Sound of Asia
Tips in Selecting Guzheng
1. Sound board. The sound board of a guzheng should be made of
paulownia that has been air dried for at least a year. Air-dried or oven-dried
sound boards retain the natural color of wood, usually in light golden color or
brown color. Do not select any guzheng that has dark sound board looks like
a piece of charcoal. The dark sound boards are flame dried using a fire gun
directly flame on surface. Although flame drying speed up the drying process
from 1 year to 1 day, but it also fatally destroys the wood piece. We've seen
charcoal boards crack or change shape in a short period of time.
Furthermore, the "wood sound" of a wood instrument is gone. A guzheng
should sound rich with warm wood tone, but the flame-dried board guzhengs
only sound metallic.
Ideally, a quartersawn-cut sound board will be most stable for an instrument.
However, paulownia wood generally is not big enough to make a quarter-
sawn cut for 21-stringed guzheng. Therefore, the maker uses the most
central part of a flatsawn piece instead. According to Guzheng Father Master
Xu Zhen-Gao: "the central part (of a flatsawn) is considered the most stable
piece". The best piece of guzheng sound board should have straight and
even wood grains, with tighter grains in the high range and looser grains in the
low range. To achieve this perfect sounding board, some makers also use
combined-quartersawn piece to obtain an even wood grains.
2. Bottom board. The bottom board is as important as the sound board. A
good quality bottom board should use a single piece of paulownia. However,
to lower the cost, the makers use plywood instead of real paulownia. So, if
the guzheng is painted dark at the bottom, you know that's probably using
plywood instead of using real paulownia. The sound quality of a plywood one
is not as clear when comparing to a paulownia one, but the price is only one-
third as much.
3. Frames. The frame of a guzheng is made of hard wood such as zitan
sandalwood, nanmu, rosewood or ebony. Usually harder wood traps the
sound wave inside the instrument body and makes sure it only comes out
through the sound holes. Therefore, the harder the wood frame the more
refine and pure the sound is. However, in wood industry, wood with higher
density is generally more expensive than wood with lower density. That's
also a reason why you see a zitan guzheng is a lot more expensive than a
rosewood guzheng. The effects of a good frame also adds a difference to
the tone. Zitan purple sandalwood is considered to have clear and pure tone,
old rosewood is considered to have thick and sweet tone, while nanmu is
considered to have deep tone. Since a guzheng with an expensive frame
usually means higher selling price, the makers spend more efforts in
selecting a good paulownia piece and better bridges and strings for it. The
main board of a guzheng with high priced frame generally is better in quality
and is hand cut by experienced craftsman, while others are just cut by
machine or junior craftsman.
Read more about guzheng making and selecting in our FAQ page.
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