String Instruments Used on the CDs

Bowed String Instruments

violinViolin, the standard bowed four-string instrument, tuned  (thick to thin string) in ascending perfect fifths starting on G below middle C up to  D,  then A and E.  String length is around 13 inches.  Same tuning as the standard mandolin, so the violin and mandolin fingerings are the same.  This instrument was made in 1800.  I bought this from my violin teacher, Charles Treger, who endured my violin playing for six years in college. 

violaViola: the standard bowed four-string instrument, larger than a violin, with string length around 16 inches, and tuned h (thick to thin strings) in ascending perfect fifths from  C below middle C up to G, then D and A.  This is a perfect fifth lower than the violin, and tuned the same as a mandola.  So the viola and mandola fingerings are the same.  This student model instrument was made a few years ago in China. 


Cello: the standard bowed four-string instrument, tuned  (thick to thin strings) in ascending perfect fifths from  C two octaves below middle C up to  G, then up to D and A.  The string length is around 26 inches.  This is an octave below the viola, and tuned the same as the mandocello.  So the cello and mandocello fingering is the same.  This is a student model instrument made in China. 

tenor psaltery Psaltery.  We used a standard psaltery and a tenor psaltery.  They are both chromatic.  The tenor ranges from F to an F two octaves higher.  It's played with a bow.  The natural notes are on the right side and the sharp and flat notes are on the left side.  This instrument came from Elderly Instruments.

Struck or Plucked String Instruments

mandolinMandolin: this one was made by Washburn in the 1920s.  Mandolins have four pairs of strings.  Both strings in each pair are on the same pitch.   Tuned from low to high (thick to thin) G, D, A and E, just like a violin.  So, the mandolin has the same fingering as a violin.  Played with a pick.  I got this in a trade years ago up in Iowa.


Mandola: This one was made in eastern Europe.  It has four pairs of strings.  Both strings in each pair are on the same pitch, like a mandolin.  They are  tuned low-to-high (thick to thin strings) C, G, D and A, just like a viola. String length is around 16 inches. So mandola and viola have the same fingering.  Mandola is played with a pick. 

mandocelloMandocello: This one was recently built in the N.E. part of the U.S. It has four pairs of strings.  Both strings in each pair are on the same pitch.  Low to high (thick to thin) they are tuned C, G, D and A, but an octave lower than the mandola, so same tuning as a cello.  The mandocello as the same fingering as a cello.  String length is around 26 inches.  This instrument is played with a pick.

guitar zither, chromaticChromatic guitar Zither: this instrument was made in Germany.  It has six chords (C, G, F, d minor, a minor, e minor) and two chromatic octaves of melody strings, starting at a C.   This instrument is larger than the diatonic guitar zither I have and the bass end is much better.  My old garage sale buddy  found this at a thrift shop here in town.

Tuning tool

The psalteries, guitar zithers, Austrian zither and autoharp all use the same tuning tool.  I believe that also carries over to the Appalacian Dulcimer, but I don't have one to try it on.

guitar zither, diatonicDiatonic  Zither: this is early 1900s  or before.  It has four chords: C, F, G and a minor, and two diatonic (white keys only) octaves of melody notes beginning at a C.  Neither of these is a real "zither".  A real zither has a fretted area with five strings, and then a collection of  many other accompanyment and bass strings.  My great aunt gave me this instrument when I was in grade school.

hammer dulcimer Hammer Dulcimer: This is a student model built in Bransen, MO by Butterfly.  It is a 12/11 course instrument.  Lowest string is a G.  I have a cheat sheet on the instrument so it's easier to find the notes.  The left bridge splits the strings going over it so that the left (shorter) portion is a perfect fifth higher than the right (longer) portion..... ie, the left portion is 2/3 the length of the right portion.  The right bridge splits the other strings going over it so that the  right portion is two octaves higher than the  left portion.... ie, the right portion is 1/4 the length of the left portion.  The strings going over the left bridge go through holes in the right bridge, and visa versa.

austrian zitherAustrian zither: I need to buy a new set of strings for this one.  It should have five strings over the fret board, and around 26 other strings, I believe, mostly arranged in groups of  three, where each group forms a major chord.  This is the only instrument on this page that we have not used yet on a Christmas CD.  It looks like a very challenging instrument to play.  This one was made in Missouri.

tenor banjoTenor Banjo: an Iida banjo, tuned just like a viola  low-to-high (thick to thin string) is C, G, D and A.  This is just like a viola, or a mandola only the string length is around 22 inches.  So, if you have very big hands  you can finger it like a viola, otherwise, like me, you need to finger it like a cello to avoid  total confusion.  It is played with a pick. 

autoharpAutoharp: This one has 21 buttons and is an old Oscar Schmidt autoharp that I bought on ebay.  The buttons make chords by muting all strings that do not belong in that chord and allowing the others to sound when plucked.  There are three rows of buttons.  These buttons are generally in circle-of-fifths order in each row.  One row generally has major chords, middle row has major seventh chords, and the last row has minor chords.  This rule falls apart at the ends of each row however.  You play with either a felt pick or thumb and finger picks.  It's best to hold the instrument up against you instead of  placing it on a table to play it.  Basically it has a two octave range in the melody area of the instrument, and will handle keys ranging from E-flat to A, if the song doesn't stray too far through the circle of fifths.  I've also seen models having 12, 15 and 18 buttons.  I have a 12 button autoharp but not an Oscar Schmidt.

guitarGuitar:  This is a Honer large body acoustic guitar, made in Korea, I think.  I have used it on a few tracks, in standard tuning.

Wind  Instruments

Mike brought his standard flute and his alto flute, and a soprano recorder and tenor recorders, and we used my alto recorder.


MIDI keyboard, first a caseo five octave keyboard with MIDI IN and MIDI OUT, then a yamaha 88-key keyboard with USB interface.  Some of the MIDI sounds, especially the tubular bells, are produced by the sound card, not the keyboard.  The sound card I was using is a Creative labs PCI-128.

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