The Chinese word (gu) signifies old or ancient, while the term (zheng) refers to a zither which is a sort of instrument with strings strung between two bridges. “Guzheng” refers to a zither having fixed bridges at both ends and moving bridges in the middle. 

The guzheng dates back to before the 6th century BCE in China. The earliest zheng discovered so far is from around 598 BCE. In 1979, it was discovered in Gux County, Jingx Province, Southern China. Scholars disagree on how guzheng came to be. Some claim it was based on a single-board zither, others believe it was based on a bamboo zither, and yet others say it evolved independently. Meng Tian, a general of the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), developed an early guzheng-like instrument. Westerners frequently refer to the guzheng as a Chinese harp. As there is already a Chinese harp, the Knghóu, a guzheng should be referred to as a Chinese zither.

The soundboard or resonating chamber of a harp is perpendicular to the strings, whereas the soundboard of a zither is parallel. The material used to make Chinese instruments helps to classify them (silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, etc.). The sound-producing material appears to have ruled for those constructed of multiple materials. Because the guzheng’s strings were formerly made of silk, it is classified as a silk instrument. The silk category is further subdivided into plucked, struck, and bow-required instruments. The zithers, including the guzheng, are plucked. By western instrument classification, the guzheng is considered as a hetero-chord half-tube zither and it falls into a larger group of chordophone instruments.

Well Decorated

The guzheng is frequently decorated. Carved art, carved lacquer, straw, mother-of-pearl inlays, painting, poetry, calligraphy, shell carving (jade), and cloisonné are frequent among the decorations.

With or without a plectrum, the fingers are used to pluck the guzheng is plucked with the fingers. The plectra, which may be attached to up to four fingers on each hand, is used by the majority of modern players. Bamboo, bone, and animal teeth were used to make ancient picks, or finer materials like ivory, tortoiseshell, and jade. By pushing the strings to the left of the movable bridges, traditional playing methods employ the right hand to pluck notes and the left hand to add ornamentation such as pitch slides and vibrato. On the right side of the strings, modern styles use both hands.

There are many different ways of striking notes. A tremolo is a sound that occurs by rotating the right thumb rapidly around the same note. Harmonics (Fanyin) is another guzheng method that involves plucking a string and tapping it at the same time to produce a note in a higher octave. Moreover, the techniques from other instruments are also useful for playing the guzheng.

What is Lun?

Lun, for example, is a technique that has been adopted from other instruments. Lun creates a tremolo sound similar to the Pipa by plucking on a string with all five fingers. In Northern and Southern China, techniques differ, resulting in diverse sounds and styles. Although the majority of current guzhengs have 21 or more strings, 16 and 18-string guzhengs are still produced. Instruments with 16 metal strings were the most common 100 years ago. Metal strings with a nylon coating were introduced in the 1950s and are now the most popular. Today’s zithers come with anywhere from 12 to 26 strings. Chinese zithers used to be strung with silk and had anything from 5 to 50 strings.