Years ago when I bought my first dulcimer, a RL Tack, with a floating soundboard, rather heavy, it was a good instrument on which to learn to play. It has 3 octaves. As I advanced, I realized I wanted a larger instrument, 4 1/2 - 5 octave range and started my search. Living out in Idaho it is a challenge to get to festivals or hear other instruments, but I heard a few dulcimers from a variety of builders, and as it has been said here, all the luthiers are wonderful builders and people and are so helpful to everyone. I knew when I bought my larger dulcimer, it would most likely be my last one, and so gave it much thought and consideration. For me this was a personal decision, to buy one made by JRS. I think each person is looking for a particular sound, or for a dulcimer with certain characteristics, and I found what I was looking for in Jerry's dulcimers. At the time I was considering putting my name on his list, and starting to save my money, he had a 4 1/2 octave with the variable density soundboard for sale as an internet sale. I was his first response, had Joann in his store play it over the phone for me, and after talking with him, decided to buy it. I have not regretted that decision at all. I have been thoroughly pleased with the instrument, the range and the sound, and I find it stays in tune very well. When I do tune it, I only need to make slight changes and it goes rather quickly. I think this 4 1/2 octave one is only about 17 or 19 pounds, much lighter than my older Tack. Mine has the variable gradient density soundboard with the sitka spruce on top, African mahogany on the bottom of the soundboard. Since this was not one I ordered, I had no choices, but would not change anything about mine. So I did not have the experience of having him custom make mine, but he has always been helpful with any questions, and I know two people who are having theirs being built right now, and they should be ready this April or May. So overall, I could not be more pleased with my JRS. Over the few years I have had it, it has mellowed so nicely and sounds more delightful than when it first arrived. Even then, I loved the sound. Two summers ago I was finally able to visit Song of the Wood and go to Jerry's shop and meet him and see some of the process of building the dulcimers.
Even though I did receive mine directly from the internet sale, had I ordered one, it would have well been worth the wait. I am sure it will be for you also. Keep us posted as the time nears and you are making decisions about the woods and such, and then after you receive it. How exciting this must be for you.