New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Interested in learning how to play the zither and wondering where to start? Use this section to post your questions.

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NutmegCT
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New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by NutmegCT » Sat Aug 02, 2014 8:14 am

Good morning all.

My first post. I'm a retired cellist, who now is keeping the mind active by learning new things. Languages, history, aviation - and concert zither.

I have a Schuster 5+26 string instrument (photo attached), but I'm puzzled at the Darr and Keyes instructions on tuning.

Of course, altho' my zither has all the strings, I don't know if they're the *correct* strings. I have lots of extra strings, but many are not marked as to what specific note they represent - only fingerboard, accompaniment, bass, or contrabass.

I've tuned the first five without problem (but those small white tuning keys are sure hard to turn!). But the accompaniment and bass strings are a puzzle to me. My Keyes book, and my original old hardcover Darr shows the first accompaniment string to be the E flat two octaves above middle C. But the 1950 Darr reprint (Carl Fischer), shows the first accompaniment string to be the A flat two octaves above middle C; the next is shown as E flat.

Also, is there a way to know whether my accompaniment strings are actually correct? One mid-range accompaniment string is wound and sounds at least an octave below the two adjoining non-wound strings.

Thanks for reading through all this!
Tom in Connecticut
Attachments
IMG_0425.JPG
31 string Schuster
IMG_0425.JPG (781.79 KiB) Viewed 892 times

Rudy Mueller
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Joined: Thu Sep 08, 2011 8:33 am

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by Rudy Mueller » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:59 am

Good Morning Tom,

Your zither looks like a real solid beauty!

First string a flat or e flat? Some of the earlier (???) zithers begin accompaniment stringing with a flat. The one I keep at our daughters in Mainz was of that format. Switching formats seemed cumbersome, so the a flat string was merely eliminated. Restringing, starting with e flat, and moving all the strings one notch forward will be in the future.

Tuning? You may want to contact other zither players in the New York area. An hour's drive will answer a lot of questions, eliminate a lot of future anguish, and provide valuable encouragement. One Wisconsin Zither player drives from Monroe to Delafield - about 100 miles one way - to participate, learn, and teach at our "Zither Sundays". One cannot pay for instruction as valuable as this.

Enjoy your treasure!

Rudi Mueller

kenbloom
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Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:50 am

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by kenbloom » Sun Aug 03, 2014 12:19 pm

Hi Tom,

I struggled with the Darr book when I first started and broke a lot of strings. I've never found a zither player who used the Ab as their first accompaniment string. If I were you, I would save myself a lot of grief and just get a new set of strings for your instrument. You will want the concert zither length. The names of the notes to tune the strings to will be on the front of the package but the usual method is tune the accompaniment strings in fifths, then the basses to fifths an octave lower and whatever contrabasses you have chromatically starting with a low F. If you have any problems, feel free to e-mail me and I'll try to help (kbloom1@triad.rr.com).
One other suggestion. Unlike what Darr recommends, I use all of my fingers on my right hand. The little finger is very useful for those contrabasses and for playing minor chords. Good luck and welcome to the club!

Ken Bloom

DonO
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Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2011 7:46 pm

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by DonO » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:05 pm

Tom-

I am in Norwalk, Connecticut, so if you are nearby perhaps we can get together and I can give you some assistance and tuning and stringing. I can also show you the two Zithers that I have. One is an older Alto Zither (by an unknown maker) that has been in my family for many years, and the other one is a Concert Zither made by Franz Schwarzer which I picked up from eBay. Your Zither looks similar to the little Schwarzer that I have.

Give a call or email (DonOffinger@juno.com)

Rudy Mueller
Posts: 438
Joined: Thu Sep 08, 2011 8:33 am

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by Rudy Mueller » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:26 pm

Question for the Austrian theorists out there:

Is the a flat first begleitung string on some zithers related to the Schrammel style or sound ???

Rudi Mueller

NutmegCT
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Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by NutmegCT » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:29 pm

This is so encouraging! Thank you all for your comments and suggestions.

Don, I'd like to take you up on your offer. I'll email you and hope to set up a visit at your convenience. Having a knowledgable zitherist (?) for my beginner questions is a god-send. I'll bring my Schuster, and the extra strings. I'll also be interested in how to "toughen" the left hand fingertips; those five strings sure make the fingers sore fast.

One interesting aspect for me (a cellist) is that I come from 50 years of having four strings under my fingers. I've never had to worry about 30+ strings all at once! I must say it's a puzzlement to have the fingerboard strings exactly parallel to the cello (A, D, G, C), yet the first pair of accompaniment strings center on an Eb chord!

Again, many thanks to you all.

Tom Morehouse

Rudy Mueller
Posts: 438
Joined: Thu Sep 08, 2011 8:33 am

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by Rudy Mueller » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:44 pm

Hey Tom,

Don't worry about all those strings. Take and learn them one at a time. The designers of the zither were nothing less than ergonomic geniuses. The basics are in fifths and thirds, and fit the human hand quite well.

Rudi Mueller

Donauer
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Joined: Wed Sep 10, 2014 5:55 pm

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by Donauer » Fri Nov 28, 2014 1:26 am

Hello Tom,

I am, like yourself, a beginner. Before I could even start using my zither I had to put it into playable condition. I found the tuning machine on mine to be quite stiff. I unscrewed all the small screws in the plate and lifted the machine out of the zither. I found the mechanism clogged with old, stiff, dirty grease which I removed with kerosene and a toothbrush. The gears were easily removed with a jewelers screwdriver, so I managed to get into every crevice. After cleaning I relubed the mechanism and put it back on the zither. Now the tuning machine works freely. The kerosene took all the nasty staining off the tuning machine buttons too.

kenbloom
Posts: 171
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:50 am

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by kenbloom » Fri Nov 28, 2014 11:31 am

With regard to Rudi's question about that top Ab on the accompaniment strings, I do know that violinists prefer not to use open strings becasue of the difference in sound and the inability to use vibrato. Thus a key like Eb is attractive for a lot of waltzes etc. Having the high Ab makes the key of Eb an awful lot easier to play in. Most plucked string players tend to like the sharp keys. Horn players and classically trained string players tend to favor flat keys. Also, keys like Eb anbd Bb have a lovely warm sound to them that suits the music of a Schrammel group.
I can see why this tuning fell out of favor. For me, the keys of C, G, and D are just so handy and fit the hand so well that I tend to favor them. I love the tamber of Bb but I find it a bit cumbersome, having to go for my contra because bass F sounds so wimpy. Just my 2p.

Ken Bloom

ilseharris
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Joined: Thu May 17, 2012 8:33 am

Re: New member asks: How to string and tune the zither.

Post by ilseharris » Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:20 am

Hi Tom,
By now you can probably play tunes on the zither and you are very lucky to have zither players living near you.
For zither players who are totally on their own I have posted two YouTube videos "Tuning your zither" and "how to
replace a zither string". Google "zithergirl" or http://www.zither.com.au.
Good luck with your new instrument, greetings from sunny Sydney
Ilse

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