Dulcimers and Celtic Harp


The Hammered Dulcimer

Played by Donna, George and Bob, the Hammered Dulcimer may have had its origins in its current form arising simultaneously in France and Germany in the mid 1400's. There are also similar historical instruments in parts of Asia. The strings are struck with hammers - most often made of wood and typically held between the thumb and forefinger. These hammers are usually made from hardwoods including maple, cherry, oak and maple. Physically speaking, a hammered dulcimer is a trapezoidal box that may be anywhere from 30-48” long, 12-24” wide and 2-6” deep. Brass or steel strings can number from 40-120 with the average around 60. Strings are arranged in courses of usually 2-3 strings to produce the same pitch - every string needs to be tuned individually! There are both treble and bass bridges on most instruments.


Mountain or Appalachian Dulcimer

Played by Don, the Mountain Dulcimer also known as the Lap or Appalachian Dulcimer is not related to the Hammered Dulcimer.  The Mountain Dulcimer is the only instrument that was fully developed in America. Derived from the German folk instrument, the

Scheitholt, German immigrants mixed with the English and Scots-Irish in the Appalachian mountains. The English and Scots-Irish admired the Scheitholt. However, when they played their fast jigs and reels, they found that the top of the Scheitholt was getting damaged. So, they reduced the number of strings and raised the fret board up off the  instrument top. They also increased the size of the body of the instrument. By the time of the Civil War, the mountain dulcimer was fully developed. Pictured here, Mountain Dulcimer and Banjammer.


Celtic Harp

Played by Donna, the first evidence of a Celtic Harp is found on a 9th century stone cross. It became a significant instrument in Irish culture and ancient harpers were held in extremely high regard. These early harps were wire strung and played with finger nails. The last significant harp festival held in Ireland was in 1792; after that time, the celtic harp fell out of favor and was almost lost to the Irish culture until the mid-20th century when a revival occurred with a resurgence in the promotion of Irish culture.

These harps are traditionally wood, the frame and soundbox is normally walnut, cherry or ash.  The soundboard is usually spruce.  Strings today are either nylon, gut or wire.  Today's Celtic Harps have levers to change keys by shortening the strings. Unlike, classical harps, Celtic Harps are light, portable and come in many sizes.