Buying a New Hammered Dulcimer
Nothing is quite like a new instrument. Maybe you've decided to upgrade, or maybe you just want to start with a new one.
Believe it or not, if price is your main concern, new, basic instruments can sometimes be your cheapest alternative. Quality instruments hold their value, so don't be surprised to see a $2,000+ price tag on a "used" high-end instrument, while it is sometimes possible to buy a whole bare-bones basic set-up (instrument, stand, hammers, case) for under $350. (Just ask me because I put together packages for that price all the time.)
Where do you go to compare new instruments?
- Festivals! - Especially the O.D.P.C. Funfest (held the third weekend of July each year) has the largest selection of builders in one place that you can imagine. It's great to be able to compare sounds.
There are other festivals where instruments are also sold. Try to make it to one.
- Buy Directly from a Builder
One of the best websites on the internet which has a really complete listing of instrument builders is the Kitchen Musician website. If you can find one in your area, there's nothing like hearing it played and seeing the craftsmanship close up.
There's also a small luthier directory at http://www.dulcimers.com/luthiers.html. Some of our favorities are listed.
Elderly Instruments, Lansing, Michigan, sells a fairly large line of hammered dulcimers.
Here's an observation about Elderly (I say this with reluctance because it's one of my favorite stores and the people are grand): They stock several builders' instruments so you'd think you could "compare sounds." Unfortunately Elderly doesn't tune nor maintain their instruments. If you go there to check out an instrument, insist that someone help you tune it so you can accurately evaluate it. Also, don't be surprised if the strings are badly corroded. Of course, if you're expecting to compare instruments, you will have to tune all those you want to compare. (It can easily take 30 minutes per instrument.) And an instrument that hasn't been tuned for months, has a different sound than one that's been kept up to pitch.
- This website (dulcimers.biz) (Click on the "Buy a Jake's Cabin or Rick Thum" link.) I'm a distributor for their instruments. Contact me and I'll give you a very fair price on a lovely instrument.
I'm frequently asked if you have limited budget, as a buyer should you go for "more strings" or "higher quality"? I've even had folks say to me, "Maybe I should get a small instrument because I'd be overwhelmed with a large instrument. That statement isn't accurate. On fifth tuned instruments, more strings make it easier to play in various keys. If you have a basic fifth tuned 12/11 or 13/12 you must be "more creative" to play in some keys. That doesn't mean that, if you can only afford a basic instrument, you can't learn to play. And there are some musicians who make wonderful music on a 12/11 and NEVER move to a larger instrument. Best of all, the skills you learn on a small instrument will easily transfer when/if you decide to move to a larger instrument.
If you can afford a higher quality instrument, by all means, get it! But never consider your first purchase, your final one. If you buy an instrument chances are, as your "ear develops", you'll find yourself lusting for a different instrument. The basic instrument can always be re-sold.
But you may find your smaller instrument will be better for travel and toting to workshops so you'll never want to part with it.
Have questions? Need help?