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Left-Handed versus Right-Handed Dulcimers

I'll start with the differences between left-handed and right-handed setups, and then conclude with my recommendation.

Strings - you'll want to swap the strings so that the bass string is farthest from your body. Easy enough to do, and will only take a few minutes. Folkcraft and FolkRoots dulcimers are generally slotted wide enough at the nut so that you can do this without modifying the nut, but you'll run into some issues with the bridge (covered later on in this article). (If you rotate the nut 180 degrees, you'll change the VSL by about 1/8", and totally mess up the intonation - you don't want to do this!)

Head - We offer three basic head designs: scroll (with the strings going into a slot in the center of the head), traditional flat head (with two or three tuners on each side of the head), and contemporary flat head (with three or four tuners on the player side of the head, and zero tuners on the audience side of the head). The scroll and traditional flat head designs are 100 percent interchangeable for left-hand and right-hand players. The contemporary head is made for a right-handed player, unless it is ordered "in reverse", set up for a left-handed players. All of our stock instruments with contemporary heads are made for right-handed players.

Bridge - we compensate our bridges for the string gauges used on an instrument. Compensation is where we make minute adjustments to the string length by changing the high points in the string slots in the bridge. With our 1/8" (or 1/4" for bass dulcimers) wide bridges, we make micro adjustments to the string length, so that a 27" VSL might actually be 26 15/16", or 27 1/16". This tiny bit makes a HUGE difference in intonation up and down the fretboard. Each string is compensated differently.

When you switch a right-handed dulcimer to a left-handed setup, you'll switch the location of the bass and treble strings. And if you rotate the bridge 180 degrees, the compensation will be totally wrong. Intonation will not be good. So you'll need a new bridge for perfect intonation. Making a new bridge is a fussy job for me here at the shop. You can DIY, but it'll take you a while, and probably several tries (several bridge pieces) before you get the results you want.

Classes/lessons - you'll probably be the only one with a left-handed dulcimer. Your instructor will almost certainly have a right-handed instrument. Online classes and lessons often have a camera mounted over the instructor's lap, so that you can see the instrument as the instructor plays. As a right-handed player. This isn't insurmountable, at all, but it adds a mental conversion in your mind with every instruction and interaction.

My recommendation:

When you play the dulcimer, both hands are equally important. You use one hand for chording, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. You use the other hand for fingerpicking, flatpicking, and/or strumming. You need finesse in both hands, equally.

Most left-handed players stick with the traditional setup, with the head to the left side of the body. They have more skill, to begin with, with their dominant hand (the one that's chording, hammering-on, and pulling-off), and they develop their right-hand skill over time. Right-handed players are the opposite - they start with more skill in their strumming/picking hand, and have to develop their weak hand to get the dexterity for chording.

We will happily make you whatever you like. Or convert a stock instrument (new strings, new bridge with correct compensation) from right- to left-, or back, for a small fee. But my recommendation for left-handed players is to stick with the traditional dulcimer setup, with the head to the left, and the tail to the right.