Sound of Asia
Frequent Asked Questions

    1.       Where are guzheng made?

    A:  Currently there are four major places that are making guzhengs in China.  
    Xi'an, Shanghai, Yangzhou, and Henan.  Each place has its unique method of
    making, and the tones of the guzhengs are distinctive from each other.

    Xi'an guzhengs, represnted by Scarlet Bird brand of Xi'an Music
    Conservatory, are known for their superb bass and robust volume.  A glorious
    sound that only grand piano can compare.

    Shanghai guzhengs, represnted by Dunhuang brand and its affiliation, are
    known for their sweetness and brightness.

    Yangzhou guzhengs, represented by 3 big brands, Tianyi, Long Feng, Jinyun,
    are known for their diversity.  Among them, Tianyi guzhengs offer the most
    versatility, while Jinyun guzhengs offer the most pureness, and Long Feng
    guzhengs provide an ancient tone.

    Henan Guzhengs, represented by Zhongzhou brand, are similar to Shanghai
    guzhengs but softer in tone.

    There are also two master makers that are making guzhengs in Taiwan.  One
    is Taichung's Master Ji.  Master Ji has over 50 years of experience in making
    guzheng from ther earlier steel-stringed to the current 21-nylon-stringed.  His
    guzheng sounds very full like Scarlet Bird's, yet each string is more refined
    and pure with a deep and warm traditional character.  Another one is
    Kaohsiong's  Master Chai.  He is know for his scientific measurement of all
    the guzheng construction parts.  His instrument has a very precise tone.

    2.        How are the sound boards dried? And what's the effect on
    the sound?

    A:  There are 3 different drying methods that are adopted by the guzheng
    factories, 100% natural air-drying, oven drying, and flame drying.

    Xi'an Scarlet Bird brand guzhengs, some Yangzhou brands and some Henan
    brands use 100% air-drying method.  It requires wood to expose to natural air
    for at least 1 yr after it's cut.  The result is a warm wood tone that no others
    can compare.  The color of the sound board retains the natural wood color in
    light yellow.

    Shanghai guzhengs are famous for their oven-drying method.  The sound
    board is in brown in color.  It puts sound boards in a big heating oven with
    humidity control.  The result of this method offers a crispy and sweet tone that
    many people fall in love with right away.  

    Yangzhou guzhengs are known for their flame-drying method.  This uses a
    fire gun directly flame the sound boards and yields a charcoal or dark gray
    color board.  It is the most cost-effective method, since the board can be
    dried in just a few hours.  However, the sound of flame-dried boards are
    rather thin and metallic.  The top layer cells of the wood are basically killed
    using flame-drying.  Most Yangzhou brands use this drying method except
    custom orders.

    3.        How to determine the quality of a guzheng soundboard?

    A:  Soundboard is the most important factor that determines the sound quality
    of a guzheng.  Soundboard is the media that transmit the sound wave into the
    sound box.  Therefore, the quality of the soundboard is really important for a
    guzheng instrument.  Most guzhengs have paulownia as the sound board.  
    Although some innovative makers start using spruce for the sound boards,
    most makers still use paulownia as the sound boards.  “Sound of Asia
    distinguishes the quality of paulownia sound board into 4 grades, and we
    strictly require our makers to follow this standard.

    The elite grade is a quartersawn-cut piece that offer the straightest grains.  
    Grains are straight and evenly spaced.  Since sound transmit along the edge
    of the grains into the sound box, the sound of a quartersawn-cut piece yields
    the most clear sound.

    The first grade is the one taken from the most center piece of a flatsawn cut.  
    The quality of this piece resembles a quartersawn-cut wood.  The wood
    grains are tight, straight, and evenly spaced.  The center core of the wood is
    minimal and not obvious to be seen.  Since the center core part of the wood
    is more unstable and not even in density, it is not desired for a guzheng
    sound board.

    The second grade is the one near the center piece.  This sound board has
    straight grains but less evenly spaced.  The center core is more obvious.

    The third grade is taken from outer piece of a flatsawn cut.  This sound board
    has a rather big core part of the wood.  The grains are in parabola shape
    rather than straight lines, and they are not evenly spaced.  The sound quality
    of this piece is generally blurring and not clear.  

    Besides the quality of the sound board, the skill of the maker is as important.   
    A good maker is able to shape a second grade piece into a first grade sound
    quality; while a machine cut might destroy a good first grade board piece.

    4.        Which is better?  Wider grains or tighter grains?

    A:  The width of the grains is correlated to the age of the tree.  Usually, the
    outer edge of the tree has wider grains, while the inner part has tighter
    grains.  Weather and climate are also factors.  A good guzheng soundboard
    should sound loose yet focused.  A Board with wider grains sounds loose;
    while a board with tighter grains sounds bright and focused.  An ideal board
    will have loose grains in the bottom low range and tight grains in the high
    range.  Generally, the best width for high range grain is between 0.5cm-1.5
    cm, and the best width for the the low range grain is between 2.0-3.0cm.

    5.        Why isn’t hard wood such as rosewood or zitan sandalwood
    used for sound board?  

    A:  A guzheng sound board requires a soft wood that is easy for the passing of
    sound wave.  Paulownia or spruce has the ideal density for a guzheng sound

    6.        How to clean the soundboard?

    A:  Do not use water or web towel to clean the sound board.  Orange oil is a
    must not!! Use dry clothes only.

    7.        What are the materials used for the guzheng frame?

    A:  Guzheng frames desire hard wood materials that are dense enough to kick
    back the sound into the sound box.  Common hard wood used are rosewood,
    zitan purple sandalwood, old rosewood, nanmu, mahogany and maple.  
    Different hard wood affects the tone of the guzheng while sound quality is
    mainly determined by the quality of the soundboard.  

    8.        How to avoid cracking of the side frame?

    A:  The hard wood is mostly from Southeast Asia that has humid climate.  
    When it goes to a dryer place, it tends to crack.  A good way to take care of
    the side board is to apply orange/lemon oil on it every week within the first
    year of the purchase.  After a year, the hard wood gets stable and will not
    crack easily.  

    9. Why do some guzhengs have side edges?  Does that affect the
    sound quality?     

    A:  The side edges are originated from some Yangzhou companies that use
    plywood with thin layer of hard wood as the frame.  In order to cover the fact
    that only a thin layer of the hard wood is used, the makers created the side
    edges.  The side edges do not affect the sound quality of a guzheng.  We do
    not recommend any guzhengs with side edges, because the first and the last
    bridges often hit the side edges and make a noise while playing.

    10.        Does the decoration on the side boards affect the sound

    A:  The answer is “No”.  

    9.        What is the difference between a paulownia back board and
    a plywood back board?

    A:  Back board is also an important factor that determines the sound quality of
    a guzheng.  The back board kicks back the sound and absorb the sound
    passing down.  A plywood back board does little in absorbing the sound which
    leaves the sound blurring together inside the sound box.  Thus, a guzheng
    with plywood back board doesn’t sound clear.  Even though you tune it 10
    times, it still sounds out-of-tune.  

    10.        What’s the material used for bridges?

    A:  The guzheng bridges transmit the vibration of the strings into the sound
    box.  The bridges should use hard wood with higher in density to transmit the
    vibration easily.  Generally, rosewood, old rosewood or zitan are used for the
    body.  Ivory, bone or plastics are used as the tips.  A zitan bridge with ivory tip
    is known to be the best material.

    11.        Does the shape of the bridges affect the sound quality of a

    A:  Yes.  The shape, the height, the size of the tips all affect the sound
    quality.   Usually, higher bridges produce brighter and louder sound, while low
    bridges produce a more solid and focused sound.       

    12.        Why are there so many kinds of strings offered on “Sound
    of Asia”?

    A:  Different strings also affect sound quality.  Since players often have
    different desire on the sound effects, Sound of Asia offers numbers of
    professional strings to satisfy different needs.  For example, Yuesheng
    strings sound mellow and easy to bend, while Dunhuang B strings sound
    bright and hard to bend.

    13.        How often do I need to change the strings?

    A:  Beginners usually change a string only when it breaks.  That is ok, since
    beginners do not pluck the strings as strong as professionals.  However, for
    players who play the guzheng daily, we recommend changing the strings as
    needed.  While the strings in the low range might last a couple years, the
    strings in the high range should be changed every 6-12 months.  Whenever
    you feel a string does not sound as bright, it’s time to change it.

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