Background of the Guitar-Zither

The multiplicity of strings and a common origin in Germany seem to link the concert zither and the guitar-zither. It might seem at first glance that the guitar-zither is an attempt to create a concert zither that's easier to play. But in reality they are quite different. The concert zither plays the melody on a few fretted strings, and assembles accompaniment chords on open strings. The guitar-zither, on the other hand, plays the melody on a set of open strings. In this way it is much more closely related to a plucked psaltery. The chord groups are an addition to the plucked psaltery which provides a pleasant accompaniment.

By the way, I'm using a hyphen between the words guitar and zither because Mr. Menzenhauer's patent, as well as many of the early instruments made by Menzenhauer and Schmidt, wrote it that way.

Just to make things more confusing, the concert zither has a fretboard along one side, like a guitar… and the guitar-zither doesn't.

Oh, and one more terminology item - some references (noteably The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments, and The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments) refer to the guitar-zither as a chord zither. This is indeed a clear and descriptive label. Unfortunately, though, the term "chorded zither" has appeared as a way to refer to the autoharp without worrying about the potential of trademark infringement with Oscar Schmidt International. These two terms are so similar that I prefer to use neither of them.

Update - though I enjoy using the term guitar-zither for many of the instruments on this site, partly because of my strong interest in Menzenhauer and the original patent, it is not the best term.  Fretless zither is the best term for all these instruments.   Please see the results of the work Gregg Miner and I have done to clarify the terminology problem, on the Fretless Zithers page on the Gregg's website.


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Last update - 11 May 03