Everything about bowed zithers

Bowed zithers…don’t know what I talk about?

A zither is a chordophone whose strings are stretched all along the sound box. We find crate zithers, tubular zithers, stick zithers…the strings are often plucked or hit, but some can be played with a bow, and we’ll see it!

The main problem for a bowed instrument is to play strings one by one. The citharists found three solutions:


The solution on violins and other bowed instruments with more than two strings, the bridge is curved to allow the bow to pass on each string without rubbing the others.

On this zither, the box shrinks to allow the movement of the bow. I didn’t found a video with this zither, if you have one I take!

The ajaeng is a korean zither with curved bridge and mobile bridges on the other side. The left hand plays with string tension, the right hand rubs the strings, originally with a wooden stick, but now musicians prefer the horsehair bow.

The Tower (“Torre“) is a creation by Uakti, a rotating tubular zither, for a unique sound!


The bowed psaltery is a quite recent instrument but adopted by medieval musicians, the triangular form allows to reach each string with a bow on a few centimeters.

The violin zither is a double instrument, one hand plays the bowed part, the other plays already grouped chords for an easier playing.

The ukelin is an instrument from early 1900’s in the USA, the compact version of the violin zither. promoted as an easy and accessible instrument, it is rather difficult to play it properly.


The bowhammer is a creation by Michael Masley, wooden bows with rosin, to strike and to rub the strings, really ingenious!

Do not hesitate to complete the list in the comments, I will add my own prototypes soon! And suscribe!

About Nicolas Bras 16 Articles
Homemade Instrument maker, rare and strange instrument seeker / Bricoleur d'instruments, chercheur d'instruments rares


  1. Not all zithers have a sound box! The japanese koto is a prime example, also harfen zither + e bow makes some pretty amazing sounds!

  2. You say that bowed psaltries date to the middle ages – do you have documentation for that? I’ve been trying to trace the history of the bowed psaltry, and most of my references say it only dates to the 17 or 1800s.

Leave a comment