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The instrument in the photograph is an Appalachian or American dulcimer (pronounced "dull-simmer") instantly recognisable by its traditional "hourglass" shape. The first European emigrants to America took with them a variety of stringed instruments from their own countries, including zithers and hammered dulcimers - trapezoidal sound boxes with lots of strings played with two wood and brass "hammers".

Dulcimer Sound Clips


play clip size: 97 kb


play clip size: 95 kb

Large printable image of the dulcimer

Printable detail of the dulcimer - 1

Printable detail of the dulcimer - 2

  An unknown early American settler had the great idea of combining the fingerboard and brass frets of the cittern/mandolin/guitar families with the hammered dulcimer sound box and he/she came up with a 3 or 4 stringed instrument which - by sliding a wooden "noter" behind each fret - could play about 1½ octaves on the melody string. The other two strings are "drones", an echo of medieval times, sounding the same two notes throughout the melody, in the same way that medieval music used single (keynote) and double drones instead of harmony. You can hear the unusual sound produced by the drone strings in the soundclip.

Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000