Tag Archives: Fretless



Name: Komuz.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.5
Specimen: 1 in collection.
Country: Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang China [Turkestan].
Region: Central Asia.

Description: The komuz is a three stringed, fretless long necked lute. The back of the instrument is slightly vaulted at a minimum angle. It is related to the Azeri gopuz and Turkish kopuz. A unique feature in the tuning of the komuz is that the middle or centre string is tuned the highest strings the second and third strings are usually tuned either in fourths, fifths. During the soviet era, frets in the 12-tone chromatic scale were added.

Komuz Tunings
Names Tunings

Construction: Typically the komuz has a pear shaped body, it is carved from apricot or juniper wood, with a skin membrane or wooden sound table. The strings are traditionally of gut or nowadays nylon [or occasionally metal pass over a loose adjustable bridge to a tailpiece. Originally wooden tuning pegs would be used, although mechanical guitar tuners are common place.

Citations: Bibliography: Table 1. Komuz Tunings ~Kirgiz  Instrumental Music by Mark Slobin, New York, Society for Asian Music 1969 Library of Congress No 70-93475 ; Websites: Komuz / Grove Music Online ;

Mandolin Harp

Name: Mandolin Harp.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Box > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Inventor: Friederich Menzenhauer [1858-1937].
Patent Date: May 29, 1894
Country: Germany, United States.
Region: Western Europe & North America.

Description: A mandolin harp is a fretless box zither. This musical instrument consists of a sound box with two sets of unstopped strings. It has a double strings tuned in unison courses producing a mandolin-like sound then other zithers. As it is a fretless zither, there are no frets. Making it such that players can only play one note on each string.

Invention: The mandolin harp was first patented by Friedrich Menzenhauer on May 29, 1894 and came into use in the late 19th century. It was then mass produced in the United States and Germany. Later, Oscar Schmidt Company and others began mass producing the mandolin harp.

The Phonoharp Company used “Columbia Zither” as both a brand name and a generic name for the instrument as seen in the Sears 1902 Catalog. A unique feature called a gizmo, contained small buttons in a panel over the strings. This was present on many mandolin harps however, some mandolin harps may not have one.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites: This Just In! Mandolin Harp / Historical Museum ;

Fretless Guitar [Vassant Rai]

Name: Fretless Guitar.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Guitars > Modified.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.5
Inventor: Vassant Rai [b. 1942 d. 1985]
Tuning: B / F# / B / F# / B / E
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: This particular approach to the concept of the fretless-guitar modification was invented by Vassant Rai. Unlike the scalloped guitar the fingerboard of the classical guitar was removed and a metal plate from a sarode has been glued on . One can use the same strings as a classical guitar.

Tuning: Vassant Rai tuned his modified guitar by keeping first two bottom strings of the highest pitch being the B string and E strings. The G string is lowered to a half step to F# [म shuddha ma]. In the following order the fourth, fifth and sixth strings are tuned to B / F# and B.

Playing Techniques: The use of the this type of any fretless guitar can be utilized to achieve the techniques fundamental to Hindustani [North Indian Classical Music] such as the use of meend [glissando], murki ornamentations. [Authors input] Alternatively one can achieve this modification by the use of a commercially available fretless guitar such as the “fretless Godin model” or have the frets removed by yourself or have a professional luthier do this modification for you. Either way, you would be able to achieve this style of playing on a fretless guitar.

Citations: Websites: Youtube: Vassant Rai performing Alap in Raag Darbari Kanada, 1981 ;


Name: Ukelin.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Box > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.6
Patent No#: 1,579,780 Paul F. Richter, 1924
Country: United States.
Region: North America.

Description: The ukelin is a bowed zither with multiple number of strings made popular in the 1920s. It is meant to be a hybrid of the violin and ukulele.

History: The history of the ukelin is hard to trace, since there were several instruments resembling the ukelin that were produced in the 1920s. Paul F. Richter filed the first known ukelin patent in December 1924, it was granted in April 1926. The Phonoharp Company, which merged with Oscar Schmidt, Inc.

Due to the issue of overlapping patents the it is unclear as to the confirmation of the inventor. The patent that was filed by John Large, was not granted until after Richter’s patent had already been given. Another similar instrument had a patent filed by Walter Schmidt in 1925. Because of these patents filed one after the other it is unclear who really invented the first ukelin.

Citations: Websites: Google Patents “Stringed Musical Instruments, US 15797800 A” ; The Ukelin and Related Instruments ; Smithsonian Encyclopedia / Ukelin ; Ukulin / Hoboken Historical Museum – Online Collections Database ;


Name: Autoharp.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Box > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Country: USA.
Region: North America.

Description: The autoharp is a musical instrument that is a fretless box zither. Two rows or flanges mounted at each side of the autoharp above the top sound board. A pair of two flanges usually of a hard plastic contains a grove for each bar. The bars are inserted side by side. The bars function as dampers when they are strummed to to produce a chord. Although the keys are arranged in a diatonic manner. Notes or chords in sharps [#] or flats [b] can be played by plucking the chords individually from the bars on either side of the autoharp.

The term autoharp has colloquially come to be used for any hand-held, chorded zither, regardless of manufacturer. Autoharps are usually strung in a chromatic manner.

History: The exact origin of the autoharp is debated. A German immigrant in Philadelphia, US, Charles F. Zimmermann, was awarded US 257808 in 1882 for a design for a musical instrument that included mechanisms for muting certain strings during play.

He named his invention the “autoharp”. Unlike later autoharps, the shape of the instrument was symmetrical and the felt-bearing bars moved horizontally against the strings instead of vertically. It is not known if Zimmermann ever commercially produced any instruments of this early design.

Karl August Gütter of Markneukirchen, Germany, built a model that he called a “Volkszither”, which most resembles the autoharp played today. Gütter obtained a British patent for his instrument circa 1883–1884. Zimmermann, after returning from a visit to Germany, began production of the Gütter design in 1885 but with his own design patent number and name. Gütter’s instrument design became very popular and Zimmermann has often been misnamed as the inventor.

A stylized form of the term autoharp was registered as a trademark in 1926. The word is currently claimed as a trademark by the U.S. Music Corporation, whose Oscar Schmidt division manufactures autoharps. The USPTO registration, however, covers only a “Mark Drawing Code – Words, Letters and or Numbers in Stylized Form” and has expired. In litigation with George Orthey, it was held that Oscar Schmidt could only claim ownership of the stylized lettering of the word autoharp, the term itself having moved into general usage.

Construction: The body of the autoharp is made of a rectangular frame of wood with a corner cut off. On top of the autoharp the soundboard often features a sound hole, The wood used is either solid or laminated. A pin-block of multiple laminated layers of wood occupies the top and slanted edges. The pin-block serves as a bed for the tuning pins, which resemble those used in pianos and concert zithers. On the edge opposite the top pin-block is either a series of metal pins, or a grooved metal plate, which accepts the lower ends of the strings.

Directly above the strings, on the lower half of the top. The chord bars, which are made of plastic, wood, or metal and support felt or foam pads on the side facing the strings. These bars are mounted on springs and pressed down with one hand, via buttons mounted to their topside. The buttons are labeled with the name of the chord produced when that bar is pressed against the strings, and the strings strummed. The back of the instrument usually has three wooden, plastic, or rubber “feet”, which support the instrument when it is placed backside down on a table top, for playing in the traditional position.

Citations: Bibliography: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Electronic Search System, May 25, 2009 – Orthey, Mary Lou 2001 ; Autoharp Owner’s Manual, p. 3. ISBN 0-7866-5883-5 Websites: Google Patents ~ Charles F. Zimmerman, Philadelphia US 257808 1882 ;

Guitar Zither

Name: Guitar Zither.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Box > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Inventor: Friederich Menzenhauer [1858-1937]
Country: Germany.
Region: Continental Europe & North America.

Description: The guitar zither also called a chord zither, fretless zither, mandolin zither or harp zither. First patented May 29, 1894 by Friederich Menzenhauer [1858-1937]. The guitar zither came into use in the late 19th century and was widely mass-produced in the United States and in Germany by Menzenhauer and later by Oscar Schmidt Inc., the Phonoharp Company and others.

Tunings: One set of strings is tuned to the diatonic, chromatic, or partially chromatic scale and the other set is tuned to make the various chords in the principal key of the melody strings.

Construction: It is a musical instrument consisting of a sound-box with two sets of unstopped strings.

Citations: Bibliography: Kelly Williams, May 11, 2003 “Background of the Guitar-Zither” ; The Guitar-Zither Clearinghouse ; Terminology on the “guitar-zither” [patented by Menzenhauer], “chord zither” ; referred guitar-zither, appeared in The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments and The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instrument] and “chorded zither” ; Websites ; Gregg Miner & Kelly Williams July 2011 ; “Selecting the Term”. Fretless Zithers ; Andreas Michel. “Harp zither”. In Deane L. Root. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press ;


Name: Guzheng.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Long > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Bayin: 絲 Silk.
Specimen: 1 in collection.
Country: China.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The zheng or guzheng [in Chinese: 古箏 zheng] it is a Chinese plucked string instrument with a more than 2,500-year history. Originally believed to have been invented during the Qin Dynasty [897-221 BC] and new evidence has shown that the zheng may even be older [in Mandarin the prefix “gu” means “antiquity”].

The guzheng is ancestral to several other Asian zithers, such as the Japanese koto, the Korean gayageum, Mongolian yatga, and the Vietnamese đàn tranh. The guzheng should not be confused with the guqin, another ancient Chinese zither without moveable bridges.

History: An early guzheng emerged during the Warring States period [475–221 BC] largely influenced by the se. It became prominent during the Qin dynasty [221–206] and by the Tang Dynasty [618–907 AD].

The guzheng may have been the most commonly played instrument in China. He guzheng was originally developed from a bamboo-tube zither according to the Shuowen, but this came to be replaced by a larger curved wooden board with movable bridges.

Playing Techniques: Guzheng players often wear fingerpicks, made from materials such as ivory, tortoiseshell, resin or hard plastic, on one or both hands. Ancient picks were made of ivory and, later, of tortoiseshell. Musical ornamentation includes a tremolo, with the left thumb and index finger rapidly plucking the same note.

Another common ornamentation is a wide vibrato, achieved by repeatedly pressing the string to the left of the bridge with the left hand. Modern compositions and playing techniques are being being explored for use with the zheng in performance. Unconventional playing techniques include the use of a violin bow to achieve other timbre and tone during performance.

Construction: The Guzheng has 16 [or more] strings and movable bridges. The modern guzheng usually has 21 strings, and is 64 inches [1,600 mm] long. It has a large, resonant cavity made from wutong wood [Firmiana simplex].

Citations: Bibliography: Han, Mei – Zheng – In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell [Oxford, 2001] ; Kaufmann, Walter [1976] Musical References in the Chinese Classics – Detroit Monographs in Musicology; Harmonie Park Press P. 101 ;

Mi Gyaung

Name: Mi Gyaung.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Long > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Tuning: F / C / F
Country: Myanmar [Burma].
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The mi gyaung [in Burmese: မိကျောင်း [mḭ dʑáʊɴ] or kyam [in Mon: ကျာံ, /cam/; pronounced “chyam”]. This musical instrument is a crocodile-shaped fretted, plucked zither with three strings that is used as a traditional instrument in Burma. It is associated with the Mon people. It is similar to the Thai jakhe and the Cambodian krapeu [takhe].

Construction: The instrument’s body is made of wood that is carved out on the underside like a dugout canoe. It has approximately 13 raised wooden frets that are diatonically spaced; rather than equidistantly or chromatically spaced. It has a carved crocodile’s head and tail, as well as four legs. The lowest string is made of brass and the two higher strings are made from nylon.

It is plucked with a short rod-shaped plectrum that tapers to a point, made of horn or hardwood. Unlike the Thai jakhe, the plectrum is not tied onto the right index finger, but instead simply held in the hand. Tremolo technique is often used. The instrument has a buzzing sound because the strings are raised just off the flat bridge by a sliver of bamboo or other thin material such as plastic.

Citations: Bibliography: Terry E. Miller 2008; Thailand. The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. Routledge. p. 130 ; Websites:


Name: Chakhe.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Long > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Tuning: C / G / C
Country: Thailand, Cambodia.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The chakhe [in Thai: จะเข้, pronounced t͡ɕā.kʰêː] also jakhe or ja-khe, or krapeu [in Khmer: ក្រពើ; also called takhe, Khmer: តាខេ, takhe, takkhe or charakhe]. It is is a fretted long zither or lute that is played while the musician and the instrument are on the floor. Having three strings it is used in Thai and Khmer music. The Thai and the Khmer instrument are virtually identical.

Construction: It is made of hardwood in a stylized crocodile shape and is approximately 20 cm high and 130–132 cm long. The “head” portion is 52 cm in length, 28 cm in width and 9–12 cm deep; the “tail” portion 81 cm long and 11.5 cm wide. It has eleven chakhe [raised frets] or twelve krapeu that are made of bamboo, ivory, bone or wood, graduated between 2 cm and 3.5 cm in height which are affixed to the fretboard with wax or glue. Its highest two strings are made of silk yarn, catgut or nylon while the lowest is made of metal. They are tuned C / G / c. The instrument is usually supported by three or five legs.

Citations: Bibliography: Terry E. Miller; Sam-Ang Sam 1995 ; The Classical Musics of Cambodia and Thailand: A Study of Distinctions. p. 232 ; Terry E. Miller 2008 “Thailand” – The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. Routledge. p. 130 ; Sam-Ang Sam 2008 ; “The Khmer People of Cambodia”. The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. Routledge. p. 95 ;