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Tuning a Tear Drop 1971 John D. Young

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Hello everyone,

I just purchased a vintage tear drop dulcimer and was wondering if I should tune to DAA or DAD. I tried to tune the melody string to D but there was to much tension so I defaulted to DAA. 

I have a few questions as a beginner☺️

- Do I need to purchase new strings in order to reach a DAD tuning?

- The wood pegs tend to slip at times and I loose the tuning. I pushed the pegs inward to bite tight on the peg hole.  Any thoughts to keep the pegs tight? Anything used to coat the pegs to keep them tight?

Lastly, does anyone know or have met John D. Young the builder? How rare is this instrument?

It’s so beautiful... I really love it and the sweet crisp sound. (See photos)

Thank you for your assistance.











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Welcome!  Feel free to ask any questions you have and we'll try to help you out.

Regarding the strings - most of the time a DAA set will make it up into DAd, though depending on the exact gauge they may not.  Also if the strings are older you may want to go ahead and change them anyways.

Looking at the fretboard, your dulcimer doesn't have a 6 1/2 fret on it so a 1-5-5 tuning like DAA or CGG may be better for playing most tunes.  These are tuning for playing the major scale from the 3rd fret up to the 10th fret, also known as Ionian mode.

Without the 6 1/2 fret if it's tuned DAd, it will play the Mixolydian mode from the open string.  This is close to the Major scale/Ionian mode, but the 7th note (6th fret) is flat.  A 6 1/2 fret allows it to play the major scale from the open string up to the 7th fret.  

It's possible to play major scale tunes in DAd without a 6 1/2 fret, but you'll either need to avoid tunes that call for the 6 1/2 fret, play that note on the middle string (9th fret on middle string is the same note as the 6 1/2 on the melody string), or possibly have a 6 1/2 fret added to the instrument.  DAA is a perfectly good option too, though less common now.

Either way you'll have a lot of fun, but I would recommend changing the string if they're more than a year or two old. 


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Anytime you get a second hand instrument, it's a good thing to change strings.  One at a time -- do NOT take them all off them put them all back.  If the bridge or nut aren't in exactly the right place it can really mess things up if one or both fall out of place, and string tension will keep them where they belong.

What is the VSL?  That's the distance between the inside edge of the nut and the inside edge of the bridge.  THAT, plus what you want for the home tuning, is what tells you which strings to buy.  There are charts and calculators, but virtually ALL pre-packaged sets of "dulcimer" strings will work if the VSL is around 27"--28".  Brand is irrelevant. 

As the Admin says, since your new friend does not have the 6+ fret, tuning to an Ionian/Major scale (DAA, CGG) is the best option.  Some folks will tell you all  sorts of nonsense about DAA/CGG tunings, but I've been playing in those tunings, without a 6+ fret, for decades -- and have hundreds of tunes in my repertoire.  Plus more in other tunings.  There are actually very few tunes in the common dulcimer canon which require the 6+ fret.  All it means is that you will actually have to learn to tune and re-tune -- get to know -- your dulcimer.  You won't find much Tab for songs in DAA, but there is an easy way to convert DAd tab to DAA.  

Also, if you really must play in the modern Chord-Melody style in stead of more traditionally, and this is your only or primary dulcimer, then I respectfully suggest you learn to play in DAA Chord-Melody rather than DAd.   There is a rather nice article by now a sadly deceased gentleman named Merv Rowley, in which he discussed DAA Chord melody playing and gives charts of the   chord positions for the various notes.

Most of us who use more traditional instruments like yours with the wooden pegs, keep a bottle of Peg Drops or Peg Dope around.  It lasts forever!  A couple drops on the peg shaft will fix the slipping.  Loosen a peg, put a couple drops on the shaft where it will be in the holes, and re-tighten the peg.  Always best to push and twist when settling a peg in place.  Set the string a bit sharp and let it sink into correct tune as the string relaxes a tiny bit.

If you have any further questions, please post them here, or send me private messages if you like.  I have a number of resources for new players which you may find useful.

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Thank you both so much for such detailed information...wow. It’s nice to hear from experts. I’m fairly new to dulcimers and I just loved the look and style of this dulcimer. I’m not hung up on DAD or DAA. I have a small 20” dulcimer made by Keith Young in the 70’s that’s tuned DAD. I will try different tunings and purchase new strings. Any suggestions where to purchase strings and brand? I’m familiar with Folk Craft and The Dulcimer Shoppe. 

thank you again,


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Strings are strings are strings as a friend says.  There are only a handful of companies in the world that make what is called music wire.  They sell the stuff, in mile-long rolls of various diameters to companies who add windings of various kinds to some of the wire, to make wound bass strings.  They also sell miles of plain string to companies like D'Addario, D'arco, Martin, and others, who cut it into lengths and put loop or ball ends on the cut lengths.

So.  Brand really doesn't matter.  But some sellers are more expensive than others.  I usually buy in bulk -- a dozen strings of a given gauge at a time.  But I also buy sets of dulcimer strings.  My go-to sources is www.justystrings.com.  Their private label string sets are under $5.

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Another note on finding tablature for a given tuning, there are many tunes in DAA tuning in the tablature section here on Everything Dulcimer.  Also, songs written in DAC or DAG tablature seldom require any extra frets.  I also have several tablature files with mp3 files to accompany the tablature on my OneDrive.


Dave's OneDrive


Also, Mapes has been expanding there string sets and now they offer custom sets for mountain dulcimers.  They also offer string on reels for people who want to make their own string sets.  For your dulcimer lighter strings might be easier on the tuning pegs, but you may need to try different string gauges along with learn how well the peg dope works.  Here is a link to Mapes and maybe  the .011 .011 .020W set might be a good place to start in 80/20 Bronze or Phosphor Bronze.



Good Luck with your dulcimer


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