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Frequently Asked Questions

Wood tonal characteristics / Ebony Fretboard Overlay / Binding & purfling / Satin vs. gloss finish / Bone nut & Saddle / Scale length / Extra frets / Custom inlay / Custom soundholes / Style I vs. Style II

If you would like to place an order please feel free to give us a call or email us at dulcimers@bluelioninstruments.com. We really enjoy and look forward to personal contact with our customers, and always welcome hearing from you. We are not accepting orders via a secure site over the internet at this time, but you're welcome to email your order to us.

Below are some frequently asked questions; if you have a question not covered or would like more information please feel free to give us a call—our phone number is 805 438-5569; we are usually available Monday through Saturday from around 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time.


What effect on tone do the different woods have? As a general rule, most players agree that hard, dense woods such as maple and cherry tend to accentuate a treble response, (which could be translated to a "brighter" sound), while walnut is considered to have a slightly more mellow tone, and rosewood is known for producing the most balanced response of all the hardwoods.

What this means to a dulcimer player is this: if you are looking for a bright sound, cherry or maple is probably your best bet; if you want a mellow sound which works well for backup and strumming, walnut is a good choice. If you want a very versatile tonal response, one that suits all styles of playing including fingerpicking, flatpicking and strumming, and offers a balanced response all up and down the neck, rosewood is the wood of choice.

When it comes to the soundboard wood, we prefer the tonal response of Western red cedar for both our dulcimers and our guitars. It has a "warmth" which tends to enhance the quality of the instrument's sound while avoiding overtones or too much of a treble response. We offer spruce as an option if you are looking for a brighter sound. Spruce is stiffer than Western red cedar and will therefore tend to accentuate the treble tones. Western red cedar comes in a wonderful array of colors, ranging from fairly dark (think milk chocolate) to reddish to creamy white (sort of like Neapolitan ice cream); tops can be either evenly colored or offer wonderful stripes of contrasting colors. Most of the instruments pictured on the Blue Lion website have Western red cedar tops; you can easily see the wide variation in colors.

Can I get an ebony fretboard overlay?
Our preferred fretboard overlay material for the dulcimer is rosewood for many reasons but ebony is an option we are pleased to offer. Ebony is a more brittle wood than rosewood and tends to dry out and split more easily because it is less "oily" than rosewood. Because of this, frets also have a tendency to pop out of ebony fingerboards more easily as the ebony does not grip them as well as does rosewood. Ebony is a harder and denser wood and if you are the type of player who gouges out the fretboard either due to your picking technique or your left hand fingernails then ebony may be a better choice.  Please be aware that it is mportant to keep an ebony fretboard oiled with a high quaility fretboard oil specifically designed for instrument fretboards.

If you are ordering an ebony fretboard overlay in conjuction with a flat guitar-style peghead you may wish to order an ebony peghead overlay to match the fretboard for an additional charge. If not, the peghead will have a veneer overlay which matches the woods used for the back and sides of the instrument.

Prices for the ebony overlays are listed on the Custom Options page.

An ebony fretboard is standard on all our guitars because it is more durable and appropriate for a guitar fingerboard, taking into consideration the manner in which the instrument is fretted, etc.

What is binding and purfling? Binding is a strip of hardwood—we usually use maple binding to accentuate rosewood, and rosewood to accentuate walnut, maple or cherry—which is attached to the top and bottom edges of the instrument, affording extra protection to this area. Purfling is the thin black-white-black strip of wood inlaid between the binding and the cedar or spruce top; it acts as both an extra decorative feature and a spacer for the binding. Binding visually "frames" the instrument as well as offering protection to the vulnerable edges. Blue Lion uses bookmatched wood binding strips for all our instruments so the top and bottom edge pieces are mirror images of each other. Click here for binding photo details.


What is the difference between a satin and a high gloss lacquer finish? We use a nitrocellulose lacquer finish on all our guitars and for the gloss finish on the dulcimers; we use a CAB acrylic lacquer for the satin finished instruments. There is no discernible difference in tonal response between a satin or gloss finish. The satin finish is the standard finish on all our dulcimers; high gloss lacquer finish is standard on the guitars and available as an option on the dulcimers for an extra charge. The satin lacquer tends, to some extent, to hide the wood grain while the gloss lacquer is absolutely transparent and shows every detail—compare the two finishes to frosted versus clear glass. Some people consider the satin finish easier to maintain as it does not show fingerprints or minor scratches as much as does the gloss finish, but nothing enhances the color and grain of the wood quite like a hand rubbed gloss lacquer finish.


What is the difference between the bone and the ebony or rosewood nut and saddle? Bone is a harder material than either ebony or rosewood and therefore will tend to produce a slightly "brighter" sound than either ebony or rosewood. All nuts and saddles "wear" with use; the action of the strings being drawn back and forth through the slots while tuning will deepen the grooves in the nut and saddle; bone tends to last longer than ebony which will last longer than rosewood. [You can help extend the life of the nut by keeping the string grooves lubricated with graphite; every time you change strings just sharpen a pencil and rub it in each groove, leaving a thin coating of graphite to help the string slide through the slot.]



What are the choices and which should I get? A proper discussion of the effect of different scale lengths on sound and playability would require several pages to explore adequately, so we'll skip the dissertation and just offer some advice: most players will find our standard 26 1/4" scale length satisfactory for DADD, DGDD, and DACC tunings, and less satisfactory but acceptable for the lower DAAA and similar tunings. Scale lengths longer than 27" necessitate longer finger stretches and are harder to play in contemporary styles which utilize more complex chording, melodic fingerpicking, etc., but may be necessary if you tune primarily to DAAA.

What is "scale length"? Scale length is commonly defined as the effective vibrating length of the string; in other words, the distance from where the string touches the nut to where the string touches the saddle or bridge. Scale length is more precisely defined as double the distance from the nut to the octave fret; on a dulcimer, this is the 7th fret and on a guitar this would be the 12th fret. The actual distance from the nut to the saddle is normally slightly longer for proper intonation.

The shorter 26 1/4" scale is definitely the choice for playability. Also, we feel the tunings DADD and DGDD (reverse Ionian) take better advantage of the dulcimer's sound-producing potential by keeping the melody strings tuned to a higher pitch.

If you plan to tune primarily to DAAA or lower you may wish to select our 27 1/2" scale length, which is standard on the Jean Ritchie and bass dulcimers and optional on the other models. The wider-spaced frets on the longer scale will, of course, make the instrument somewhat harder to finger and possibly less effective for modern playing styles but will provide a longer vibrating string length to allow for the lower-pitched melody string tunings.

We can, on special order, provide any scale length which will fit the dimensions of our instruments; we have created scales as short as 25" and as long as 29". We do not charge extra for custom scale lengths.

EXTRA FRETS As listed on the Options page, we are happy to install extra frets wherever you request. Prices are listed on the Options Page under Extra Frets. The most common extra frets are 1 1/2 and 8 1/2.

We also offer a chromatic fretboard option for $65.00.

CUSTOM INLAY Just about anything you can envision can be done; prices will depend on the design and the materials. (See the Inlay gallery for examples of some of the inlays we've done for customers.)

CUSTOM SOUNDHOLES See Custom Soundhole page for details

STYLE IW vs STYLE IIW --What Are the Differences
There are several differences between our Style I and Style II walnut dulcimers. Here is a list of the major differences:

  • The Style I has a partial scroll peghead and the Style II has a full scroll peghead.  Either can be ordered with a flat guitar style peghead.
  • The Style I has a walnut fretboard overlay while the Style II has a rosewood overlay; rosewood is a much denser wood than walnut, has more natural oils and will hold up to pick and fingernail wear and tear better than walnut.
  • The string attachment on the Style I extends beyond the surface of the tailpiece; on the Style II the pins are inset. 
    (Click here to view the difference)