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 dark brown color. There are flame-dried guzheng that
has dark grayish sound board that 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 warp 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 Madagascar Rosewood, East Indian
Rosewood, Bois de Rose, Golden-thread Nanmu, Burmese Rosewood or Blackwood. The effects of a
good frame doesn't really add a lot to the sound quality of guzheng, but it adds a difference to the tone.
Madagascar Rosewood is considered to have clear and pure tone, Thailand Rosewood is considered to
have rich and sweet tone, while Golden-thread Nanmu is considered to have deep tone. However since a
guzheng with an expensive frame usually means higher price in the market, 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 carved by experienced craftsman,
while others are just cut by machine or junior craftsman.
Read more about guzheng making and selecting in our FAQ page.