3/06/2011

c.1930 Hopf Waldzither


First off... this is a great-sounding, lush instrument, c.1920-1930 or so, and made by Hopf in Germany. "Waldzither" means "forest cittern" and they're traditionally 9-stringed instruments, tuned (low to high) C GG CC EE GG, the lowest string being a single course. Nowadays they're often used as short scale instruments in Celtic and folk music, strung in fifths like an octave mandolin (GDAE with an extra high B) or in various open tunings to suit particular songs or styles.

Second... when I bought it, I expected an unrestored, unmodified instrument to show up on my porch. Well -- nope! At some point in time this was modified into a short scale (19") octave mandolin. The original fretboard was gone, replaced with good quality ebony, and a truss rod had been installed with access in the soundhole. In addition, the entire instrument had been refinished (a great job, though), the 9th tuner shaft had been removed, and a new bone nut had been installed for 4-course stringing minus a 9th string. It has a new ebony bridge, compensated, and while I'm not sure the bracing is original (it looks original, though), it has an x-braced top.


My work on it included a light fret dress, cleaning, and setup. The bridge needed a little shave (to fit the flat profile of the fretboard) and new shafts for the adjustable saddle. I decided to keep the octave mandolin stringing and tuning because there was no way I was going to find a replacement shaft and gear for the 9th tuner without tracking down another old Hopf or similar German instrument and disembowling it (the shaft/gear setup has no relation to anything made on this side of the pool).


This fella plays excellently, smoothly, and very comfortably. I have it strung with fairly lightweight strings -- 42w, 32w, 22w, 11 -- but could probably go a little heavier if needed. If I mute the strings at the tailpiece I get a warm, balanced, and sustained typical octave mandolin tone, but unmuted there's a great sing-songy reverb-like depth to the tone which makes it stand out and sounds excellent for slow airs.





Cool "flowery" soundhole inlay.






Back and sides are what appear to be solid flamed maple (I checked the edge under the binding to make sure). Good stuff!


And here's a patch that was put in previously... nice job!


Not only does the instrument sound great, it looks great, too.

This type of modification (9 string to 8 string on a waldzither) was popular in the late 70s and into the 80s when, especially, a Mr. Andy Irvine showed up playing one with Planxy members in the Celtic scene. At the time, the idea of the "octave mandolin" was pretty new, so scores of old instruments that fit the bill were getting new life.

For example:









I added a strap button from my parts bin to finish up the job... by attaching a strap to the now-non-functioning "9th tuner" at the top of the headstock and then the strap button here, you have a nice, balanced way of using the instrument while standing that does not get in the way of tuning or fingers at the nut.

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