Dulcimers – Three, Four or More Strings?

play dulcimer with three separate strings. Many dulcimer players use a doubled top string and a single middle and bass string.

I have assumed that the doubled top string probably came about to give the melody more volume against the drones when playing in the traditional style.

mouthbow As dulcimer playing evolved and melody and chords were played using all three strings I think the doubled top string remained as a vestige of the traditional style. If playing the melody solely on the top string I think the doubled string makes sense.

I prefer the ease of action and evenness of sound from string to string that three separate strings provides.

I have heard many players do wonderful things with four separate strings.

And six strings (three courses of 2 strings) is always fun.

Any opinions? What do you prefer?

As an instrument maker I offer all string arrangements.

4 thoughts on “Dulcimers – Three, Four or More Strings?

  1. Howdy,

    That makes a lot of sense. I tend not to go very high up on the melody string much these days but I can see how doubling it would help balance the volume against the middle string if I did.

    Some hammered dulcimer makers would add an extra string to the higher treble courses for the same reason.

  2. I’m pretty sure doubling a sound source increases the overall volume by 3dB. Doubling the melody string also adds a lot of strength on notes higher than the 7th fret. This balances well with the bass which stands out because it’s wound and it’s an octave or so lower. This leaves the middle. If I’m strumming all three strings and fretting only the middle, it could be a tad louder but I think it works. The main reason I like a double melody is that it empowers my high notes.

    Having said all that, three strings has a clarity that just rocks. Four-string rocks as well.

  3. Hi Doug,

    First let me say I enjoyed your mountain dulcimer class at Midland. There are so few classes for mountain dulcimer offered here in the north country that challenge players to do more than drone away. I have enjoyed beginning to learn to play what I laughingly call “chutes and ladders” on dulcimer. I find the continuity of sound coming from my dulcimer using hammer ons, pulls and slides to be very pleasing.

    As to your specific question here…….I play 3 strings. It makes it easier to play and gives better balance as the melody takes me from string to string. I experimented just briefly with 4 equidistant strings. I’m pretty confident that I will be drawn back to that again because of the fullness of the chords that can be produced with the extra string. For now though, I have plenty more to perfect with the 3 strings.

    1. @Jim Adams
      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the workshop.

      We are on the same page as to the number of strings and string spacing. Though many dulcimer players end up using 3 or 4 separate strings many prefer to stay with the doubled melody string. To each their own.

      All the best,


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