Jiří Kleňha

Hammer Chord Zither
and other zithers of the Chord Zithers family

t the turn of the last century before the days of records, CDs, and radios it was impossible to hear music if youd did not go out especially or made it yourself unless, of course, you were wealthy enough to hire your own private musicians! This led more folk to learn instruments or to sing and many happy evenings  were spent making music.
Of course, not everyone has great musical talents so there were instruments which were easy and quick to learn for those not so blessed. One of those instruments is the chord or American Zither. This differs from the classical zither by having papers to place under the strings with dots indicating the strings to be plucked. The dots are joined by a line which starts with an arrow indicating the direction of the run and marked with numbers to indicate the accompanying chords.   
These zithers come in different sizes, formats and types with single or double melody strings and with or without semitones. The number of harmony strings varied between the different types. A simple version of the basic type is made in Germany till these days.
A technically improved instrument is the hammer chord zither or Fischer´s Mandolinette. So named because the sound of the rapidly repeated hammer strikes on the steel strings can resemble a mandolin. This instrument was made in Germany before the first world war. Some were made that resembled a small piano (the piano harp) or even combination instruments with the chord section of a zither combined with the pedals an bellows of a harmonium. In zither pianinos the keyboard could be removed and the instrument plucked with the fingers. When in use the keyboard was held in place by two pins to stop it sliding about.
Another type - the Violin Harp type used a bow to play the melody with chords strummed in the normal way. The Aeolian Harp zithers had arpeggio chords plus a manual autoharp with wooden manuals which had felt dampers to dampen the sound of unwanted strings.
Mechanical hammer zithers came in many shapes and sizes with or without semitones they all had a range of two octaves and an accompaniment of arpeggiated chords. Even these had papers with foltk notes so that the mucially uneducated could play them.   
Paul Reissner improved this instrument in 1919 so that played on a tape punched full of holes like a barrel organ. This zither TRIOLA was made from 1920-1925.
As times have changed with an increased pace of life singing and playing the zither have been replaced by TV, radio and record player. The character of popular music has changed and folk music is the preserve of the enthusiast. Now these fine instruments have faded into obscurity and most are curious.
The biggest practical problem leading to their decline is the need for continuous tuning of the large number of strings, especially since the characteristic clear and precise sound depends on perfect tuning.
This instrument on which this recording was made has 92 strings and can stay in tune for several hours of continunous play. 
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