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Tuning and Playing the Zither

Related threads:
Infomation on Zither (27)
Zither info please... (19)
Skepticism and the Zither. (30)


harpgirl 18 Aug 00 - 03:16 PM
Peter T. 18 Aug 00 - 03:41 PM
Ferrara 18 Aug 00 - 08:49 PM
harpgirl 18 Aug 00 - 10:44 PM
harpgirl 18 Aug 00 - 10:55 PM
rangeroger 18 Aug 00 - 11:53 PM
harpgirl 19 Aug 00 - 01:25 AM
Bill D 19 Aug 00 - 06:37 PM
Ferrara 19 Aug 00 - 09:54 PM
Alice 19 Aug 00 - 10:33 PM
Ferrara 19 Aug 00 - 11:24 PM
catspaw49 19 Aug 00 - 11:31 PM
Alice 19 Aug 00 - 11:34 PM
Ferrara 20 Aug 00 - 12:14 AM
Alice 20 Aug 00 - 12:34 AM
harpgirl 20 Aug 00 - 08:19 AM
Ferrara 20 Aug 00 - 04:49 PM
Wotcha 05 Aug 03 - 01:31 PM
Bill D 05 Aug 03 - 01:58 PM
GUEST,Dale 05 Aug 03 - 02:27 PM
GUEST,err. /ME 03 Jan 08 - 04:11 PM
GUEST,jake the fiddle 04 Jan 08 - 07:03 AM
M.Ted 04 Jan 08 - 05:44 PM
GUEST,Diane 06 Jan 08 - 08:49 PM
GUEST,strumian 28 May 08 - 10:12 AM
GUEST,Frank Hamilton 28 May 08 - 05:16 PM
GUEST,VAL 12 Jun 08 - 04:08 PM
GUEST,VAL 12 Jun 08 - 04:16 PM
GUEST,leeneia 12 Jun 08 - 11:07 PM
GUEST,JackieBoyce 13 Jun 08 - 05:50 AM
GUEST,JackieBoyce 13 Jun 08 - 05:56 AM
GUEST 29 Jul 09 - 04:50 AM
GUEST,leeneia 29 Jul 09 - 11:15 AM
GUEST,zithergirl Australia 21 Oct 09 - 07:30 AM
GUEST 18 Jan 10 - 02:11 AM
Ferrara 01 Feb 10 - 09:05 PM
GUEST,Homer at Esperance Australia 13 Dec 10 - 07:38 AM
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Subject: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: harpgirl
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 03:16 PM

...okay all you zither players out there...how do you tune the dang thing and then what? What is the general approach? I figured it was tuned like a guitar on the left side and a a chromatic autoharp on the rest of the strings. But obviously, it might not be too hard to learn if the tuning was accurate. Tell me more! I might have to use a third arm though...hahaha harpgirl


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Peter T.
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 03:41 PM

harpgirl, check out: www.zithers.com -- they have zither tunings and more than you ever wanted to know about zithers.
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Ferrara
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 08:49 PM

Peter T, thanx for the zither site! -- I expect to waste a lot of time there....

Banjo Johnnie, under "history" there's a good, somewhat long definition of a zither at the above site.

There's also a picture of my zither on the Web, it's in the links but I'll have to ask Bill D how one gets there.

harpgirl, I went to Peter's link on stringing zithers but didn't think it was terribly useful. So, I'll give you a kind of core dump or overview of what little I know.

First off, there are concert zithers and there are guitar zithers and mine says it's a concert-guitar zither which is a fib.

On a concert zither, unless I've got this backwards, you have a fretboard similar to a guitar neck. Then you have a bunch of strings which I believe are for accompaniment and may be arranged in chords but here my ignorance shows.

On a guitar zither, you have, as you can see, several sets of chords on the left or bottom of the instrument and a set of about 2 octaves of melody strings on the right or top end. (I play it sideways, which puts the chords at the bottom end closest to me.)

The bad news: The number of chords, their arrangement, the type of melody strings and their tuning *varies from instrument to instrument.* For example, a lot of zithers are not chromatic. On some, the melody strings are so close I can't imagine ever playing them although lots of people have managed it. There are different numbers of chords on different instruments.

The good news: Your zither sounds like it's laid out very much like mine, and mine has all the notes labeled. So I can send you a nice detailed digital pic of each set of strings if you want.

The other good news: Lark in the Morning sells zither strings and may be able to tell you how to tune your zither if you describe your string arrangement and the number of strings.

Here are links to more web sites and a photo of my zither. Pardon my lack of HTML savvy. Please cut and paste unless the wonderful Mr. Offer notices them and changes them to real clicky things.

1. Here's a picture of my zither in the gorgeous case Bill D made. This was made with a borrowed camera; we need to re-shoot it. I can do a hi-res pic and e-mail it. If anyone reading this would like one, please PM me your e-mail address. Pic is at: http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/abba/690/zither.html

2. The Guitar-Zither Clearinghouse

http://users.supernet.com/williams/gz_home.htm (dead link)

3. Lark in the Morning Instrument Strings
http://www.mhs.mendocino.k12.ca.us/MenComNet/Business/Retail/Larknet/InstStrings

4. How to Play a Zither

http://users.supernet.com/williams/play.htm (dead link)

5. Violinmaker etc. This site has the following ad: "German Guitar Zither. VG/Ex. Condition with OHSC. New today $1,500. Our price on this one is reduced to $550. Born with extra fingers? This is the instrument for you!!"

http://www.kdavisviolins.com/accessories.html

6. Not a site, but an address. I think it's also on the site Peter T posted.

ZITHER NEWSLETTER 6173 N. McLellan, Chicago, IL 60646 (Quarterly, $8) A publication devoted to the Alpine concert zither. They also have zither strings, cassettes and CDs and instruction videos.

Enough for now? I hope so, because I'm not sure I know anything else. Oh. I will be playing mine at the FSGW Getaway, weather and the old instrument permitting.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: harpgirl
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 10:44 PM

...oh thank you so much, Ferrara. I was hoping you would answer my questions! I am so happy to have something to fool around with tonight! My best to Bill D. I admire you both! harpgirl


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: harpgirl
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 10:55 PM

...and Peter, thanks for your research! I'll check out the sites...harpgirl


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: rangeroger
Date: 18 Aug 00 - 11:53 PM

harpgirl, thanks for starting this thread.Ferrara and PeterT thank you for the links. My mother has a zither she bought for next to nothing 40 years ago when we lived in London. We have been trying to find strings for it on and off over those 40 years.While the notes are marked on the sound board I have no idea of the string gauges.They are arranged in choruses, but the number of strings is more than any of the other zithers i"ve seen in books on the subject. As near as we can tell it dates from around the 1880's to 1900. Will spend much time at the sites.

thanks again.I love the mudcat.

PS harpgirl,It's good to see your cookie back as a member again.

rr


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: harpgirl
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 01:25 AM

...rr...you weren't supposed to see my cookie...naughty boy!

Ferrara, I have so much to moon over tonight. My tuners don't fit over the string pegs, to begin with...
There are no chords or notes imprinted on the zither, which is a Concurrenz concert zither....
The fret board has five strings, the sound board has twenty seven. They go from small to large on the fret board and the sound board.
Do I play it like a dobro? What is the concept for playing it? How is yours tuned? Logic tells me to tune the 27 strings pentatonically...Is that right?What songs do you play on it? That would help me get the concept

It was given to me by an impish poney-tailed irishman named John Sullivan, who sings and plays a hairy goatskin bodran.

I would like to see your pictures if you feel like sending them to harpgirl@istal.com
moon, moon, sulk, sulk...harp


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Bill D
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 06:37 PM

I will take a few 'useful' pics of the zither...with Rita playing it...she can tell you what strings are tuned which way..(and yes, some old instruments have non-standard tuning pegs..*grump* we found her and old chorded zither that doesn't even have them all the same!)...will try to get the pics taken tonight


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Ferrara
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 09:54 PM

harpgirl, I've taken a few pics of my zither but Bill has to load them, I have no idea how. We'll also e-mail them to you if you like. (Did my last e-mail arrive??? If so send a personal message or something....)

Now. On your sound board, are any of the strings arranged in ranks of chords? (You can tell because the pegs will be staggered in sets of 4.) If all the pegs are aligned straight up the side, they're not for chords.

Based on my 10 years of playing one, I wouldn't recommend tuning a zither until you know what it was built to do! -- Mine always buckles a bit in the middle if I try to bring it up to concert pitch during a hot or cold spell, for example. Is yours made of fairly solid hardwood, that can take the stress of being inadvertently tuned too high? Both strings and soundboard can break under stress. (I let my zither choose its own "A", which nowadays is around 440 but the Beast is unpredictable.)

Sorry, no idea whether a pentatonic scale is right for a concert zither. ... BINGO! -- Here's the URL for a page I saw last night, gives a beautiful detailed description of the two basic modes for tuning a Concert Zither. (The modes are: Munich, and Viennese. I'm learning stuff here....)

http://www.zithers.com/Stringing.html

Also look at the Guitar-Zither Clearinghouse site that I mentioned above, under "How Do You Tune It" and "How Do You Play It." The guy, I think his name is Kelly Williams, says if you contact him and describe your zither he may be able to tell you what tuning you need. And on the "How to Play" page, there is a photo of him playing his zither in his lap in the position I use. He repeats what I said above, be careful not to tune the strings higher than they can tolerate. Zithers are real low-tech.

Now about playing it in one's lap. This only works for me if I am in a very low chair so that the zither slants *up* away from me because if it slants *down*, it's going to slide right off my lap onto the floor. Also, playing it flat on a table is traditional and a lot of concert zithers have little pointed feet intended to hold them in place while you play, which could be very hard on one's lap.

So, I have developed a trick where I use a little wooden tray-table and a plain piece of wide (maybe 20 inch X 24?) board as supports. I sit in a regular chair, put the table about a foot from me, lay the board on the table and the zither on the board; then I slide zither-plus-board down so the lower end is resting on my lap, and the middle or top end is against the edge of the table. This is a highly personal style but it has these advantages: 1. The zither doesn't fall off; 2. The zither is slanted so I can reach all its strings easily; and 3. The zither sounds absolutely fabulous because the board and table act as sounding boards.

Okay, we'll try to get those pics downloaded and up on the web.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Alice
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 10:33 PM

The sound file at the clearinghouse site was great. It sounded like a very large music box, which I was not expecting.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Ferrara
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 11:24 PM

Couldn't find any sound files. Sometimes Bill has the sound turned off and neglects to mention it...

But, I did go to the page on German Concert Zithers, and I think it has some neat stuff for what you're looking for, harpgirl.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: catspaw49
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 11:31 PM

Really a fine thread......Thanks for all of the wonderful sites Rita. Some really good info outside of zithers too, just generally informative if you're kind of an instrument junkie. Great job.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Alice
Date: 19 Aug 00 - 11:34 PM

sorry, the sound wasn't on the clearinghouse link, it was this one:

http://users.supernet.com/williams/play.htm


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Ferrara
Date: 20 Aug 00 - 12:14 AM

Nope, Alice, it still doesn't play, and I'm too lazy to sign off Bill's desktop and onto mine. But I will go there later. All the same, when I first got my zither, a friend did say happily that it sounded like a big music box. I just thought it sounded like a heavenly choir.... In case I haven't made it obvious, I really like it.

Guess I should tell (again) the story of how I got this Beast. In 1990, shortly after my mom's death, her best friend called to tell me she had a funny musical instrument in her attic, origin and nature unknown, but "it says zither on the box," and said she had a feeling that I ought to have it. I said, "I might never get around to playing it, we have a house full of musical instruments that I don't play any more." She said, "Fine. Then it can sit at your house instead of in my attic." I said, "I don't know, it may be valuable." She said, "Fine. Then you can sell it if you want to. I just think you ought to have it." So she brought it over.

I opened the flat cardboard box and there was this beautiful guitar zither with a decal of a rose on the soundbox. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw that silly rose. It was totally out of tune, of course, but I ran a fingernail across the strings and it echoed and rang in the room and I fell even deeper in love with it.

I taught myself to play, bit by bit, no Internet in my life at the time so I was on my own; and as I have said above, I don't think I position it the way a traditional German zither player would. Playing it did not come easy. I practiced and practiced, but it was two years before I ever played it in public without a single mistake (still a rare occurrence).

harpgirl, is any of this helping?

Oh by the way. My zither has decals showing how to tune it, because it's a people's zither, intended to be tuned and played by relatively ignorant amateurs. Your concert zither doesn't have decals because it's intended to be played by trained professionals or at least music students. My zither came with a song sheet (in German) that you place under the strings and follow the dotted lines to pick out a few simple melodies!

I tune my chords (starting at the edge of the zither) as E, A, D, F, G, C. All the chords are set up with a heavy bass string on the RIGHT. The chords are not all in the same order. It's E-B-G#-g, E-A-C#-a, D-A-F#-d, F-A-C-f, D_B_G_g, E_C_G_c.

The melody strings are around 3/8 inch apart, nice and widely spaced, and chromatic, two octaves, C to C, so 27 notes. So a total of 51 strings I guess.

Someone (Dick Levine or Margaret MacArthur, probably, they both collect zithers) told me that most zithers are diatonic. Maybe that's why mine is labeled as a "Concert Guitar Zither": because it's chromatic. But as I said above, it is just a lowly guitar zither. But IMHO a pure dream of a lowly guitar zither.

I have a second zither, a concert zither I think, but it's stringless and forlorn as yet. In fact, harpgirl, this thread may be just the thing for me to figure out what to do with that thing, which was bought for me as a birthday present and which I fully intended to string and play ASAP but you know how it is with good intentions....

Catspaw, glad you're enjoying the thread. Me too! -- Most of those links were already in my bookmarks file but since, unlike my SO Bill Day, I don't have unlimited Mudcatting time (if only because I can never get near the computer), I had never fully explored them until harpgirl started this thread.

- Rita Ferrara


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Alice
Date: 20 Aug 00 - 12:34 AM

Ferrara, it doesn't automatically play when you go to the page. You have to click on the link for what it sounds like and download a wav file. It's in the sentence, "Here's what this very instrument sounds like." The word "sounds" is a link to the wav file. I don't have "Sound Machine" software that is recommended, so I just converted the wav file to a Mac MP3 file and litened to it.

It's "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms". A huge string sound, like said, very much like a big music box.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: harpgirl
Date: 20 Aug 00 - 08:19 AM

...yes Rita...I looked at all the links and I am sure I can get the thing in tune if I can find something to tune the string pegs with; needlenose pliers may work. I think I'll understand more about playing it when it is in tune. I do have 27 strings, which is evidently three more than what seems to be the norm. I wonder how that changes the tuning? From looking at all the pictures, especially Gerti's page, I am getting a visual picture of the approach and she plays with the thing in her lap, too.

Since Alice has found wave files, I can play those.
Dale is helping me, as well...I love a challenge! harp


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Ferrara
Date: 20 Aug 00 - 04:49 PM

Dale and harpgirl, how about posting Dale's info in this thread so we'll have a resource for the next person who desperately needs zither information....


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Wotcha
Date: 05 Aug 03 - 01:31 PM

Wandering about Stuttgart's Saturday afternoon flea market in the Charlottenplatz (where a large memorial to the 1870s excursion into France must cause some pain to the French tourists), I came across 2 zithers. One even had a case with music books. Both were going for about 60 Euros (about $70) each although one dealer would take 50 Euro. I am holding off, since I think I can find better preserved specimens but thought it rather cool to find 2 examples so readily available.


Cheers,

Brian


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Bill D
Date: 05 Aug 03 - 01:58 PM

neat! I suspect there are more zithers abounding in Europe than here.
Indeed, do look carefully if you seriously consider acquiring one...they vary widely in style and 'playability' (read:firmly glued and braced)


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,Dale
Date: 05 Aug 03 - 02:27 PM

So what did I DO? Sometimes I don't remember what I did last week, let alone three years ago.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,err. /ME
Date: 03 Jan 08 - 04:11 PM

this site is kind of random... just talking about zithers... im just serching for my music homework but stil...


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,jake the fiddle
Date: 04 Jan 08 - 07:03 AM

i have a zither alike the karas third man zither,i believe it is a concert zither or similar,with a fretted side with five strings,there are two tunings for the fretted side. munic tuning-from the edge inwards A,A,D,G,C, THE OTHER ,VIENNA WHICH I BELIEVE TO BE ANTON KARAS TUNING,CORRECT ME IF IM WRONG IS A,D,G,G,C I FIND IT DIFFICULT TO TUNE UP THE ACOMPLIMENT STRINGs BECAUSE I PLAY BY Ear AND DONT READ MUSIC.I WISH SOMEONE IN THE KNOW, WOULD STRUM ALL THE STRINGS OPEN ,FROM ONE SIDE TO THE OTHER,"very slowly lol ON YOUTUBE.Having said that you can get the tuning for concert or alpine or elergy or karas zither simply by typing "zither stringing"you will get both tunings,hope this helps some folks,if you would like to here an english cajun band,chek out the dawgs.   cheers,jake.ps aint no zithers in my band though i play the fiddle as you might have guest.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: M.Ted
Date: 04 Jan 08 - 05:44 PM

Jake-Punctuation and capitalization, when used with discretion, make it easier, rather that harder, to understand a post. I haven't a clue what you're talking about.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,Diane
Date: 06 Jan 08 - 08:49 PM

I have a family guitar-zither from Oscar Schmidt Inc. I am thinking about tuning and maybe trying to play????? Years of organ playing but so rusty with that. Went to above sites and was not able to get info on tuning. Any help would be great....
Thanks


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,strumian
Date: 28 May 08 - 10:12 AM

hi everyone,i bought a zither in a second hand store here in switzerland and started searching the internet for tuning guides,and found this thread, the zither i bought is a 32 string instrument plus 5 strings on a fret board,total of 37 strings,it says that it's a concert instrument built by Anton Brauer from Schonbach in 1928, it's in really quite remarkable condition, now i just have to spend the time exploring it, once i can find strings, i'm sure that there are suppliers in germany as i have seen quite a few played on german and swiss t.v. i have been a pro guitar player for many years and look forward to the challenge of this fascinating instrument, cheers for now.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
Date: 28 May 08 - 05:16 PM

Anyone know how Andre Karras did it? (Third Man Theme) for Welles' movie?


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,VAL
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 04:08 PM

How do I tune my zither? like which notes?!

I have a really old zither of my moms, and its a 15 string zither....but i dont know what notes to tune it in. HELP!?!?


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,VAL
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 04:16 PM

by the way...
I really dont know the first thing about zithers...
so i really really need some beginners help, if anyones willing to explain anything to me.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 11:07 PM

Go to Google, search for 'zither tuning.' There are pages with diagrams, etc.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,JackieBoyce
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 05:50 AM


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,JackieBoyce
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 05:56 AM

Oooop's!   sorry the fingers seem to have a mind of their own today, I didn't mean to send that last reply just yet.
I bought an antique autoharp in an auctin lately for a tenner, just because nobody wanted it. Soppy old me felt sorry for it. Anyway, there are about eight strings missing and I would love to have it restrung and playing , or at least playable again. Can anyone suggest where I could find out more on this. Keep it clean please on the suggestions, Where I should go!
JB


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Jul 09 - 04:50 AM

Hi, I find myself the proud new owner of a 40-string fretless zither, 2 strings missing, dates late 1800s early 1900s and with a crack down the length of the wood....I tuned up the top octave and have got two tunes out of it already ( I play woodwind not strings normally )so it's easy to play, sounds heavenly, like a steel-strung harp. Fell in love with it and couldn't stop playing it, now my fingers hurt !
Question is, I have no idea where to get replacement strings in the UK, i've looked online; I don't know what gauge string to use, could i get away with bouzouki strings d'you think ?

---Bridie


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 29 Jul 09 - 11:15 AM

Try this page:

http://www.fretlesszithers.com/gauges.html

I play fretted dulcimer, which is a related instrument, and I know what you mean about 'can't stop playing it.' Congratulations on discovering the joys of the zither family.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,zithergirl Australia
Date: 21 Oct 09 - 07:30 AM

Hi, I have just updated my website, should answer a lot of the questions for people who live in countries where there are no zither shops or zither players. I am also happy to answer
questions via email. www.zither.com.au


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Subject: Zit
From: GUEST
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 02:11 AM

How the hell do u play a zither. I have one.


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: Ferrara
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 09:05 PM

Can you post a photo of it? "zither" is generic, but it's more like "airplane" than "car." It's easy to transfer experience from one car to another, but NOT necessarily from one airplane to another -- suppose one is a 4-seater and the other a 727? There's almost the same degree of difference between various zithers.

Good luck!


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Subject: RE: Tuning and Playing the Zither
From: GUEST,Homer at Esperance Australia
Date: 13 Dec 10 - 07:38 AM

I have a 4/30 fretless and need a copy of the string tuning if anyone can help My Zither is old and very mottled ,so mottleed I cant read the scale on the sound board.
Any info would be appreciated


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