My shopping quest for a dulcimer has proven more challenging than I had hoped. On the positive side, I have more proceeds from my car auction than I had anticipated, meaning the the "state of order" so important in these classical tragedies will be maintained even if I buy a more pricey instrument.
On the more ambiguous side, the wealth of information about dulcimer makers has really been a wealth of data. On the one hand, the nice women at the dulcimer group that first got me interested said "McSpadden or Blue Lion", two of the name brand manufacturers. They cautioned against the inexpensive dulcimers on eBay, on the grounds that they don't have enough resonance.
The folks at numerous websites devoted to the instruments, by contrast, suggest that one find a respected individual luthier, on the theory that hand-made instruments in this instance are actually less expensive and better-sounding than the "factory models".This has a certain appropriateness to me, because if there is anything that "should be" small-scale, it's dulcimer manufacture.
The irony of this is that, deep down, I know it will not matter that much to me. I enjoy playing a guitar string on a ruler with can for a resonator, so I know that I do not set the bar high for myself on this hobby. (note to self: must restring the can-jo). I just want some sound volume, some durability, a little place to attach one of those straps so that the instrument won't fall from my lap, and ease of tuning. I even think it's kinda cool that the fifty dollar "lesser" dulcimers on eBay are made in Romania, which apparently has its own dulcimer tradition. It turns out almost every European country has its variant of the dulcimer.
As I write this, I see that this entire dilemma is one more hobby-like extravagance. I think I'll just pick one, and see how it works out. Then I can focus on learning "Red River Valley" instead of being the coolest dulcimer selector in Collin County.