2008 Apple Creek ACD100 Teardrop Dulcimer:

I purchased this on a lark at Front Row Music in Abingdon, VA about 10 years ago. This is what is known as an Appalachian or Mountain dulcimer. It’s in the zither family, and occasionally known in the mountains as a “hog fiddle.”

Its strung in three courses: two single-strung; one double-strung, with the doubled course being the highest-pitched (melody) course, and is played exclusively in the diatonic scale. You can fret with your fingers, or use a wooden dowel, which gives it more of a “zingy” zither-like sound. The frets are arranged in a diatonic scale, in contrast to instruments like the guitar or banjo, which are fretted chromatically. Usually six frets, this one has an additional fret, usually the so-called “six and a half,” “6½” or “6+” fret a half step below the octave. This enables one to play in the Ionian mode when tuned to D3-A3-D4 (the traditional tuning for the Mixolydian or “mountain modal” mode), where the scale starts on the open (unfretted) string. This arrangement is often found to be more conducive to chord-melody play. Its also common to add a fret one octave up from the 6+ fret, called the “13+” fret, on more expensive instruments.

The first time I heard lap dulcimer was The Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane,” and later some of the Folkways albums Jean Ritchie recorded. Though it first appeared here in the early 19th century among Scots-Irish immigrant communities in the Appalachians, the instrument has no known precedent in Ireland or Scotland, and likely originates from several similar European instruments like the Swedish hummel, the Norwegian langeleik, the German scheitholt, and the French épinette des Vosges. I primarily use it for songs in the key of D, though there is a dulcimer capo, but it doesn’t work terribly well. I’m considering putting a Fishman contact mic pickup in this and seeing what sort of mischief I can get up to with effects pedals. Meanwhile you can overhead mic it, or I have a small tie-clip broadcast mic that can be affixed inside the sound hole that sounds pretty cool if you can minimise surface noise.

Its not an expensive model (well under $100 at the time, as I recall), but has been featured on scads of sessions, including “Heavy” on Susanville, the Freedom movie soundtrack, and more recent projects including The Know Escape and the new Nymphs album. We had an endorsement with Folkcraft Dulcimer Company in around 2010, who make fantastic instruments, but sadly I don’t have either one of the dulcimers that they gave us.