What's a Stick Dulcimer?

collection of various stick dulcimers

What’s a Stick Dulcimer?

For several reasons, it’s a little hard to pin down the answer to that question, but the best description would be "any 3 or 4 string instrument fretted like a traditional dulcimer, and played in the manner of a guitar or mandolin." They are generally smaller stature instruments, in the same vein as a ukulele. And much like a mountain dulcimer, the strings are generally tuned to play in an open key, like D (DAD) or G (GDG). (If you're interested, we took a deep dive approach to the history of stick dulcimers.)

"Dulcimer" means "sweet sound" and the instrument derives its moniker of “dulcimer” from the Appalachian or mountain dulcimer, also known as a lap dulcimer.  Mountain dulcimers are often considered the only truly original United States instrument, so we like to think that makes stick dulcimers a pretty special younger brother/sister. 

The primary similarity is in how the two instruments are fretted and strung.  Mountain dulcimers have just three or four strings and are tuned to one key, mainly D (DAD). The fretting for a dulcimer is also intriguing because most are built in such a way that the frets are mostly within one key - "diatonic scale" - which means wrong notes are hard to play!  For comparison, guitars, mandolins, banjos, and ukuleles are fretted for every half-step in a musical scale - "chromatic" - which greatly increases the skill required to play them.

(Also watch "What's a Dulcimer Guitar?")

Stick dulcimers are so much easier to play than all of those that they genuinely increase happiness levels pretty quickly.  "YOU LIE," I hear you saying, but it's true... and that's because a new (or old) player will feel so much more accomplished sooner.  You can learn a favorite song on a stick dulcimer in less than an afternoon!  Even if you've never played an instrument.

Plus, just to add to their fun factor, a stick dulcimer's smaller size makes it one of the most perfect instruments for traveling.  Got a campfire you want to serenade?  We recommend leaving your bulky guitar at home and trying out a stick dulcimer instead!

Who Makes Stick Dulcimers?

The thing is, there aren’t that many stick dulcimer builders (luthiers) in the world, so the instrument is still in its infancy.  Which is why StickDulcimer.com exists!  We wanted to put a collection of some of the world’s leading instruments together in one place, giving you the opportunity to look around and see which type (size, shape, wood, sound) might work best for your personality and musical ambition.

Check our selection of instruments.

Stick Dulcimer Resources

By the way, we have a great Beginner's Guide to Dulcimer Guitar Chords available now!  (And on sale)  It's written for D-tuned instruments, but all the shapes apply for a G-tuned instrument (just have to follow the finger patterns and transpose, so it might be tricky).  I'll be writing a specifically G-tuned version soon.  If you're interested in that version, please email me to let me know so I'll work on it faster ;-)

Are you feeling pretty advanced now?  Looking to upgrade and expand your playing more?  Well, we also have a dulcimer guitar transposition guide you can download free to help you work out how to play even more songs.