c.1910 German Waldzither

While I have no sure set date on this instrument, judging by the build style and tuners, I'd say this probably dates to around 1910 or so. It was almost certainly made in Germany since that's where this type of instrument developed from the Renaissance cittern. Waldzithers ("forest cittern") have 5 courses and are tuned for the most part (low to high) CGCEG which is like a 5-string banjo open tuning raised from G to C. The "drone" (bass side) string, however, is the lowest note on the instrument (same pitch as a mandola's low C), instead. More recently, folks have restrung and retuned these to various iterations of mandolin-influenced instruments but they still sound and perform best in their "native" tuning.

My work on this guy included some fret reseating, leveling, and dressing as well as bridge and nut adjustment, slipped-seam reglues and hairline crack repair/fill/cleating work. It's of course been cleaned and setup to play like a dream as well and has a good straight neck.

What I love about waldzithers is that they're just so different -- one expects a mandolin-type experience and it's there, yet the tonality is more similar to the Portuguese guitar or various wire-strung Renaissance instruments than it is to a modern mandolin of any type. They're a bit more jangly and spidery yet tend to have distinct and precise overtones that let them record very well.

Unlike many, many waldzithers, this one has regular guitar or mandolin-style tuners in a solid headstock. Most of these instruments have the "clock key" tuners that need a special wrench to tune up. This has a rosewood headstock veneer and nut.

The fretboard is rosewood as well and all the frets save one are original. Nice pearl dots in the board, too.

The (original) bridge looks like it was modified several times. After setup, though, it functions just fine. Note that I had to fill-in some of the black lining around the marquetry inlay due to the fact that some of it was damaged or missing.

The scene on the front of this instrument is great! North Africa, here we come, it seems. Note the low placement of the bridge on the body -- this gives the instrument that crisp "German" tone. And, just for reference -- this instrument is roughly the size of a flattop mandola with 16 1/2" scale. This makes it not very useful for modification as an octave mandolin but it can be used effectively as a regular mandola.

Maple binding on the top and back and nice herringbone purfling.

Despite the fact that the back and sides look like rosewood, they're actually faux-painted on typical European maple.

The finish is nice and glossy and thin on the back and sides but shows substantial play and use-wear throughout.

The build is so pretty...

I like the joined headstock and neck. Note that one of these buttons is actually a very similar replacement (period, too) from my parts bin.

Please excuse the more modern (50s) screws, but the original "mounting" was with nails and those simply don't hold up!

An original canvas case came with it.


Daniel said…

I just purchased a mystery mandolin, and I'm trying to determine its age and origin. The tuners are similar to this waldzither, and the headstock has the same exact shape, only shorter in length. The tapiece is also identical, fastened with nails. It has the same Spanish heel, a wood-bound top and unbound back. A clean and simple appearance compared to your featured waldzither, but otherwise it.sharea several characteristics. I would assume it's the same manufacturer and around the same age. Did you ever find out the name of the manufacturer for the waldzither?

Greetings from Sweden!