I am often asked which species of wood makes the best sounding dulcimer. Any answer would be very subjective at best. Each tonewood has the potential to become an instrument with a fine, unique voice.
There are some generalizations as to the potential tone of various woods but the outcome is dependent on the design and construction of the instrument.
Cherry is fairly dense, heavy and somewhat hard. These are desirable qualities for the back and sides of most stringed instruments. Cherry would not be an obvious choice for the soundboard of most stringed instruments but dulcimers are somewhat unique; they evolved in the Appalachian mountains and were most commonly made using indigenous species of wood.
The tone of a dulcimer with a top, back and sides made from cherry has the potential for warmth in the mid-range and smooth response in the higher registers. The bass tends to be warm but not overpowering.
Cherry dulcimers have a noticeable smooth sustain that ads to the tone and playability of the instrument.
I use certain thicknesses as guidelines but ultimately each piece of wood and the instrument made with it will be unique. The final thickness and graduation (different thicknesses in different areas) of a cherry soundboard is more critical than with other tonewoods I use; too thick and it sounds lifeless, too thin and it can sound harsh.
After the instrument is assembled I often adjust the thickness of the sides and back as well; each part of the dulcimer has an effect on all the others. The final result is not an assemblage of parts; it is a cohesive musical instrument.
But now I will tell you the real secret to making a good sounding cherry dulcimer.
If I leave milk and cookies in my shop Alphonso the Cherry Fairy appears in the middle of the night and uses his magic to make them sound wonderful!