Lots of talk of late about the various woods that are used to produce these wonderful instruments we all love to play and listen to. Though I have only been playing for 3 years, as I progressed in my playing and knowledge of the dulcimer, I have come to the understanding that wood, shape, strings all do make a difference in the sound that a dulcimer produces.
I have had the good fortune to own several different dulcimers. Each has had it's own uniqueness and sound and qualities. My Doug Berch, three string Sassafras and Walnut has a deep sound with long lasting resonance. The two George Haggerty Dulcimers one a tear drop the other an hour glass - the tear drop is Walnut and Spruce, the Tear Drop is Spruce, Cherry and Chestnut...the Chestnut back is from a church pew, and the church was built in the 1800s and was being renovated when George picked up the pew. The Haggerty dulcimers have a high sweet sound reminiscent of the old time dulcimer sound. I have two McSpaddens, one is Western Red Cedar top and Walnut back, the other is Spruce top and Walnut back - both are hourglass both have a very pleasing sound. I have a Dulciborn made by Gold Tone - it is Indain Rose wood, and Sitka Spruce top and man it has a voice. I have a Clemmer Banjammer it is just plain fun to grip it and rip it. Finally I have a Folkcraft-Folkroots hour glass Black Walnut back and sides and has a very rich sound to it.
As I travel and visited the various workshops in North Eastern US - I have had the priveledge of being allowed to play some of the finest dulcimers made, Paul Conrad's Timbre Hill; Bear Meadow Concert Grand, a Laurel Mountain, Blue Lion, a rare Simmerman, Ron Ewing's dulcimers, and many many from McSpadden, as well many made by individuals as a home project.
What I am saying is that this is a personal discovery, preference, something that is beneficial to some of our members new and old that are not familiar with the fact that not all duclimers are created equal, it's a personal choice and preference for playability and intonation. What sounds good to you, what pleases your ear, what "speaks" to you. Many of the pundits here can go on at length, and they do, about what makes a good dulcimer but the reality is - what suits you, what pleases you is the best dulcimer for you to have.
Tonight I put together a sound file - playing the old Stephen Foster Song - Hard TImes - I have played it on my McSpadden - Western Red Cedar and Walnut and my FolkRoots - Black Walnut and Butternut...both with 4 strings both tuned to DAD.
One Final thought...for those choosing a dulcimer....pick what your ears like.