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What is a Dulcimer Guitar?

Learn About:

  • Is a dulcimer guitar the same as a Seagull Merlin?
  • Is a dulcimer guitar the same as a Strumstick?
  • Is a dulcimer guitar the same as a pickin' stick?
  • Does anyone make an electric dulcimer guitar?
  • Who makes dulcimer guitars?
  • What's a Seagull Dulcimer Guitar?
  • What's a dulcimer guitar tuning?

Dulcimer Guitar or Stick Dulcimer?

Transcription of "What's a Dulcimer Guitar?" Video

"Hey there! I'm Ryan with stickdulcimer.com.

I'm here in East Nashville at Forty-one Fifteen, a top Nashville recording studio here that a friend of mine owns. It's a great place if you're looking to record. Not sure if that's your thing, but hey, we were able to come in today and make some great videos for you.

I have recently learned that people out there are a little confused about dulcimers versus guitars. Okay, so there are people who refer to stick dulcimers as dulcimer guitars, so this is a matter of just clearing up some terminology, explaining some things.

First off, this is a Seagull Merlin M4 model stick dulcimer and this is a guitar. Shocker, right? 

I'll come back to the Seagull Merlin in a minute, but just to sort of make sure everybody's on the same page, the guitar has six strings. It is chromatically fretted. So it's got a fret for every single note, which is different than a dulcimer.  Dulcimers generally come what's called diatonically fretted. So they're in one key only. We'll get back to that in a minute.

So six strings, chromatically fretted, we all know what that is right? Okay, so I'm going to set that aside for a moment. That's your guitar.

Chromatically Stick Dulcimer

This, however, is a chromatically fretted stick dulcimer. Now some people refer to these as Strumsticks, sometimes pickin' sticks. The family of instruments they're in is dulcimer, and then it's a stick dulcimer.

A lot of people know dulcimers from the mountain dulcimer. That's out there, which is very similar, but this one's a little different because it's chromatically fretted. So it's like the guitar in that sense. So this could be what people are referring to sometimes when they say dulcimer guitar.

What is a dulcimer guitar?  It’s sort of in the eye of the beholder. The thing about a dulcimer is it's usually tuned to one, five, octave, and usually it's fretted diatonically, but this one's fretted chromatically.

strumstick - bob mcnally

This is one that we made here in East Nashville. If you're looking to get into dulcimer guitars, this is maybe not where i would suggest starting. A lot of people, when they're thinking dulcimer guitars, they're thinking of pickin' sticks, which are very similar to that. This is a version of a picking stick. This is a Strumstick made by Bob McNally out of New Jersey. This is the G29 Strumstick model. This is a smaller one. This one's tuned G D G, again root, five, octave.

But you'll notice now that this is diatonically fretted, which means it's only in one key… so you can't play wrong notes. That's a phrase they like to say: "You can't play wrong notes." Whereas a chromatically fretted instrument, you could potentially get all kinds of notes that aren't in the scale. These are designed to be only in one scale so that you can make beautiful music, which is what dulcimer means. It means "beautiful sound."

Two Types of Dulcimer Guitars

There's two different types of dulcimer guitars. There's the Strumstick, pickin' stick as it's often known, and then there's the Seagull Merlin, and I want to concentrate on this one, the Seagull Merlin M4. This is a spruce top version. These are made in Canada. The thing about these is they intentionally went for something that more mimics a guitar. So this could be the thing that people are thinking of when they say dulcimer guitar. 

All right, now that makes sense because they are a guitar company. They make acoustics. They make some electrics. They make nylon strings... actually, they just recently started making nylons, so it kind of makes sense they would go this route as opposed to the construction style of the pickin' stick, which you can see is much more diminished in size. And that has a lot to do with the way it's constructed.

Dulcimer Guitar IS a Stick Dulcimer!

So all that to say, this is a dulcimer guitar.  It is a stick dulcimer, so again, fretted in one key, so no wrong notes. The difference in this one versus a regular guitar is that the top two strings, this is four strings, are intended to be played together in unison. Now you would see this sort of thing on a 12 string guitar or on a mandolin, and it's what's referred to as a "chorusing" effect.

I personally love it. I think it just makes a richer sound, so if you're looking to get into dulcimer guitar playing, into stick dulcimer playing - or maybe are in guitar already and want to move into something slightly different - or you've never played a fretted instrument before and you're thinking, “how do I get in?” this is actually one of the best instruments for it because they've intentionally spaced the neck a little wider so there's more space between the strings. There's more space between the frets because there's fewer frets here, and since you can't play wrong notes, you can get to what you're after way faster.

[plays "Free Fallin'" riff]

So now, we all know that as “Free Fallin,” Tom Petty's classic song. I played it on the guitar earlier, but i had to use lots of fingers to do it. On this instrument, because of the way it's strung, one-five-octave, it sounds good no matter what you do. And so you can get away with playing with one finger, which is something I like to point out to people, because I've run into folks in the past who are like, “I have no musical bones in my body. I'm tone deaf” etc.  “I tried to play guitar. Guitar was hard. What do I do? I'm not interested in trying to learn piano” etcetera.

Well, this is for you because you could learn how to play “Free Fallin” in less than five minutes, and with a little bit of help, a little bit of practice, man you'd be... [plays]

So if you're asking about dulcimer guitars, this is one of the ones I would call a dulcimer guitar in that it is both dulcimer and has guitar-like properties. And refreshing from where we started, this is also a dulcimer in that it's tuned one five octave. It's from the dulcimer family, but it is chromatically fretted so all the notes. So if you're thinking guitar, maybe this is what you're thinking.

There's options, right? You've got lots of choices out there if you're looking to get into dulcimers.

[Also Read: "What's the difference in a Seagull dulcimer and a mountain dulcimer?"]

If you're looking to get into dulcimer guitars, these are the options I would totally recommend if you're a first time player. Go for a Seagull Merlin. Go for a Seagull Merlin because it's just so much fun. Or if you've gotten one of those already and you didn't know strum sticks are out there, consider one of these from Bob McNally out in New Jersey… great instrument as well.

So hope that helps clarify anything that was mystical to you, and if you have any questions about all that

As always feel free to reach out at hello@stickdulcimer.com.

Thanks!"