I'm a southpaw. I play dulcimer "right handed" and it has never been an issue. I'm also living proof that you can learn the instrument pretty much on your own. Like anything worthwhile it takes effort, patience and perseverence, but it can be done.
Buying an instrument from someone you can go see in order to hold, play and listen to the instrument is always a good idea, especially if the vendor is knowledgable about the instrument. When I bought my first dulcimer the shop owner (Donna Ford at Cripple Creek in Manitou Springs, CO) took the time to not only help me choose an instrument but also to show me the basics. That was important for me since I lived in the Texas Panhandle and there were no other dulcimer players anywhere close to me. Conversely, much of the advantage of buying from a shop is lost if the vendor is not knowledgable about the instrument.
Ken is right about Dave Lynch's Sweet Woods Dulcimers
being an excellent value. Dave is great to work with, a supremely skilled luthier and a really nice guy. His student model at $125 is a good instrument at a great price. With that you can be in business with a complete setup (instrument, case/gig bag, tuner, picks, extra strings, instructional material) for a couple of hundred dollars or close to it. Other quality builders that I can personally recommend include Gary Sager's Prussia Valley Dulcimers
, and Folkcraft
. Of course there are many more
, but those are some I know whose instruments I have played or owned. Gary Sager also sells other brands of dulcimers besides his own. He's a great guy and good to deal with. I ordered somethnig from him last Tuesday and it made it to Louisiana by Friday.
Looking at the events section here at Everything Dulcimer
I see that there is a dulcimer event August 25 in Milton, WI. Looking at Google Maps it looks like that is in southern Wisonsin, so maybe it isn't too far from you. If possible/practical I would strongly suggest you check it out. Stephen Seifert will be there for mountain dulcimer instruction and he is an excellent teacher. You might also contact the event chairman and find out if there are clubs, regular activities or other activities (or even other dulcimer players) in your area. This would also be a good chance to see some other instruments and dulcimer players. Teaching yourself is fine (I started that way) but getting someone to show you some things and or help encourage you is invaluable whenever you can get it. Any time you can get some help will give you a big boost in your learning.
..you could also come down to Louisiana next March for the Lagniappe Dulcimer Fete
It is just a short hike from chilly Wisconsin to balmy Louisiana and we'd love for you to come down and pass a good time with us.
Good luck and let us know how things progress for you.