All About Strings

3 strings vs 4 strings

Many dulcimers are sold with 4 strings. These are almost always set up with two strings close together as a "unison" (a.k.a "Doubled") melody string (see the picture on the left below). Meaning that those two melody strings should be tuned exactly the same. And that is where the difficulty comes in!

It is very difficult to get those two strings tuned exactly the same. Then, even if you can tune them exactly same, it is very difficult for beginners to cleanly fret two strings at the same time. This will often lead to a less then pleasing sound. Many dulcimer instructors suggest that you, at least temporarily, remove one of the doubled melody strings. 

A very small percentage of dulcimers are set up with 4 equidistant stings (see the right hand picture below). There are some beautiful arrangements for this set-up but it's an advanced way to play. So, again,4 equidistant strings aren't recommended for beginners.

Changing Strings

PLEASE: Wear some sort of eye protection when you first bring a new string up to tune! If there is any problem with the string it could snap and you don't want any part of your face in the way!

If your strings are old, they can't stay in tune! Or they may not sound clear. The melody string on some dulcimers gives a twangy sound instead of a nice clear, bright tone when it's been more than a couple of months since the strings were changed. Strings age not just from playing but also from simply being under tension in the air. While you can wipe your strings off after each time you play to help, they will, eventually, get too old to play.

Ask the builder of your dulcimer for the proper size and type (ball end, loop end, wound, plain) of string for your dulcimer. The builder may be able to sell you a set of strings.

If you don't know the builder of your dulcimer, here is a website you can use to approximate the size of the strings to use based on the Vibrating strings length (VSL - measured from the nut to the bridge) and the note you want to tune to (see the page on tuning) :

Sting Choice based on VSL

Strings come in different types - 

Loop or Ball End - 

Refers to the end of the string and will depend on how your strings are attached and/or threaded in the bridge-end (where you strum) of the dulcimer. In the picture on the left, the "ball-end" string is the one on top. It has a little metal "ball" in the shape of a doughnut in the end of the string.  

It depends on how your strings are attached as to which of these ends you need. Only a few dulcimers can use either type so your best bet is to look at the strings that are currently on your dulcimer and note which type they are.  

Plain or Wound - 

Refers to whether there is a winding around the string.The Bass strings (strings that need to make low notes) often need to be "wound" to correctly get that bass sound. Again, look carefully at the strings on your dulcimer.  Almost every "standard" dulcimer uses a wound string for the bass and plain strings for the middle and melody. Note which type you have.

Once you know the size and type (loop or ball end, plain or wound) of string needed, here is a place to purchase strings online:

Just Strings

Here is a short video on how to change stings on a dulcimer (They do use a doubled/unison melody in this video but you can ignore that second melody string if you want to):

How to Re-string Your Mountain Dulcimer

Another video that is a bit longer but provides a whole lot of more information about strings and other things is:

Things About Strings 

If you have all wooden (violin-like) pegs you may want to review this video to help those stay in tune better:

Fix Slipping Pegs