Tips in selecting guzhengs 如何挑選古箏
We love the guzheng and only want to share instruments of the highest quality with you. Our goal is to provide excellent value by offering high-quality guzhengs at a price that is still affordable. We work closely with the guzheng manufacturers from whom we buy. From selecting the soundboard to carving the shape of the sound chamber, we ensure the production of instruments of the highest sound quality. Each guzheng is hand picked by our professional at the guzheng workshops themselves – this allows us to guarantee the high quality of our instruments. Here are some tips that we hope you will find helpful in choosing a guzheng.
- The Soundboard
The soundboard of a guzheng should be made of paulownia wood that has been properly and thoroughly dried. If the soundboard is air-dried, it should be dried for at least one year. An air-dried soundboard typically gives the instrument a warm tone and allows the wood to retain its natural color – usually a light golden color. Guzheng makers in Shanghai prefer to oven-dry the soundboard, which sweetens the tone of the instrument.
Some guzheng soundboards are flame-dried, giving the soundboard a dark grayish color and a charcoal look. Here a fire gun is used to rapidly cure the wood. Although flame drying shortens the drying process from one year to 30 minutes, it also fatally destroys the quality of the wood itself. We have seen flame-dried boards crack or warp within a short period of time. Equally important, the characteristic woody sound of a wooden instrument is gone. A guzheng should sound rich and possess a warm woody tone; guzhengs with flame-dried soundboards only sound metallic. Clearly, a flame-dried soundboard is not desirable.
Ideally, a quartersawn soundboard will provide the greatest stability for an instrument. However, paulownia wood is generally not large enough to make a quartersawn cut for a 21-string guzheng. The manufacturer therefore has to make use of the most central part of a flatsawn piece instead. According to Guzheng Father Master Xu ZhenGao: 'The central part (of a flatsawn piece) is considered the most stable piece.' The best wood pieces for a
guzheng soundboard have a straight and even grain, with tighter grains in the high range area and looser grains in the low range area. To achieve a perfect sounding board, some makers will also combine quartersawn pieces to obtain a straight and even grain.
- The Bottom Board
The bottom board is as important as the soundboard itself. A good quality bottom board should also be made of paulownia wood. However, to lower the cost, some guzheng manufacturers will use plywood instead of real paulownia and lacquer the board to cover it up. If you see a guzheng with dark paint underneath, you know that most likely plywood was used instead of real paulownia. Unfortunately however, the sound of an instrument with a plywood bottom is very muddy – although the price may only be one-third as much.
3. The FrameThe frame of a quality guzheng is always made of a hardwood such as Madagascar rosewood, East Indian rosewood, gold-thread nanmu, Burmese rosewood or African blackwood. Although a good hardwood frame does not really add much to the sound quality of a guzheng, it does make a difference to the actual tone. Madagascar rosewood is considered to impart a clear, pure tone; Thai rosewood is considered to give a rich, sweet tone, while gold-thread nanmu is considered to yield a deep tone. Because an instrument with an good hardwood frame means a higher price tag, guzheng makers will also tend to select a better piece of paulownia for it, as well as better bridges and strings. The main soundboard of a guzheng with a high priced frame will therefore be generally better in quality; it is hand carved by an experienced craftsman, while other soundboards are simply cut by machine or by a junior craftsman.