Many of us have heard a dulcimer before, but not everyone is familiar with the instrument. This traditional North American instrument has been played over the years by artists such as Joni Mitchell, Rory Gallagher and, most famously, by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, on their hit 'Lady Jane'. Now, Seagull gives the instrument a new lease of life, with their Merlin SG Dulcimers.
The traditional dulcimer first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century in the region of the Appalachian Mountains in North America. With only three or four strings and a simple diatonic fret pattern, the Appalachian dulcimer is generally regarded as one of the easiest string instruments to learn.
The traditional way to play the instrument is to lay it flat on the lap and pluck or strum the strings with the right hand, while fretting with the left. Alternatively, the dulcimer may also be placed on a wooden table, which can boost volume. The instrument is generally strung with the melody string (or string pair) on the player's side of the instrument, and the bass string on the outside.
It was adopted by some folk revival musicians in the 50s, and also "discovered" by pop audiences in the Sixties when Brian Jones used one on a few Rolling Stones tracks. Folk singer Joni Mitchell was another famous Dulcimer player. The best known song to use a Dulcimer remains the Rolling Stones' 'Lady Jane', though, which also shows how a traditional instrument can fit on a modern context, offering a sound that an acoustic guitar wouldn't quite be able to give:
Now, Seagull brings back the dulcimer with the Seagull Merlin Natural Mahogany SG Dulcimer and the Seagull Merlin Natural Spruce SG Dulcimer. They share some features with a traditional dulcimer but with a neck similar to guitars, so guitarists can play it more comfortably. However, these instruments very much sound like a dulcimer, also featuring only 4 strings:
So... are they dulcimers? Well, not exactly, but in spirit, they certainly are - they're perfect for traditional folk, americana and "old-time" inspired music, with a good dulcimer-like sound.
They are basically a re-invention of the dulcimer, and perfect not only for seasoned musicians, but also as a great alternative to ukuleles for beginners, perhaps for those who think a ukulele is too small. The Seagull Merlin dulcimers are much easier to play than an acoustic guitar, and due to their size also a great alternative to the usual travel guitars or to 3/4 size guitars for children.
By Ivan Silva