can be 3 to 3¾ octaves, depending on whether or not they have a super bass bridge as well. We're calling the largest size 19/18, although we don't actually make one in that size without the super bass bridge. Those range from 4 to 4½ octaves. Our dulcimers mostly have the same notes at the top, and the bigger models add more low range.

Illustration of a man playing a small 12/11 hammered dulcimer

12/11

Illustration of a man playing a medium 16/15 hammered dulcimer

16/15

Illustration of a man playing a large 19/18 hammered dulcimer

19/18

Materials & Price

One of the major factors in a dulcimer’s price is the material that the soundboard and back are made of. Our less expensive models have soundboards and backs made of laminated Finland birch, which is basically plywood (but the highest grade available), and comes in ready-to-cut sheet form. This saves a lot of time over solid wood soundboards, which come to us in the form of 2-inch thick sapele slabs that go through many steps of milling, gluing and sanding before becoming part of a dulcimer.

Laminated soundboards can sound really lovely, but there’s just a little extra of everything with a solid wood instrument – depth of tone, clarity, resonance – and a solid-wood instrument will also develop its own unique voice as it ages. One item to note is that hammered dulcimers with solid wood soundboards, like fine guitars and violins, require some attention to be paid to their environment in order to protect them from cracking or warping. Laminated soundboards, on the other hand, are quite impervious to these environmental extremes.

Even among solid wood dulcimers, there can be price differences related to other parts of the design and construction. For example, our Chromatic Series instruments have a more complex internal bracing system that produces a somewhat deeper and more lush sound than our other solid wood models. They also incorporate some extra woodworking details like binding and purfling around the edges, which add to the price.

Corner of a hammered dulcimer showing what a laminated birch soundboard looks like

Laminated Wood

Corner of a hammered dulcimer showing what a solid wood soundboard looks like

Solid Wood

Chromatic or not?

This is often a difficult decision to make when you’re new to the dulcimer world! Generally, chromatic dulcimers are more complex and thus more expensive than dulcimers with traditional tuning, so sometimes your budget makes this decision for you. If you’re wavering on the edge, one way to approach the question is to consider what kind of music you think you’d like to play.

Traditional tuning works really well for diatonic music, such as fiddle tunes, Celtic music, old-time, hymns, and certain pop songs. (Diatonic means all the notes are in one major scale, like having just the white keys on a piano.) Traditionally-tuned dulcimers do have the capability for a few chromatic notes, depending on what key you’re playing in, but you won’t have all the sharps and flats and you won’t be able to easily play in keys outside of F, C, G, D, A and E.

If you want to play music that has a lot of sharps and flats or switches keys a lot, such as jazz, blues or classical, or if you need to be able to play hymns with your church group in the key of E-flat, you may want to choose a chromatic instrument so that you have the full capability to play in any key. There are two ways to achieve chromaticism – 5th-interval chromatic tuning and piano dulcimer tuning – and there’s more information about that on the Strings & Tuning Schemes page.

Sort by Feature

Now that you know some of the implications of these different features, you can click on any of the subjects below to show only the dulcimer models with that feature. Clicking on a photo will pull up a short description of the model (unless you’re browsing on a phone), and at the bottom are links to more detailed information, including photos and sound clips.