D550 chromatic hammered dulcimer
corner of D550 hammered dulcimer
bridge on D550 hammered dulcimer
closeup of tuning pins on D550 hammered dulcimer
handle hole in back of D550 hammered dulcimer


binding and purfling on a Dusty Strings hammered dulcimer

diagram showing treble bridge fifth-interval tuning on a traditional hammered dulcimerThis is by far the most common tuning scheme used for the hammered dulcimer. It is called "fifth-interval" because the treble bridge is positioned such that the note on the left side of the bridge is a perfect fifth above the note on the right. Similarly, each note on the right side of the treble bridge is a fifth interval higher than the adjacent note below it on the bass bridge.

The instrument is tuned in major scale sequences, so you can easily play in different major keys by moving to different scale groupings on the instrument. The scales available on most dulcimers with the traditional tuning are D, G, C, F, A, and their relative minors.

The tuning scheme we use on our Chromatic Series instruments is a variation on the traditional fifth-interval tuning. The chromatic notes either replace duplicated notes or are added by means of new bridges. Players accustomed to the traditional fifth-interval scheme usually have little difficulty adapting to this style of chromatic tuning.

A chromatic instrument allows for a somewhat wider range of musical styles, including classical, ragtime, blues, jazz and certain styles of ethnic music.

Listen to the D550

  • 3¾ octaves overall range
  • 3½ octaves chromatic range
  • traditional 5th-interval tuning
  • 16/15 configuration with an 8 course super bass bridge
  • solid sapele soundboard and back
  • carbon fiber reinforcement

The D550 has the same size frame as the D500, but adds 5 more courses of strings to the super bass bridge, extending the bass range down to G2. One of our mid-sized dulcimers, it combines a highly useful 3¾ octave range and a deep, lush tone with a relatively portable body size, making it probably our most popular Chromatic Series instrument.

Working closely with our design partner, Sam Rizzetta, we developed what we’re calling a “dual-density bridge system” to optimize the tonal balance across the range. In the upper ranges, we’re using jatoba, a very dense and articulate South American tonewood, which brings out the clear, ringing bell tones of the high notes. Slightly lighter density Eastern hard maple in the mid and lower ranges facilitates a full, warm, round tone. This combination surrounds the player with a balanced blend of clarity, responsiveness, sparkle and warmth. (New photos are coming soon! See the D500 for an idea of what the new bridges look like.)

Starting in 2011, we began incorporating carbon fiber into the internal bracing of our Chromatic Series dulcimers, improving upon their existing reputation for excellent tuning stability. With a stiffer frame, the tuning stability has gone from excellent to truly exceptional, a benefit that any dulcimer player will appreciate wholeheartedly.

C500 case available separately.

Price: $2745 Includes large double-sided hammers, gooseneck wrench, owner's guidebook.

Please call us to place an order!

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The Chromatic Series

Dusty Strings Chromatic Series dulcimers are professional-caliber instruments and are widely regarded as being among the finest hammered dulcimers available. However, this does not mean you have to be a professional to play one! As a beginner, you might be amazed at how quickly you make progress on an instrument that sounds fantastic and is well-made and satisfying to play. Regardless of your experience level, we think you’ll find the sophisticated tone and detailed craftsmanship of the Chromatic Series dulcimers to be well worth the investment.

The tuning scheme is a variation of traditional 5th-interval tuning, where the chromatic notes either replace duplicated notes or are added via extra bridges. We’ve found that it’s no different for a beginner to learn on one of our chromatic instruments than it is to learn on a more basic traditional instrument. More advanced players who are accustomed to traditional tuning will find it easy to adapt and will be delighted by the increased versatility of having access to all the sharps and flats. The chromatic capability opens the doors to musical styles such as classical, ragtime, bluegrass, jazz and rock.

Designed in collaboration with Sam Rizzetta, a highly respected inventor, builder and player of hammered dulcimers since the 1960s, these instruments have his signature asymmetrical design, which places the treble bridge perpendicular to the strings for ease of playing. The internal bracing system is more elaborate and sophisticated than our other models and, combined with the all solid wood construction, gives our chromatic dulcimers a resonance, clarity and depth of tone that is unrivaled.

For the ultimate expressive instrument, we highly recommend the optional damper system. Dampers allow the player to stop the strings from ringing by pressing on a foot pedal, and can be used very effectively to support even more nuanced playing, complex arrangements and interesting voicings. The Chromatic Series dulcimers are now being built with pre-drilled and capped damper installation holes, which will streamline the installation of a damper system whenever it is desired.

The single sound hole is decorated with a hand-carved maple leaf insert, a signature feature of our chromatic line. Contrasting solid-wood binding and delicate multi-layered veneers called purfling add a professional finish detail to the edges of the soundboard.


Rich curly maple trim gives a warm and dramatic look.

Price: $250


Dress up your soundhole with the sparkle of abalone inlay

Price: $250


Add a lovely band of abalone inlay around the soundboard.

Price: $700


A black soundboard adds an elegant touch.

Price: $100


Control sustain and add tonal variety with a set of dampers.

Price: $545

Tuning, range and strings

The D500 has three and a half octaves of fully chromatic range; the lowest note is the G two octaves below middle C. It is laid out in a 16/15 configuration, meaning there are 16 courses of strings on the treble bridge and 15 courses on the bass bridge. A super-bass bridge on the left provides the lower half-octave as well as the chromatic notes that don't normally show up in the dulcimer tuning scheme.

The overall range is G2 to E6; the chromatic range is C3 to E6.

This configuration is for instruments with serial numbers after 13168. For earlier instruments, download a PDF file of the tuning chart.

string chart for D550 chromatic hammered dulcimerSuperscript numbers indicate octaves (C4 is middle C).

Dots indicate marked courses.

All strings have loop ends.

PB = phosphor bronze.

PBW = phosphor bronze wound.

SSW = stainless steel wound.

Unspecified strings are plain steel wire.

Wire gauges are shown in inches.

Downloadable string/tuning chart: For serial numbers after 13168. For serial numbers before 13169.

String ordering information


  • Soundboard and back: solid sapele
  • Pinblocks: laminated piano-style pinblocks faced with sapele
  • Bridges: jatoba and eastern maple
  • Rails and soundhole insert: eastern maple


  • Bottom rail: 45 inches
  • Top rail: 18 inches
  • Height: 20 inches
  • Thickness: 4 inches
  • Weight: approx. 19 pounds

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"Thank you to all of the craftsmen and craftswomen who created this D550 hammered dulcimer for me, as well as everyone at Dusty Strings. It has a wonderful sound and it is a beautiful instrument! I'm very pleased with it. It is a rare treat to own something of such quality and craftsmanship and I feel that you all do our country credit by caring so much about the quality of your work.”

Jim Griesemer (Walnut Creek, California)

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Listen to the D550