Cost of Ownership

So You Want to Buy a Guzheng

Jump to: Instrument | Nails | Tape | Strings | Stands | Seat | Tuner | Case | Humidity Control | Learning Materials | Lessons

I have good and bad news. The good news: getting started with guzheng is cheaper than with just about any other instrument out there. The bad news: it's still a chunk of money. A new player should expect to spend $700 USD on the instrument and related equipment. Lessons add another $1,000-$2,000 USD per year. That's $1,700-$2,700 for the year or $140 - $225 per month for the first year. Equipment costs should almost completely vanish in the second year - $50 for replacement tape, picks, and maybe a string or two.

For context: Beginner guitars and ukuleles are typically cheaper than guzheng while violins and cellos are more. Quality beginner violin packages cost about $1,200 before lessons. Cello packages can easily cost $3,000 before lessons. $700 for a performance-ready guzheng, then, is a great deal. If you are really lucky you can get a used instrument for even less.

Let’s get to it! All price estimates are made in August of 2018 for players in North America.

The Instrument

New - $500-$20,000

Dunhuang Guzheng.jpg

Instruments sold in the United States of America start at about $500 USD. Even the lowest-price ones sound great. A reputable model from a reputable seller will serve you for years. Do pay attention to shipping costs when shopping. Some sellers include shipping in the total price while others charge for it separately. Shipping a guzheng in North America is generally around $100.  

It is also possible to have an instrument shipped from Asia but it's usually more trouble than it is worth. Entry-level models range from $150 USD for instruments you will regret buying to $350 for reasonable versions. Those numbers may sound lower but shipping makes up the difference. An English-Language store in Beijing quotes $205 to ship to the USA from China while a store in Singapore quotes $278 USD. Add that to the $350 purchase price and you’ve already exceeded $500. Shipping delays, customs, and changing import restrictions can add to the headache. It is therefore a wiser choice for a beginner to purchase domestically. 

Mass-market concert-quality guzheng top out at about $5,000. Beyond that you enter the realm of specialty and master-craftsman instruments. The top price for these tends to be about $20,000. For example, the wonderful HKZhengArt currently has a Dunhuang for $18,000 USD while ChineseZither.net has a Mitsuya Koto quoted at $16,800. One-of-a-kind instruments can retail for more but the price has little to do with the sound quality. The most expensive guzheng I have ever seen was accented with gold and jade and sold for ~$128,000 at the Music China 2018 tradeshow. You can always find something more expensive if you know where to look.

But back to students: $1000 is higher than any new student should pay. Anything above $1,000 is a jaw-dropping luxury. It's the equivalent of getting a convertible for a student driver. Great if you can afford it but entirely unnecessary. I know musicians who have performed for decades on mid-level instruments. Any quality guzheng, even entry-level instruments in the $500 range will provide personal enjoyment for decades as long as they are cared for properly. $800 instruments will wow and amaze. 

If you do wish to purchase something more expensive, please do! They are works of art that are meant to be shared and enjoyed. Just make sure you are buying them because you want to, not because you feel you have to in order to play well.

Used - $200-$800

Finding a guzheng on the used market in North America is all about location and luck. Major websites such as eBay, Craigslist, and Kijiji average 2-3 used guzheng a month, country-wide. Facebook Marketplace seems to have more, with 5 active the day of this writing (NY, CA, DE, WA). Many are priced close to what you would pay for a new instrument so weigh potential savings against the risks of buying used. Guzheng are more commonly found for sale on the coasts but a few pop up every year in the interiors. It is possible to find a damaged but playable instrument for around $200 if you are patient. Increase your budget to $400 -$500 and you'll have better luck.

$350, $450, and $800 USD are common prices for instruments. Use our Buy Used guide to help negotiate price. Read listings carefully and discuss price with the seller. I've seen factory-fresh instruments listed as '"antique" and 25-year-old war horses with obvious body damage listed as "like new".

I put the top of the used range at $800 because I do not recommend buying a used instrument for more if it is your first. $800 can get you a very nice new instrument from a quality brand without the risks of hidden problems - or the risk of getting fooled into paying more than an instrument is worth. High-end instruments do occasionally come up for sale but they are rare. I’ve seen 4 high quality guzheng for sale in the last 18 months (Feb 2019). Everything else priced above $800 was, by my estimate, over priced.

Buying used can save you money and is great for the community and the environment, but remember that students need support. Support can come from members of the community or through the staff of a quality store. If you have contacts in the guzheng community then buying used is wonderful. If you don’t know anyone, buying from a store means you can go to them for help.

Rentals - ~$600/year

Rentals are a great way to check a student's interests. Rent a guzheng for a few months and if you or your child are still interested, go ahead and buy one. From what I've seen stores and some teachers ask about $50 USD per month. Rent for a year and you'll spend as much as it would cost to buy your own. I like to think of it this way: if you commit to play the instrument for one year, you've given yourself a budget of $600. Buy an instrument for that much. At the end of the year you can keep playing for free or resell it to get a little money back and pass the joy on to someone else.

Other Costs of Ownership

Nails

Plastic guzheng nails.jpg

1st year cost: $0-$12

Nails, picks, or plectra, as they are called, are the next thing to get after purchasing an instrument. Any hard material can be used to make nails though different materials provide different sounds. The best nails are solid and rigid. The go-to materials used to be plastic, resin, and metal. A type of turtle shell came into vogue a few decades ago but unsustainable hunting drove the turtles near extinction. It's better for the future of guzheng players and for the environment to use other materials while the turtle population regrows. Plastics, resins, stone, bone, bamboo, and metal are all options. Read more about nail materials here.

Nails range from less than $0.75 USD per nail to $5.00 or more. That is a range of $6-40 USD total for the 8 picks needed to cover both hands. Instruments are often sold with a basic set of nails - thin plastic sets that are very similar to guitar picks. These are fine for new players and can last children for years. In fact, if you ever lose one of these you can fashion a replacement out of a guitar pick. 

Higher quality nails tend to be thicker with more care given to their shape. They can include tapered edges, curved surfaces, and sculpted indentations for your fingers. Read more about nail shapes here.

An intermediate set of thick plastic nails should cost about $12 USD.

Tape

1st year: $12

Guzheng Tapes.jpg

Tape is used to attach the nails to fingers. You'll want a breathable tape with an adhesive that doesn't bother your skin. Cloth tapes are common though other forms of tape can work. A good place to start is with guzheng or pipa tape from an online music store. A single roll should be about $1-2 before shipping. Woven First Aid or medical tape from a pharmacy may work as well.

You'll typically want lengths of 2.5 to 4 inches per finger. Assuming you tape four fingers every week, a 5-meter roll of tape will last about 8 weeks.

Strings

1st year: $0-$30

Guzheng Strings.jpg

Strings can last for years. If one happens to break you can order a replacement for $1.50-$3 USD. Complete sets range from $30-$70. String quality has a large impact on instrument sound so buy the best strings you can afford. Most new instruments come with several replacement strings as part of their purchase price. 

Purchase "Type B" strings. They are an improvement over the older standard string, Type A. Most modern instruments are built for Type B strings and the higher tension they require. “Type C” strings are used for diatonic tunings which beginners don't need to worry about.

Stands

1st year: $0 (or $30 or $60)

Folding Guzheng Stands.jpg

Stands are typically included with instruments both new and old. If you do need a set you can expect to pay $60 for a two-piece set like those pictured or $100 or more for a 3-piece stand. Two piece stands are folding legs that support each end of the instrument. 3-piece stands are made of two vertical supports that are held in place by a crosspiece. 2-piece stands are more portable, while 3-piece stands are more stable and look fancier. Guzheng stands usually position the head of the instrument higher than the tail, encouraging better posture for left-hand techniques.

An alternative to purpose built guzheng stands are keyboard stands. X-brace keyboard stands sell for $30-$60 USD and are more adjustable and easier to find than guzheng stands. They can be adjusted to fit your personal height preference, especially valuable if you have long legs. Just make sure the stand you want to purchase can support your instrument in the right places at the right height. Be mindful of the stand’s stability.

X-brace stands are often used to allow a performer to play while standing up, but this can place the supports too close to the center of the instrument, making it wobble during play. Other types of keyboard stands can be used in the place of guzheng stands. Just make sure they are the right height, width, and depth for your instrument. You may need to add felt or cloth rests to protect the bottom of your guzheng.

Seat

1st year: $0

Special stools can be purchased but they aren't needed. Most players use whatever chair is available. Use one from around your house or go to a second-hand store to find a chair or stool you like sitting on. The most important thing is to make sure you sit in an ergonomic position with proper posture when you play. The chair should be high enough that your feet are flat on the floor and your thigh bones are parallel to the ground or sloping slightly downward towards your knees. Padded seats can make longer practice sessions far more enjoyable.

Tuner

1st year: $0-$20

Guzheng+Tuners.jpg

Simple tuners are often included in new instrument purchases. They can also be purchased separately. Any guitar tuner that can distinguish between natural and sharp notes will work. There are also a variety of free tuning apps available for smartphones. Specialty guzheng tuners can be purchased for $5-$20 USD.

Case

1st year: $0-$60.

Green Guzheng Case.jpg

Most new instruments come with a soft case. If yours didn't, buy one. Cases protect your guzheng and make it easy to carry. Soft cases are essentially fabric and won't offer much protection from collisions but will keep out dust. They range from $50-$70 and can be made waterproof. Hard cases offer full protection but can be heavier and larger than the instrument. Hard cases are difficult to find in North America. I know of only two retailers that have hard cases for sale: a full-weight case for $500 and a fiberglass case for $700.

As of May 2019:  I’ve also seen cases for sale from shippers in China. English-language Alibaba has a fiberglass case for $350 (including shipping) and AliExpress has a standard hard case for $250 (including shipping). Chinese language site Tmall had a standard case for $170 including shipping “overseas” and fiberglass cases for $300-400, shipping not included.

I know this is as much as a beginner’s instrument. If you don’t expect to travel much a soft case will be fine. If you are traveling you should invest in a padded hard case.

Humidity Control

1st year: $60 plus cost of water and electricity

When the cold weather comes you will need a humidifier to keep your guzheng from cracking and a hygrometer to measure the humidity in the air. You can read more in the Care and Maintenance page. Budget around $60 USD for a humidifier and hygrometer.

Learning Materials

1st year: $0-$40

There are many options available to you. There are video lessons and training materials available online in English for free. The Chinese-language guzheng websites have loads more. 

A book of lessons will typically cost you from $5-$20 USD. Any given book could give you enough for several months to several years depending on how quickly you work through it and how much the book has. Some teachers ask you to purchase a book to learn alongside lessons while others may provide the learning materials for free. Every person’s final cost will vary.

Lessons

1st year: $1500-$2500

Learning with an actual teacher provides more information and yields better outcomes than self-learning alone. Self learning is great! But a single lesson with a teacher can be worth several hours of personal trial and error. It can also prevent you from developing posture and technique problems that you have to overcome later. That said, lessons are the largest cost of playing the guzheng. Your best bet is to find the balance of lessons and self-learning that work for you.

The estimate that a year of lessons costs $1500-$2500 assumes a weekly lesson of between $30 and $50 per week for 48 weeks. That leaves 4 weeks left over for vacations, busy schedules, and the like. To spread your budget you could take lessons every two weeks and fill in the time with extra practice and self study. You can also look for group lesson discounts to defer the cost among several students. An increasing number of teachers are offering video lessons as well - perhaps you could work out a mix of in-person lessons and video checkups. Discuss your particular balance with your teacher. In my estimate at the top of the page I drop the numbers to $1,000-$2,000 as most students go less than 48 times per year. (Summer trips, school conflicts, etc.)

And there you have it! If you have any questions about these numbers or any of the topics mentioned feel free to send an email below.