The Dolceola


I consider this wonderful instrument to be the highest form of development of the guitar-zither concept. It was built in Toledo for a few years in the beginning of this century by David & Leander Boyd, piano salesmen & technicians. The main body of the instrument is much like a standard guitar-zither, though larger and more strongly built. (And it has lovely wooden post feet instead of the typical brass upholstery tacks.) It has 7 chords, of 5 notes each, and 2 octaves of chromatic melody strings.

What sets this instrument apart, however, is its playing mechanism. It has a keyboard attached, which utilizes a fairly sophisticated action for such a small instrument. White and black keys are supplied for the melody section. And what I've learned about separating chord notes while playing, these gentlemen already knew. They supplied 3 keys for each chord. One played the bass note, the next played the first note of the remainder of the chord, and the next one played all the rest of the chord. Of course the chords were numbered, so that the Dolceola sheet music could show you numbers instead of chord notation.

This was clearly built as a more serious musical instrument than the mass-market "novelties" which abounded around the same time (and which inspire this site). One particular telling bit of evidence is that each one has a serial number. And though there have been many approximations of keyboard actions and chord-playing devices applied to zithers, none has the sophistication of the Dolceola.

You'll definitely want to move on to The Dolceola Pages, on Gregg Miner's website.  He's done some extraordinary research on the instrument and on an interesting historical question.

 Here's the one I purchased at the auction of the Musical Museum, in Deansboro, NY.

Andy Cohen is an enthusiastic player, hunter, and enjoyer of the Dolceola. He's written a lively article on it which appeared in the March 1999 issue of Experimental Musical Instruments.  Andy has produced a modern recording of his own Dolceola playing, which I highly recommend.

William E. Hettrick is Professor of Music at Hofstra University and president of the American Musical Instrument Society, which has an interest in historical and unusual instruments. He's also a descendant of the Boyd family and has authored two papers on the construction and history of the Dolceola.

Jim Garber has put up some interesting pictures of his Dolceola, which show its condition in great detail.

Bob Mead sends the following notice - "Wanted - Dolceolas. Looking for information leading to the purchase of Dolceola or related material - advertising, sales correspondence, etc. These instruments are miniature piano-like keyboard played zithers built between 1904 and 1907 in Toledo, Ohio. Thanks for any help you may be able to offer." (I imagine his sentiments would be echoed by all of us…) He has a great website devoted to the Dolceola.


Drop me a line.

Go back to the Guitar-Zither Clearinghouse, or home.

Last update - 11 May 03