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the seagull merlin: a wonderful new instrument!

October 28, 2015

Seagull Merlin, Tom Meninga


Edit: 5/19/19:

Because of some people leaving rather rude comments regarding my choosing to try out an instrument in a store and then buy one online –  I want to point out that I’ve bought a VAST amount of instruments and gear from local music stores. Here in Boise, I have made purchases at Guitar Center, Gigs Music, Doyle’s Broadway Music, Dorsey Music, Canyon West Guitars, and Dunkley Music, so far. I have also paid local guitar techs to fix or improve my instruments. This time though, I decided to buy an instrument online. If you have a problem with me choosing to make a purchase online, and want to make a rude comment, I will delete your comment, so don’t bother to waste your time. 

A couple weeks ago, I headed out to my favorite music store to check out ukuleles. I already have a 6 string uke, called a guitalele, but I don’t currently own any regular ukuleles, which sound different from the guitalele.

I tried a few of the ukes on display, and then spotted an instrument I had never seen before, and did not know existed. It looked somewhat like a miniature mountain dulcimer, but could be played like a guitar. The instrument was called a Merlin, and made by the Seagull company. As far as I can tell from my reading which I did once I got home, 2013 was the first time the Merlin was available. It really is a new instrument.

Edit: 4/26/20.. Just got a comment stating that the Merlin is not the first of its kind. Here is the main part of the comment from Joe in Richmond, VA: 

“It is not a new style instrument. A gentleman named Dan Williams in Asheville, North Carolina has been hand making this style dulcimer since the 1980s. His version is called The Woodrow. It has the same tuning, fret board setup and string configuration but has been around for many more years. Please give credit where credit is due.

If you want to check them out go to:”

Thanks Joe!! Credit given. 

Seagull is one of the brands of the Canadian guitar company, Godin (pronounced “go-dan,” like the name of the sculptor, Rodin). Godin has many different brand names. Seagull is their steel string acoustic guitar line. All Godin instruments are made entirely in Quebec, or made partially in Quebec, and partially in New Hampshire. I’ve found the prices on Godin instruments to be quite good, and their electric guitars to be great (their basses are very heavy though). The Seagull acoustic instruments, including the Merlin, are rather good too, and are very fairly priced.

The Merlin looked quite small compared to the acoustic guitars on display in the store. It is somewhat similar in size to a tenor ukulele, but is much more narrow, and therefore more comfortable to hold and play than a tenor uke.

The first Merlin made, and the one most people own and play is tuned in the key of D. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it. The instrument has 4 strings, but the two highest-pitched strings share the same pitch, and are strung in the same course, like on a mandolin. The low string is D, the middle string is A, and the two high strings are both D, but an octave higher than the low string. This is great for Celtic musicians. D tends to be the key most frequently used in Celtic music. This tuning works great for folk and rock songs too.

If you are just starting out, buy a Merlin in D. Some listings online will not specify “key of D.” If you see two listings on a website, and one says “key of G,” the other will be key of D.

The reason to buy one in D is in all the tutorial videos I’ve watched, and I’ve watched a lot, the Merlin in D is the one played.

The one in G has a nice, deep mellow tone though. Much lower than the one in D.


If you learn a song on a D Merlin, you’ll be able to play it just as easily on the G Merlin, except the sound will be lower, and the notes and chords will be different.

Since there are only a few strings, and only 7 frets, not all notes that are on chromatic instruments (most instruments out there, such as guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, pianos, woodwinds, etc.) are on this one. Like the harmonica, the Merlin is a diatonic instrument. There are enough notes for a major scale, in this case, the D scale, but not all the notes for all scales. For example, there is no C note, which means no C chords are possible to play. There is a C# in the D major scale, but no C.

Since not all notes are possible, not all scales and not all chords are possible to play on this instrument. Therefore, not all songs are possible to play on the Merlin. Besides the model which is tuned in D, Seagull also has, as I already mentioned a Merlin tuned in G. The G major scale includes the C note.

The back of the neck has a dramatic curve to it, very similar to the neck on a mandolin, only thicker. I find the back of the neck to be a bit uncomfortable and awkward, but not so uncomfortable that I don’t want to play the instrument.

Even though the neck is quite curved, fretting the strings is easy enough, especially compared to fretting the strings on a mandolin, considering the mandolin has not only a curved, narrow neck, but 8 strings too. You can play tons more music on a mandolin, but a mandolin is tons harder to learn. I know, I’ve tried. I’m a casual musician, and prefer playing an easier instrument, such as the Merlin.

The fretboard of the Merlin is similar to that of a mountain dulcimer, but there are 12 frets (or 12 and a half as I read somewhere) on a mountain dulcimer, and only 7 on the Merlin.

The Merlin is lots smaller and more portable than a mountain dulcimer. Unlike the mountain dulcimer, which is played on one’s lap or table top, stand, etc., the Merlin can be played like a guitar. I tried playing the Merlin that way, and set it on my lap, and played it in the way I’ve seen mountain dulcimers played. That worked too.

It is also possible to by a model designed for those who are left-handed, and one that is acoustic-electric, meaning it has an electric pickup mounted in the instrument, and can be plugged in to an amplifier or PA system. Pretty cool. The acoustic-electric model is, as you might guess, more costly. Regular Merlins sell for $129.99, and the a/c model is $189.99.

I played the Merlin in the store for quite awhile, and was astounded by how loud such a small instrument could be. Also, it seemed much easier to learn than guitar. I could tell that some chords can be played by fretting only one string, which is great.

The Merlin sounded somewhat like a mountain dulcimer, but also quite a bit like a banjo.

I did not buy the one in the store because it had obviously been played a lot by other customers and looked used. I found one for the same price online, $129.99 (with free shipping) and bought it. I noticed that Godin sells strings especially for this instrument, so I bought a pack of strings too.

I got the Merlin and strings from a company called Elderly Instruments. (They sell new instruments too, not just used, “elderly” instruments). According to their site, their guitars and other instruments receive an “expert setup.” Which means someone takes a look at the instrument and adjusts it if necessary, before shipping it out.

I’d never bought anything from this company before. I just looked around at the sites of various merchants, hoping to find one advertising that their instruments were set up before being sold. Many instrument merchants sell their instruments without inspecting them. I’d rather mine were looked at first.

I have found no hard shell cases available for the Merlin. I did find a gig bag for $19.99 with free shipping from some online merchants. It doesn’t appear to have much padding. I found a deluxe, better padded gig bag for the instrument, but could not find any for sale in America. I found two small Canadian online merchants selling the deluxe gig bag. One charges $75 shipping to the US, and the other doesn’t ship to the States at all.

Since I didn’t see any deluxe Merlin gig bags for sale from USA merchants, or even on ebay, I’m guessing Godin is no longer making the deluxe bag, which is too bad. Either that or Godin is only selling these through small Canadian merchants, but I doubt that.

I bought the regular gig bag. The padding is ok. Best not to drop the instrument, of course, but even a little padding helps. The Merlin is a tight fit in the gig bag. Takes a bit of patience, but worth it, in my opinion.

Since I don’t yet know how to play this instrument well, I won’t be putting a video of myself playing it in this post. I will instead include a review/demo video by a guy who knows how to play this instrument.

The Merlin in the video has a top which is different from the one I own. I have a Merlin with a spruce top. The instrument in the video has a mahogany top. The spruce top color looks almost identical to the rest of the instrument, as you have already seen in my picture at the beginning of this post.

Merlins with spruce tops have a tone that is a little brighter and louder than Merlins with mahogany tops, so I’ve read and heard people on youtube say. I tried both versions at a music store, and did not notice a huge difference in tone between the two. Even so, I prefer the spruce top, in part because I think it looks better. And, it does have just a bit more punchy tone than the mahogany model. Both models sound wonderful.

Merlins come equipped with a strap button on the back. If you want to use a strap, you’ll need to buy a strap adapter, or else use a piece of string to attach the strap to the front part of the instrument, just below the tuning pegs. You can see the black line of the strap adapter in my picture. I attached a Neotech-string style strap adapter to the instrument and strap.

I’ve since bought a Martin strap adapter, because it is a leather band, and not a longish string.. this looks better, I think. But the Neotech works fine.

Also, many guitar straps come with what looks like a short shoe string attached to one end of the strap. You can use that little string to tie the strap to the instrument, but tie it on good. I prefer a strap adapter.

You won’t need a teacher to learn this instrument. There are LOADS of tutorial videos on youtube. One youtube channel is simply called “Lets Play The Merlin.” The older gentleman on that channel goes over the basics in three of his videos, and has 5 other videos which are song tutorials.

If you want to learn lots of songs, check out the channel called “Ryan’s Seagull M4 Lessons.” Ryan is great. He likes to figure out how to play and teach not only folk and Celtic songs, but tunes by classic rock and hard rock bands as well. There are many many other teachers on youtube. Browse and find the ones you like best.

There is also a good Merlin community on Google Plus, which you can find here:

And, you can find some fretboard diagrams showing where notes and chords are, if you look. Go to your favorite search engine and type in “seagull merlin chords,” or “seagull merlin fretboard” for some diagrams.

Not many Merlin songbooks out there that I know of. A guy on youtube who has a channel called “lewdite” sells two, if I remember correctly. These are songbooks for songs played with a pick, a strumming style. Unlike most Merlin players, I like plucking the strings with my fingers instead of a pick most of the time, so I didn’t buy a songbook. I prefer to learn from the video tutorials anyway.

Ok then.. here’s a review and demonstration video.



If you’d like to learn how to play.. here is the introductory video from my favorite Merlin teacher on youtube:




And here is a guy who has created some Merlin songbooks, and is selling them (these are only strumming songs, not playing finger-style):


18 Comments leave one →
  1. bill permalink
    December 28, 2017 12:08 PM

    You helped “wear out” the store one and then went online — you are a jerk! F-off.

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      December 29, 2017 12:59 AM

      Guitars, merlins,and other stringed instruments in music stores are there not to be purchased immediately, but to be played first. If the instruments were for sale only and not to be played first, they’d all be behind the counter, and no one would be allowed to play them before purchasing. How do you figure out what instrument to play and perhaps buy if you’ve not tried it first? If the merlin at Guitar Center were not already so ragged, I might have bought it, but I doubt it. I suppose I could have asked the folks working at the store for a new one, but I hadn’t yet made up my mind to buy one. When I did make up my mind, I was at home, and decided to purchase one online. I wasn’t being a jerk when I was playing the merlin in the store and trying to make up my mind, I was being a sensible customer.

  2. Connie permalink
    March 7, 2018 1:43 PM

    Will mountain dulcimer songbooks be helpful playing a Merlin ?

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      March 7, 2018 2:49 PM

      My best guess is no, because mountain dulcimers have more frets than the Merlins. Looks like the mountain dulcimers tend to have 20 frets. The Merlins only have 7.

      Here is a guy on youtube who sells Merlin songbooks:

      And here is my favorite Merlin teacher. He doesn’t use songbooks – teaches be demonstrating:

  3. Joseph Starkey permalink
    May 7, 2018 10:05 AM

    Will learning Ukulele help learn the Merlin?

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      May 7, 2018 12:37 PM

      No, doing so will mess you up. The uke is tuned quite differently. Also, two of the Merlin’s strings are meant to be played together. What this means is when you are playing the merlin, it feels like you are playing a 3-stringed instrument. The uke is a FAR more versatile instrument. I wrote a post comparing many different stringed instruments, including the uke, merlin, cigar box guitar, etc. Click “music” in the tag cloud and you’ll find it. Thanks for your question.

  4. Hanalei permalink
    March 19, 2019 1:15 PM

    Which Merlin (key of D or G) do you think would be more versatile in terms of playing alond with other instruments (guitars, banjos,etc.)?

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      March 25, 2019 1:32 PM

      Tough call. I think more of the youtube lesson videos are in D. If you want to play Celtic music, then definitely pick D.

      Regarding bluegrass and Americana – these are genres I enjoy listening to, but I don’t know which key would be used most often.

      The important thing is – with guitars and banjos, I think either key of Merlin would be ok, since people playing on guitar or banjo can play in loads of keys, including both D and G.

  5. Mazza Verdante permalink
    February 13, 2020 1:41 PM

    As with Dulcimers, can you change the string gauges to tune in the ‘other’ key, (ie D to G, or G to D) or are the ‘D’ & ‘G’ Merlins structurally different?

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      February 14, 2020 7:33 PM

      That is a good question. My guess would be no. The only replacement strings I have found online are made by Seagull’s parent company, Godin. As far as I can tell, those are standard gauge.

      You could experiment with trimmed down guitar strings I suppose, but I think there is a risk of messing up the neck.

      The Merlins are available in the key of D and G.

  6. Joe in Richmond, VA permalink
    April 23, 2020 7:51 PM

    Hi Tom. I don’t know the entire history of the Merlin but I can tell you this is not the first upright dulcimer. The Merlin was first introduced around 2013-2014 which is very recent. You even state in this article:

    “As far as I can tell from my reading which I did once I got home, 2013 was the first time the Merlin was available. It really is a new instrument.”

    It is not a new style instrument. A gentleman named Dan Williams in Asheville, North Carolina has been hand making this style dulcimer since the 1980s. His version is called The Woodrow. It has the same tuning, fret board setup and string configuration but has been around for many more years. Please give credit where credit is due.

    If you want to check them out go to:

    I have nothing at all to do with the company but would like to at least let people know that the Merlin being categorized as a new instrument is a misconception.

    Please realize that I’m not trying to say there was anything disingenuous with what you wrote in this article. The Woodrow is not something that is sold around the world and is fairly obscure for that reason. It is a small company working out of a small shop. It is very much understandable why it is not very well known.

    I have read many good things about the Merlin and there is no doubt it is a very fine dulcimer. Unfortunately none of the shops close by have ever had one for me to play around with. When the opportunity presents itself I plan on picking one up.

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      April 26, 2020 1:16 AM

      Wow! I had no idea this instrument was not the first of its kind! I shall edit my post.

      I checked out the website.. beautiful instruments! Handcrafted quality. I like that one model, called the Artist, has a few more frets.

      The introductory model, called The Rambler, costs $185, which isn’t that much more than the Merlin. I wonder how the two compare.

      You can order Merlins online from various sites, I’m guessing. I got mine from elderly Supposedly, they set up their instruments before selling them.

      Thanks very much for your comment!

  7. March 14, 2021 11:04 PM

    I enjoyed reading this post, I only play guitar but keep looking at dulcimers. I am not a charity, Ild rather buy one that hadn’t been banged around and played in a shop, if it was the same price as a pristine one online. Really enjoying your blog!

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      March 16, 2021 1:21 AM

      Thank you! I skimmed your blog, and am going back to read in more detail. Looks like we have some common interests.. Miles Davis (I like his earlier work though, “Birth of the Cool,” “Kind of Blue,” and “Miles Ahead” especially. I don’t much like Bitches Brew except for “Spanish Key.” I think I’d need to be stoned to get the rest of it, and I never get stoned. Though perhaps I should.. if Idaho law changed..), Joni Mitchell (I’ve mostly heard her well-known songs, but I want to check out her music when Jaco Pastorius was in her band. I’m an aspiring bass player, and Jaco is widely considered to be the GOAT), and “On The Road.” I haven’t read that one in years. Alright then. Get a Merlin. Elderly Instruments might still be selling them. They did right by me years ago.

      • March 16, 2021 10:32 AM

        Hey Tom, I got along with A Kind of Blue and the other earlier work much easier than I did Bitches Brew, but when it clicked, it just felt like the superior work. I never get stoned either (I think I wrote a blog post on it a while ago), I really dislike modern weed. I used to love pot, but nowadays it just makes me feel really dysphoric, and who needs to pay to cry!
        I play guitar,mostly steel string acoustic, I have picked up the bass, but it is just not me. However much being a female bass player would have been cool, I find it boring. Joni’s stuff with Jaco is very cool, isn’t it?
        I’ll have to look into Merlins, I’m veering towards a mandolin currently, they sound so pretty.

      • Tom Meninga permalink*
        March 18, 2021 4:18 AM

        I hope the long reply I just wrote goes through.. I might have ended up replying to myself by accident! My reply should show up just below this one. You might have to go to the original post, and scroll down, sorry. Very late at night..early morning.. and I get confused. After 4am now.

        Time to sleep.

  8. Tom Meninga permalink*
    March 18, 2021 4:09 AM

    Modern weed.. yes I suppose it has been altered and tampered with a great deal. I know very little about weed.

    I hear it was far less potent back in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Do you mean weed from back then?

    Several doctors have strongly recommended I travel across the border from Idaho into Oregon and get some weed to help with various health issues I have, but I am too scared of getting caught. It is a felony here in Idaho, even though most, and possibly all the states that border this one allow weed recreationally or at least medicinally.

    “Dysphoric,” I have not come across that word before reading your comment. Opposite of “euphoric,” I guess.. “dys-” like “dysfunctional,” “dystopia.”


    Who needs to pay to cry, indeed. People don’t use marijuana to feel morose.

    Miles Davis.. Jazz..

    Yes, the earlier work of Miles is definitely more accessible. “Kind of Blue” might still be the best selling jazz album of all time, and it is the one I recccomend to people who are curious about jazz, but still feeling a bit hesitant.

    After that album, if they want a bit of a jump to something stranger, I’d probably have them listen to another classic, “Time Out,” by Dave Brubeck. That one is more of challenge though. “Blue Rondo a la Turk” might freak out some people, but it is sure fun.

    Hmm.. I haven’ paid attention to jazz in years, except for some jazz-influcend music that defies categorization Have you heard or heard of a band called Montreux? They made an album called “Sign Language.” It’s lovely. There’s also a beautiful track they did called “Egrets,” but I don’t know what album it is on, I just got it from a sampler CD many years ago. The band combined Americana with jazz and world music.

    I listen to them pretty often, as well as many other groups I’ve put into a playlist. I don’t like to call it new age music. I don’t know what the name would be, or if this is a genre.

    “Bitches Brew,” I hope this does not seem disrespectful what I am about to write..

    I only made it though that album once, and just barely. Several tracks with a tempo so slow it almost felt like no tempo at all, and every ten minutes or so Miles would step up to a mic and make a “ferp” sound with his trumpet and disappear again.

    But before I heard the album, there was an edited version of “Spanish Key” that was on a sampler CD I encountered back in the ’90’s, and I liked that track quite a bit. There’s no rhythm and percussion sound like it.

    I haven’t actually heard much at all of Joni’s music with Jaco. I watched a documentary on Jaco awhile back, and they had some of his music with her. I didn’t even know he was in her band. I knew about Weather Report. I just looked them up, and am listening to “Birdland” right now. Probably not the best music for 3:34 am, but it s rather good.

    I’ve heard Jaco’s solo album too. I liked some of it.

    Bass guitar is something I have been curious about for over two decades, but I never learned how to play either. I have two basses right now, a 4 string and a 5 string. The 5 string is surprisingly light for its size, and comfortable to play, and I really like it. You can see it in my most recent post about my Saturday off. (My most recent post until I write another one. I came up with several more ideas for posts earlier today).

    I understand not getting into bass though. Playing one note at a time carefully.. There’s an ancient saying, something about if you want to get good at something, prepare to “eat bitter.” There’s a steep climb for beginners, regardless of what skill they are trying to acquire and much of the difficulty is the maddening tedium of repetition.

    There are many bass lines I love and would love to play, so I want to stick with it. I”ve just begun..

    Acoustic steel string can be quite nice. Especially if you get creative.

    Here is a musician named Johnny Butler, who lived in Idaho for awhile before moving to Hawaii years ago. I was fortunate to hear him perform twice

    In this video, he has a unique percussive style that I’d never heard or seen before.

    Not sure if a youtube link will work in a comment..

    Here is one of my favorite instrumentals, which I think you will like. I have a good ear for what instrument is being played, but the lead instrument on this one.. guitar? octave mandolin? I don’t know..

    Octave mandolin! Yes! I just found a live version on youtube, but the full band is not playing it, so so I will post the audio-only track

    What kinds of music do you perform on guitar?

    The Merlin.. you might get frustrated with it. Only 4 strings and the last two are played together, like on a mandolin.Only a few frets as well.

    I think you would enjoy a mandolin much more. Many of the chords are quite challenging, especially playing on 8 strings, and the very narrow neck is almost entirely curved. I tried on out for a little while before selling it. But, yes, it has a beautiful sound.

    I still love mandolin music, especially Chris Thile, when he was (and is again) with Nickel Creek, or performing with many other brilliant musicians, like Yo Yo Ma and upright bass player Edgar Meyer, slide guitar (or dobro?) player Jerry Douglas…

    When testing out a mandolin, slide your fingers down the strings and play every note (you probably know this already). It’s common for some strings and notes to rattle. The bridge is not attached, it is a floating bridge.

    I tried out a mandolin in a music store a few weeks ago. Too much rattling. I asked the shop owner to adjust the bridge. He tried, but he couldn’t get it right. I can’t remember what brand.

    I’ve tried a couple F-shaped mandolins by a brand called The Loar. These seemed pretty good for being made in China. I’ve read Kentucky is a pretty good brand, with a broad range of prices.. Good luck on your mandolin hunting.

  9. March 18, 2021 10:20 AM

    You comment is safe and sound! Ill write a proper considered reply….Morning, Tom!

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