What is a stick dulcimer?

A stick dulcimer is one of the easiest string instruments. With only three strings, it’s very simple, making it the ideal instrument for beginners. The stick dulcimer’s small weight makes it easy for your to carry it around. Musicians say that this design is the successor of the mountain dulcimer. The stick dulcimer’s design takes after the Egyptian long necked lutes, the Turkish saz and the banjo. The stick dulcimer’s diatonic scale and open tuning provide natural harmonies when the three strings are strummed together.

Learning how to play this instrument is a no brainer. It’s a great stepping stone to learning how to play more difficult instruments, such as the guitar and violin. You don’t have to bother yourself with technicalities or hitting a wrong note. The options are limited to reduce the trouble you may face while learning how to play.

Tuning the stick dulcimer is easy. The most famous tunings are D.A.D, D.A.A, D.G.D. As a beginner, the D.A.D tuning is the easiest one. This tuning means that the first string is bass (D), the second string is middle (A) and the third string is melody (D). It is called the Mixolydian tuning. Here are the steps of Mixolydian tuning:

  1. Tune the bass string to the D below middle C on the piano.
  2. Press the bass string left of the fourth fret and adjust the A note.
  3. Adjust the middle string until it becomes synchronized with this pitch.
  4. Press the middle string left of the third fret and adjust the high D note. Make sure this note is an octave higher than the D note of the bass string.
  5. Adjust the melody string until it becomes synchronized with this note.

You can easily learn how to play melodies from an array of songs you like. That’s why older people took a liking to this instrument. The stick dulcimer also has a folksy sound, which also draws in an older audience for this instrument. As for the younger generations, playing the stick dulcimer is the first step if you’re interested in playing the guitar. If you’d rather stick to the dulcimer family, there’s also dulcimer guitars!


How is a stick dulcimer different than a regular dulcimer?

The two main types of dulcimers are the hammered dulcimer and the mountain dulcimer. The stick dulcimer is a development or a derivation of the mountain dulcimer. However, these updates made the stick dulcimer a unique type with its own characteristics.

The stick dulcimer looks more like a small guitar with a long, narrow neck. On the neck, you will notice the fret board that opens into the sound box. The sound box of the stick dulcimer is relatively smaller in size than that of the traditional mountain dulcimer. The entire body of the stick dulcimer is lighter than the body of the Appalachian dulcimer. This makes it more useful and convenient. Besides the difference in body weight and shape, another major difference is its placement while playing. You can hold the stick dulcimer just like the guitar. Therefore, you don’t have to sit down while playing it.

Basically, the stick dulcimer and mountain dulcimer look somewhat similar. However, the stick dulcimer was created for a specific reason. That reason is to make everything as simple as possible for whoever plays it, starting from size and ending with the playing method.

Stick dulcimers, just like the mountain dulcimers, do not resemble the hammered dulcimer at all. Hammered dulcimers are a box that has the shape of a trapezoid. The strings are stretched along the box and hammered to it. Each string plays a certain note. Unlike the stick and mountain dulcimers, the hammered dulcimer has many strings attached to the box. To be honest, nobody knows why they categorized it as a dulcimer. d


The best stick dulcimer

The stick dulcimer has many brands and models. Over the years, these models became different in length or body weight. And some people have even managed to upgrade the stick dulcimers and create their own unique brand. The McNally brand is the most famous, mainly for the great quality of its instruments. Bob McNally, the founder of the company and the creator of strumsticks had the goal of opening a pathway for non-musicians to engage music. He thought about creating a small, yet attractive and appealing instrument. Following the designs of the Appalachian and stick dulcimers, McNally started to design and develop the instrument, which would be the successor and breakthrough in this field. In the end, McNally has successfully made smaller dulcimers that supported the C, D and G keys.

Now, we will review one of the McNally strumstick models.

McNally D-33 Grand Strumstick

stick dulcimer image

This is the most popular model of the McNally brand. Statistics show that the McNally D-33 Grand Strumstick is the company’s best selling instrument. The lower D pitch gives a deeper, more enhanced and powerful sound than the G model, which gives a high, sharp pitch. It has the usual three strings; bass, middle and melody.

The hand is made of maple, padouk and spruce. The body and fretboard come from one of four of the finest types of wood; Rosewood, spruce, padouk and Koa. It also has a diatonic scale and a Rosette sound box. The McNally D-33 Grand Strumstick’s price ranges according to the wood type. Weighing in at only one-pound, carrying your dulcimer stick won’t cause any unnecessary discomfort.

The greatest feature of this particular model is its surprisingly long, yet convenient length. Its length is 33 inches, making it longer than the standard model. You can also tune this stick dulcimer to C.

The McNally D-33 Grand Strumstick arrives with a pick. It also comes with a CD that gives you all the guidance you’ll need. Additionally, there is a small book that has a lot of helpful information, such as how to change the tuning from D to C and how often you should change the strings.

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