5/19/2012

c.1930 German Unmarked Waldzither





Don't know what a waldzither is? Well, this is one!

Physically, it's about the same size as a modern flatback mandola. Historically, though, this instrument comes from the same roots as the Portuguese guitar -- it came about through the "English guitar" or cittern of the Renaissance. Rather than Portugal, however, this incarnation comes from Germany and features a tuning and stringing more reminiscent of the early open tunings favored by the "original" cittern.

It has five courses tuned (low to high) C GG CC EE GG with the low C the same pitch as a mandola's low C and the high G a full step below mandola's high A. 5-string banjo players will be familiar with this tuning in that it's the same as a 5-string banjo with a capo on the 5th fret. The idea is that this open-C tuning (waldzither standard) works similarly to a 5-string banjo, with melodies and chords played on the G, C, E, and G courses and the low C used to accompany for the most part as a drone. I'm actually half-tempted to string the low C as a "high C" with a thin 08 and tune it exactly like a banjo tuned up to C as I'll bet it'd be pretty.

At any rate, all that aside, I have no idea of the maker, but this instrument is fairly typical for its time. My work on it included regluing the neck graft area a bit, some seam reglues to the back/side join, cleaning, fret level/dress, tuner lube, new bone bridge to replace the original (chipped) glass one, and setup.


Note the nut and "zero fret." I had to slot the zero fret, of course, since it was too high. Tuners work nicely (now) and I actually have a clock-key gizmo that sort of fits it.


Pearl dots, "ebonized" fretboard. Nickel-silver frets. Unfortunately for this instrument, there's a small bow to the neck in the upper 5 frets which means action hovers between 1/16" and 3/32" at the 12th fret rather than right on the dot at 1/16" -- with the light gauge strings I have on it (32w, 22w, 13, 10, 9 low to high) this still plays nice and springy and quickly, but for alternate (read: heavier-gauged, mandolin-inspired) tunings this would not be as ideal.

Still, I've slotted the nut wider to accommodate thicker strings if need be. With the shorter 17" scale on this I don't suggest trying the usual GDAEB "octave mandolin plus" tuning since the low G will be very floppy, but various "modern cittern" tunings like DADF#A or (possibly) DADAD could work nicely as well.


Solid spruce top, solid maple (with some flame) back and sides.


Cool pressed-in rosette. The only crack is a tiny hairline to the treble side of the fretboard extension, which I've repaired.


New bone bridge. I copied the original glass bridge exactly in terms of shape, but used a vintage-looking bone instead that's just a hair shorter. The tone, of course, improved. And speaking of tone -- this has decent volume but not huge volume, with a very sustained, rich, and sweet sort of sparkling sound to it.



The top is finished "satin" while the rest is glossy.




Here you can see the two-piece grafted neck build and also the playwear.



The back is slightly arched in the bowlback-y fashion, with ribs.


Note the pretty flamed maple on some ribs.




The tailpiece is missing one string catch but fortunately the rest are there.

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