1930s German-made Waldzither

The thing about waldzithers is that almost no one on this side of the Atlantic plays them in their natural tuning and that is a shame because that's the tuning they shine in. They're tuned CGCEG low to high with the low C the same as a mandola's and the high G a step below mandola or mandolin's A. The intervals are thus similar to a 5-string banjo if the drone string (the low C) was actually a note pitched at the "root." It's my understanding that this low C was used as a drone for the most part -- which makes sense as it's a single string rather than paired like the "playing" strings.

The lovely bit about this waldzither is that it's owned by a banjo player and so he does keep it in its natural tuning. As you can hear in the soundclip -- it's a beautiful tone! So, that makes me happy.

My vague history-lesson on the waldzither is that it's a folk-ified version of the Renaissance cittern/English guitar and evolved out of that mold into their modern form the same way that Portuguese guitars did. "Standard tuning" for cittern was (as I recall?) an open C chord almost like Dobro's open G intervals -- CEGCEG low to high. Can you see how that would've been easy to get to this tuning from? The (obnoxious) low E string is simply lopped-off. I never like a root to a third on the low side in open tunings, myself. A capo lets you get into other keys nice and easy, too.

My work on this one was just a fret level/dress, minor adjustment to the bridge, side dots, some seam repairs, a new bone nut (it had an ailing zero-fret setup), and a good setup. It plays with 1/16" action at the 12th fret -- spot on -- and has an essentially-straight neck. I strung it lighter than it was to help that neck out, too -- gauges are 40w, 26w/26w, 18w/18w, 13/13, 9/9.

Old repair work and the cool inlay at the headstock was done previously by a Mr. David Hynds in France.

I've made use of the close spacing at the tailpiece to allow ball-end stringing as I didn't have loop-end singles in the right gauges on-hand.


Nick R said…
My probable M & H mandolin from the same era has what I think is hornbeam as the back wood and the sides are probably sycamore. What is this Waldzither made from? My mandolin has a slothead and that Embergher style snout- which is probably not the correct term for it! Anyway, it's good to know the instrument has an appreciative owner that does what it is meant to do with it! My mandolin was sold to me by someone that said he had a bequest of 76 instruments! I have not seen any others for sale as of yet. My guitar/mandolin man asked "Did he have a trombone in that lot?" which kind of dates him- and me, as I knew he was referring to The Music Man.
tim gueguen said…
The headstock makes me think of Ovation's headstock. I wonder if Charlie Kaman might have seen one of these. He was of the right age to have seen them when they were new.
Oscar Stern said…
Optima makes Silver Platted Copper Wound Waldzither Strings which are less likely to tarnish than Bronze strings. Yes the tuning is the same as a 5 string Banjo w/ a capo on the 5th fret & the 5th string (which is still the Root note of the Chord) is 2 Octaves lower than normally. It's also the same tuning as a Banjeaurine & Banjoists will have alot of fun w/ the Waldzither.