2012-03-04-Trachselwald (Foto Dietrich Michael Weidmann) 002.JPG
Typical concert (or fretted) zither
String instrument
Classification(Chordophone), String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification314.122-4
(Simple chordophone sounded by hammers)
Typical chord (or fretless) 'guitar zither'

Zither (θ-/;[1] German: [ˈtsɪtɐ]) is a class of stringed instruments.

The word Zither is a German rendering of the Greek word cithara, from which the modern word "guitar" also derives. Historically, it has been applied to any instrument of the cittern family, or an instrument consisting of many strings stretched across a thin, flat body – similar to a psaltery. This article describes the second variety.[1][2][3]

Zithers are played by strumming or plucking the strings, either with the fingers (sometimes using an accessory called a plectrum or pick), sounding the strings with a bow, or, with varieties of the instrument like the santur or cimbalom, by beating the strings with specially shaped hammers. Like a guitar or lute, a zither's body serves as a resonating chamber (sound box), but, unlike guitars and lutes, a zither lacks a distinctly separate neck assembly. The number of strings varies, from one to more than fifty.

In modern common usage the term "zither" refers to three specific instruments: the concert zither (German: Konzertzither), its variant the Alpine zither (both using a fretted fingerboard), and the chord zither (more recently described as a fretless zither or "guitar zither"). Concert and Alpine zithers are traditionally found in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, France, north-western Croatia, the southern regions of Germany and alpine Europe. Emigration from these areas during the 19th century introduced the concert and Alpine zither to North and South America. Chord zithers similar to the instrument in the photograph also became popular in North America during the late 19th and early 20th century. These variants all use metal strings, similar to the cittern.


The word 'zither' is derived from Latin cythara, which was used in this form for the title covers on many 16th and 17th century German printed manuscript books originally for the 'cittern' – from the Greek word kithara, an instrument used in Ancient Greece. The German scholar Michael Praetorius described a small English cittern as a Klein Englisch Zitterlein in his treatise Syntagma Musicum, published during the early 17th century, recording the language consonant shift. It is not fully understood how 'zitter' or 'zither' came to be applied to the instruments in this article as well as German varieties of the cittern. Other types of zither also existed in Germany, mostly drone zithers like the scheitholt (which was mentioned by Praetorius) or hummel, but these generally have their own individual regional names and may have been in use before the introduction into the lexicon of 'cythara' and its German derivative cognate.

The Hornbostel-Sachs system, an academic instrument classification method, also uses the term zither to classify all stringed instruments in which the strings do not extend beyond the sounding box. This includes such diverse instruments as the hammered dulcimer, psaltery, Appalachian dulcimer, guqin, guzheng, tromba marina, koto, gusli, kanun, kanklės, kantele, kokles, valiha, gayageum, đàn tranh, autoharp, santoor, yangqin, santur, swarmandal, and others. Pedal steel guitars, lap guitars (where the neck serves no separate function other than to extend the string length), and keyboard instruments like the clavichord, harpsichord and piano also fall within this broad categorical use.

The word has also been used in conjunction with brand varieties of other string instruments, for example the zither banjo.

Other Languages
asturianu: Cítula
беларуская: Цытра
български: Цитра
Boarisch: Zitha
català: Cítara
čeština: Citera
dansk: Citar
Deutsch: Zither
español: Cítara
euskara: Zitara
فارسی: زیتر
français: Cithare
Gaeilge: Siotar
galego: Cítola
한국어: 치터
हिन्दी: ज़िथर
hrvatski: Citra
Bahasa Indonesia: Zither
italiano: Cetra da tavolo
עברית: ציתר
қазақша: Цитра
latviešu: Cītara
magyar: Citera
Nederlands: Citer
日本語: ツィター
norsk: Siter
norsk nynorsk: Siter
occitan: Citara
polski: Cytra
português: Cítara
română: Țiteră
русский: Цитра
Simple English: Zither
slovenščina: Citre
suomi: Sitra
svenska: Cittra
Türkçe: Zither
українська: Цитра
中文: 齊特琴