parts and terms

Photo by author from the 3D-Model.

Guzheng Parts and Terminology

Jump to: Top and Body | Head and Side | Underside | Interactive Model | Accessories and Details | Notes

The names of the parts are truly magical. Below are the various synonyms in Mandarin and English and a 3D model you can explore to see how the parts all come together.


Names are taken from Lee/Gresham, Ferguson, Gaywood, Han, and Kao, with synonyms collected as I've encountered them. Different synonyms are popular in different Mandarin-speaking countries, and I bet there are regional differences to boot. I chose the most memorable names to list first (terribly objective and scientific, I know) with a bias towards terms from China. Both simplified and traditional characters are presented as needed. If anyone can provide clearer explanation on where terms came from and which terms are more common where, I'll subdivide the list. Please send me an email! (1)

Top and Body

Parts of a guzheng, numbers 1-8. Diagram by author.

1) Dragon: The top of the instrument or portion by the performer (龙/龍, lóng). 
Also Head (头/頭, tóu), Dragon Head (龙头/龍頭, lóngtóu), Leader (首, shǒu)

2) Phoenix: The bottom of the instrument or portion farthest from the performer (风/鳳, fèng).
Also Tail (尾, wěi), Phoenix Tail (风尾/鳳尾, fèng wěi). 

3) Soundboard: The curving piece of wood underneath the strings (面板, miànbǎn).
Also translated to English as Faceboard.

4) Strings: The silk, metal, or nylon-coated metal threads that stretch above the soundboard (弦, xián).
An older variant was written 絃, with the same meaning and pronunciation. You might also hear english speakers refer to metal strings as wires, or silk strings as threads.

5) (High) Mountains: The general term for the ridges of material at the tail and head of the instrument that act as end points for the strings(岳山/嶽山, yuèshān). (2)
Also Fixed Bridges in English.

6) Mountain Pass: The straight fixed bridge by the performer, at the head of the instrument (山口, shānkǒu). 
Also Front bridge (前梁, qián liáng)  Front (high) Mountain (前岳山/ 前嶽山, qián yuèshān).

7) Rear Bridge: The fixed bridge at the far end of the instrument (后梁/後梁, Hòu liáng)
Also S-Bridge in English, and Rear (High) Mountain (后岳山/後嶽山, hòu yuèshān) (2).

8) Bridges: The roughly triangular/pyramidal supports that lift the strings off the soundboard. (马/馬, mǎ) (3)
Also Moveable Bridge in English, Pillar (柱, zhù), Wild Goose Pillar (雁柱, yàn zhù). 雁 may not be a direct translation, much like 马 above. (琴码/琴碼, qín mǎ), or (码子/碼子, mǎ zi) use the character 码 but I have yet to find a translation I understand. The closest I have gotten is "counter", as in, something that indicates a number, and there are certainly a lot of strings to keep track of.

Head and Side

Parts of a guzheng, numbers 9-12. Diagram by author.

9) Tuning Box: The compartment in the head of the instrument where the tuning pegs are located (调音盒/調音盒, tiáoyīn hé)
Also (String) Tuning Box (调弦盒/調弦盒,  tiáo xián hé).

10) Cover: The cover to the compartment that holds the tuning pegs, and is often used as extra storage space for additional tools (琴盖/琹蓋, qín gài).
Also Box Cover (盒盖/盒蓋, hé gài).  

11) Tuning pins: The metal pins that one end of the strings are wound around; twisting the pins raises and lowers the tension in the strings and therefore, their pitch or tuning (弦轴/弦軸, xián zhóu)
Also Spool (轴/軸, zhóu), String Nail (弦钉/弦釘, xián dīng), (肖子, xiàozǐ) (no translation yet) and reportedly (轸/軫, zhěn) (no translation yet).

12) Side Board: The edge face of the instrument, part of the frame. Often have artwork (边板/邊板, biān bǎn).
Aso Side (舷, xián), more literall y, Side Panel (侧板/側板, cè bǎn)


Parts of a guzheng, numbers 13-18. Diagram by author.

13) Backboard: The back panel of the instrument that helps form the resonating chamber (底板/底板, dǐbǎn).
Also Backboard (背板, bèi bǎn).

14) Sound Holes: The cutouts in the backboard that allow sound to escape from the resonating chamber in the body of the instrument (出音孔, chū yīn kǒng). (4)
Also Sound (Emitting) Hole (发音孔/發音孔, fāyīn kǒng).

15) Dragon Pond: The sound hole under the Dragon end, or head of the instrument (龙池/龍池, lóngchí).
Also Dragon Cave (龙穴/龍穴, lóng xué).

16) Celestial Pond: The sound hole in the center of the backboard (天池, tiānchí).
Also Earth well (地... di tan), and 懸 眼. Reportedly zheng can be hung from the wall by this point.

17) Phoenix Eyes: The curving sound hole found under the Phoenix end, or tail, of the instrument  (风眼/鳳眼, fèng yǎn). Sometimes carved in reflected pairs. Also provides access to one end of the strings.
Also 鳳 沼

18) Feet: The portion under the Dragon or head of the instrument that raises the soundboard of the instrument above any flat surface it is placed on (足, zú).
Also Bottom Foot (底脚/底腳, dǐ jiǎo), (Wild) Goose Foot (雁足, yàn zú).

Interactive Model

Click the picture below to load the model and explore!

Accessories and Details:

  1. Key: The tool used to turn the tuning pins (匙, Shi). The ancient version of this tool looked very much like an ornate door key. Also known as a Tuning Wrench in English.

  2. Stand: The supports on which the instrument is placed to be played (架子, Jiàzi). (5)

  3. String Rest: The extra strip of material running the length of the straight fixed bridge (弦枕, xián zhěn). It protects the fixed bridge from the strings and provides a cleaner sound by creating a uniform and firm end point for the strings' vibrations.

  4. The Hidden Chamber: The empty space in the interior of the instrument (隐间, yǐn jiān). Also know as Resonating Chamber in English.

  5. Lastly, the holes through which the strings pass on the top of the instrument seem to have a variety of names. Some of those names may be dependent on where the holes are. I've seen the more general 絃眼/弦眼 as well as 穿弦孔 for the holes that connect to the tuning pins and 挂弦孔 for the holes that anchor one end of the ends of the strings in the tail. Until I get get clarity on this I won't list out translations and full explanations. If you know something about these, please email me!


(1) Most of the single character-versions of the names can also appear with "zheng" in front, such as "zheng head, zheng tail", etc. That's implied so I've left that out. Both phrasings are correct.

(2) Translations can be really fun. I must confess I don't know if 岳 is being used here as "high" or "highest". I chose "high" because "highest" implies a comparison and I don't know what it's being compared to.

(3) Chinese musicians who play western and traditional instruments agree, "马/馬" means "bridge" in this usage, not "horse". They use the same term for the bridge of bowed western instruments like the violin.

(4) Zheng can have as little as one or as many two dozen sound holes depending on the design. Cheng 1991 claims to have made a zheng with dozens of small holes drilled into the backboard rather than several large cutouts, and I have seen similar instruments for sale with a similar array.

(5) The instrument has been played many ways throughout history. It has been played resting on the ground, resting on the performer's legs, resting on a flat table or resting on stands. 架子 refers to the 2 or 3-piece supports most commonly used for guzheng.