Type: Zither > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Pa Yin: Silk 絲.
Specimen: 1 in collection.
Region: Far East Asia.
Description: The zheng or guzheng [in Chinese: 古箏] also known as the ‘Chinese zither’. 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 Chinese 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].