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3- versus 4-strings

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If given a choice between 3 and 4 strings when ordering a new dulcimer, which would you choose? I don’t use a noter, and have my sights set on flat picking and finger picking. I wonder what difference a second melody string would make. 

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I tend to prefer playing 3 string instruments. On a 4 string instrument, I find the double string has a few downsides.  It's hard to press down as it's double the force needed to press down one string.  They also tend to bunch up together when fretting with fingers, especially if you're using a lot of slides.

It's claimed a double string is louder, but I haven't heard a lot of difference in volume going between a single and doubled melody string.  It's nearly impossible to tune them perfectly in unison, so I think what would be heard more is the slight dissonance between them, which might cut through the drones a bit if you're strumming a lot.   On a lot of modern instruments the strings are well balanced so they all sound a similar volume.

It might be something you want to try for yourself, but I've tended to find it getting in the way more than any benefit.  One case where it would be helpful is if you want to switch between 4-string equidistant and 3-string on the same instrument.  On all the dulcimers I have that were set up for a double melody, I've taken one off and left just 3 or loosened one and secured it off the fretboard to use later if I want to play 4-string equidistant. 

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I also prefer 3 strings for much of the same reasons Admin gave. I have tried 4 equidistant strings, but don't care for that style of playing. While I play a lot of noter/drone style and finger dancing, I also play some chord/melody style and like 3 strings for both.


"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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In appreciation of all the advice above, as well as several articles and a video by Mandy Tyner (banjolemonade), I have requested leaving the second melody string off my soon-to-be new McSpadden. I told Tim to just coil it up and throw it in the case; as we all know, it’s a bear trying to put a string back on, once removed. 

As always, thanks to you who have taken the time to help out this semi-newbie with your advice and experience. 


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