Guzheng Types

Pictures of guzhengs across time. A useful visual reference.


Guzheng Varieties

Source: Guzheng(s) by bmeabroad, used under BY-NC-SA 2.0

You'll find the 21-string guzheng everywhere you search for 古筝 but there's more to the story. Many variants have been pushed, pulled, theorized and discussed. Here are some of those versions. The Other Zithers page has instruments that you might think area  guzheng but actually aren't. And if you know of one we've missed, Email G筝A and we'll add them.

Images on this page are used under Creative Commons licenses or under Fair Use provisions of the respective government's copyright laws unless otherwise noted.

The Historical:

The Modern:

Steel Strings - Taiwanese Zheng

The guzheng developed on its own path in Taiwan due to a policy of limited interaction between the conflicting groups after 1950. That meant the 1965 S-bridge guzheng with 21 nylon strings didn't make it over until much later. Below are some examples of the types of zhengs that were created on the island during that time.

Steel Strings - Hong Kong Zheng

Below are two 18-string, Steel zheng from Hong Kong. While not the only type of zheng in Hong Kong, they offer a wonderful example of the step between 16 and 21 strings. 


Modulated Zhengs

Pre-1984 modulated zheng. Source: Royal Museum of Art and History, Brussels, Belgium

During the instrument reforms of the 20th century instrument makers tried to address issues musicians had with their instruments. One issue was the need to reposition bridges to switch to a different key. It's a time consuming action that must either be done between songs or by having multiple zhengs involved in a performance. What if key changes could be faster? Enter the Modulated Zheng. Various mechanisms were added to the head of the instrument to change the pitch of multiple strings all at once. One common method was to change the tension of the strings.

Unfortunately the mechanisms made the instruments heavier, increased their maintenance costs, were more complicated to produce, and had the unfortunate side effect of detuning the instrument overtime. While significant development occurred through the 1970s the modulated zhengs fell behind the 21-string guzheng in terms of popularity. I've found one for sale in California but otherwise they are relatively rare. Why pay more money for a heavier instrument that has its own complications when you can buy a simpler instrument with better sound for less?

Timeline of Modulated Zhengs:

Work continued. Just as a Celtic lap harp has one place in society and a pedal-actuated concert harp has another, instrument designers saw an opportunity in the world of zhengs. Perhaps the advantages of mechanical modulation could justify additional weight and complexity. And so were made:

Pedal-Modulated Zhengs

Worthy of its own mini-timeline is the pedal-modulate zheng. Inspired by western concert harps, zheng makers attempted to add the harp's range and techniques to the humble zheng. Pedal-zhengs stood on special pedestals instead of stands. Mechanisms hidden in the pedestal and head of the zheng would change the tension on the strings, shifting their pitch. This sped up the process of adjusting the zheng's tuning, and models with increased string counts and diatonic tunings were created to emphasize those gains. Unfortunately, the tuning mechanism would shift the movable bridges overtime, ultimately requiring a laborious re-tuning process. Here are some examples:

Expanded Zhengs

Modern Varieties

The S-Bridge is not the only tail bridge used in modern guzheng and strings are not limited to 21. There are modern instruments made with 18, 23, 26, and other string counts in production; there are C bridges, diagonal bridges, and separated bridges where different groups of strings terminate at different points. Below are examples of a few. These are all modern instruments. Most are from companies' websites or trade shows. There are many permutations.


Novelty Instruments

Here are a few grand creations that offer quite a sight!

And there's the sample. If you have photos of instruments you'd like to see on here, please send in an email!