Dusty Strings Hammered Dulcimers
Dusty Strings Hammered Dulcimers
Dusty Strings was founded in 1979 by Ray and Sue Mooers out of a fascination for the magic of the hammered dulcimer and a deep love of fine woodworking. Over the years, Ray and Sue have been joined by numerous talented craftspeople who have helped the business grow from a basement venture into a respected source of high-quality hammered dulcimers and folk harps. Today, they employ 30 people in their Seattle workshop and offer 11 dulcimer models and seven harp models. Their instruments have delighted players throughout the United States and Canada as well as in Europe and Asia.
Dusty Strings is committed to the belief that acoustic music enhances the quality of people’s lives, and to providing our customers with well-made, great sounding instruments and friendly, supportive service.
We’ve been in business since 1979, and our harps and hammered dulcimers have brought joy and pleasure to many people. Even though we’ve built over 14,000 dulcimers and more than 5,000 harps, we know there is always room for improvement and are continually working to make our instruments even better.
We make our instruments available through music stores around the country so people can have the opportunity to see, touch, and hear them before deciding what they really want. If there isn’t a dealer store near you, we’ll work directly with you, and send your harp or hammered dulcimer with a guarantee—if it doesn’t meet your expectations, you can call us within five days to arrange to return it for a refund. Your only cost will be the shipping charges.
We are quite often able to ship an instrument within a few days. If we’ve had a larger-than-usual interest in any particular model or if you want specific options, there can be a one- or two-month wait.
Our high degree of consistency from instrument to instrument helps people know that when they’ve played and liked a particular harp or hammered dulcimer, they can order that model for themselves with confidence. Even though each piece of wood has its own individual characteristics, the general quality of sound and construction will be the same. The only differences in the performance of our models are those that result from small, cumulative design improvements made over time.
We focus on quality and consistency, and spent years learning CADD (computer aided design and drafting) techniques so we can use computers to design our instruments and to produce precision jigs and fixtures. We use a computer numerical controlled (CNC) router, which is the ultimate tool for accuracy and repeatability, to help make the jigs and some of the instrument parts. Together with our craftspeople’s skill and attention to detail, this use of technology ensures that the parts we make fit tightly and exactly every time.
Our design process involves careful analysis of proposed tonal and structural changes. We build a series of prototypes, compare those to the current standard, and make only those changes that are a clear improvement. In this way, we can keep a firm handle on the direction in which we’re going while we continue to make small improvements in tone and structure. Over time, these changes add up to better instruments.
We place great importance on standing behind our five-year warranty. Like many builders of musical instruments, we try to achieve a delicate balance between building for structural strength and building for good tone. Hammered dulcimers and harps must support tremendous tension—a typical 2-octave dulcimer can have over 2,000 pounds of total string tension. It’s easy to overdesign an instrument to gain an absolute guarantee of structural strength, but as players we aren’t with the sound and performance that result from that approach.
No instrument builder who has achieved portability, good volume, and a vibrant tone can claim a history totally free of instrument problems. So the important question is whether a builder has the capacity and desire to provide assistance if there ever is a problem with one of their instruments. In more than two decades of building instruments, that’s been one of our consistent priorities.
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“I just bought a Dusty Strings Dulcimer from Prussia Valley in southern Ohio. I LOVE this instrument and want to compliment you on it. I play a lot of different instruments - guitar, mandolin, and piano to name a few but I am now obsessed with this one. I can’t believe how beautiful it sounds. I’m just sorry I waited this many years to buy one and am glad I decided on one of yours. Prussia Valley sells a lot of makers but yours was by far the best sounding. You’ll easily get ‘free advertisement’ from me in this area. Thanks again for making such a fine instrument.” — Geoff Walker (Springfield, Ohio)
We use two different materials for our soundboards. The lower priced instruments have laminated birch for their soundboard and back. This helps us keep the price of our beginning instruments affordable because we can buy it in ready-to-use sheet form. It is the highest grade of plywood available, looks quite nice and has the added benefit of being fairly impervious to changes in temperature and humidity, enhancing the instrument’s stability. It gives a clean, clear and pleasing quality of sound.
All of our solid wood instruments have soundboards and backs made of high-quality, quarter-sawn Honduras mahogany. We chose this wood for its visual beauty, dimensional stability, and most importantly for its sound. The acoustic properties of this wood combined with our instrument and bracing designs gives a rich, deep brilliance, controlled sustain, and clarity of fundamental tone that results in a smooth, professional sound especially apparent on complex, up-tempo pieces.
While the use of a plywood soundboard and back provides an economical, good-sounding instrument, solid wood on the same instrument will give more resonance, depth, brilliance and volume. Also, the tone quality of a solid-wood instrument continues to develop over the years, enhancing its long-term value and the satisfaction in owning it.
Tuning stability has always been a top priority for us. It simply makes the instrument easier to deal with. Do you have to spend 15 to 20 minutes tuning every time you sit down to play, or will it stay pleasant to play for a couple of weeks or more? We’ve made design choices in style of construction, sizing of structural parts, and types of wood to achieve a consistent stability that players tell us is one of the reasons they chose a Dusty Strings dulcimer.
A significant factor in playability is the spacing between courses of strings. The tighter the spacing, the more accurately you must play. The wider the spacing, though, the bigger the instrument, so there is a balance to find between ease of playing and portability. We’ve chosen spacings of 1-1/16" on our 2-1/2 octave instruments as comfortable for beginners, 1" on our 3-octave model to keep the size down a bit, and 1-3/16" on our chromatic instruments to promote clean, accurate playing on potentially more complex pieces and for the deep resonant tone that size of soundbox can give. Adapting to a different string spacing usually only takes a few minutes, so what you’ve been playing shouldn’t limit what you might want to choose for your next instrument.
We use two loop-end strings per course, and have carefully balanced the string gauges and types across each instrument for best tone and tension, providing a comfortable and consistent resiliency. This is a subtle detail that gives our instruments a pleasing “feel” under your hammers.
Our bridges are of one-piece construction with individual course pedestals to aid in accurate playing. White and black bridge caps on the pedestals are vivid note location markers. Made of a dense low-friction material called Delrin, these bridge caps also help to ensure smooth, accurate tuning and sustain control.
All of our dulcimers have mounting hardware built into the back to accept a single optional playing leg. A 28-inch leg allows you to play while sitting with the front of the dulcimer resting across your knees. The 4-inch leg tilts the dulcimer for easy tabletop playing. These are very portable ways of supporting your instrument in lieu of a separate stand.
All our three-octave and larger instruments have a convenient handle port cut into the back to make it easier to grasp and carry the dulcimer with one hand.
We carefully book-match and shape each set of hammers as a pair, guaranteeing an even, well-balanced weight and feel.
Our hammered dulcimers come with high quality star-tip tuning wrenches for excellent, non-wearing fit on the tuning pins. All Dulcimers come with a T-handle wrench.
Each instrument comes with an owner’s guidebook containing information on the dulcimer’s construction, tuning, maintenance, and care, including string diagrams and string changing instructions.
For long-lasting protection and beauty, we give each instrument multiple applications of clear lacquer.
All our instruments are warranted against defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner for five years from date of purchase. If there is a problem that is covered under the warranty, we will either repair or replace the instrument at no charge. Shipping costs to and from Dusty Strings are the responsibility of the owner.
Dusty Strings dulcimers are available in our Dulcimer Shop!