The Mountain or Appalachian Dulcimer looks like an elongated fiddle but has frets like a guitar – and is played horizontally across the knees. It was developed in the poor hill farming communities of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the US, to accompany singing and dancing, shaped from folk memories of the instruments their ancestors played back in Europe – the quaintly named zithers, hummels, scheitholts and langeleiks.
Early mountain dulcimers were made with local lumber, fittings from the local hardware store, fence staples and leftover paint from the barn, using only a sharp penknife, a hammer and a saw.
The popularity of mountain dulcimers rocketed with the growing interest in folk and folk-rock music during the 1960s and early 70s. Famous players included Jean Ritchie, Richard Farina, Joni Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper in the US; and over here, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Plainsong – even the Rolling Stones!
And now we’re coming full circle with a new acoustic scene, the moutain dulcimer is once again booming in popularity as a low cost, attractive instrument which is easy for first timers to play. Modern players include indie singer-songwriter Laura Marling and multi-instrumentalist Jim Moray.