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Guide to Zithers

Zither : What is it?

Zithers

Zithers are string instruments made up of a set of strings stretched over a soundbox. The strings are arranged in clusters, known as chords, and may be plucked individually or played by chord. The soundbox typically has one straight side and one curved or sloped side, with the tuning pegs located along the top. They are usually played with metal thumbpicks. 

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Types of Zithers

ZithersZithers

Kinds of Zithers include the following:

Fretted zithers

  • Fretted zithers, also called Alpine or concert zithers, have fretboards located along the straight side of the soundbox.
  • The melody strings are stretched over the fretboard, while the 20 to 30 accompaniment strings span the rest of the soundbox.
  • The strings are divided into seven chords with four to five strings each.
  • The melody strings are tuned with tuning pegs at the top of the fretboard, while the rest require a tuning key.


Fretless zithers


  • Fretless zithers have no fretboards and consist entirely of cords, and sometimes one melody string.
  • They are easier to use for beginners and require less skill than fretted zithers.
    The strings may be tuned in the diatonic or chromatic scale.
  • Some types use both tuning systems, allowing the instrument to play both melody and accompaniment.

 

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Choosing Zithers (Buying tips)

Soundbox: Choose a zither with high-quality spruce soundbox for excellent sound quality. Make sure the wood is thin but durable to maintain resonance while protecting the instrument from cracks and scratches. Look for naturally dried instead of kiln-dried wood, because heat from kiln drying can make them brittle.

String material:
Choose a zither with stainless steel strings. These strings sound clearer and resonate better than nylon or gut. Follow standard string colors so that you can recognize individual chords. Look for those with metal cores for connecting to pickups on electric zithers, and lighter cores for acoustic zithers.

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