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zither (zĭthˈər), stringed musical instrument, derived from the psaltery and the dulcimer. It has a flat sound box over which are stretched from 30 to 45 strings; these are plucked with the fingers and a plectrum. In the 18th cent. one or both sides began to be curved to produce greater sonority. The term zither is also used generically for various instruments, including the dulcimer, the psaltery, and several Asian instruments. The dulcimer in use in the Kentucky mountains is, in fact, a zither.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a stringed instrument played by plucking. The zither has an irregularly shaped flat wooden body. Two sides of the soundboard, one long and one short, form a right angle; opposite them lie a convex and a concave side. Along the long straight side is a fretted fingerboard over which are stretched four or five metal strings that are plucked with a plectrum worn on the thumb of the right hand. Beyond the fingerboard are 25 to 40 gut strings, which are played with the remaining fingers of the right hand. The zither was known in several ancient countries and had a different number of strings. The zither has been known in Western Europe since the late 18th century and was especially popular in 19th-century Germany and Austria. The instrument appeared in Russia in the second half of the 19th century.


Iodko, V. Tsitra. Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk i opisanie instrumenta. Moscow, 1914.
Modr, A. Muzykal’nye instrumenty. Moscow, 1959. Pages 56–58.
Brandlmeier, J. Handbuch der Zither. Munich [1963].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a plucked musical instrument consisting of numerous strings stretched over a resonating box, a few of which may be stopped on a fretted fingerboard
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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