A limited number of copies of this catalog were printed and bound for the exhibit and were made available for in-house use. A handout was also offered, which included the text of this page down to where the exhibit entries begin.
Harps of Gold exhibit catalog
Harps of Gold
an exhibit concerning
Fretless Zithers of 19th and 20th Century American Invention and Manufacture
The late 19th and early 20th centuries were productive times in terms of American invention, and it was during this time that the fretless zither came into being. The years from about 1885 to 1930 represent what might be called the heyday of fretless zither production.
Aside from offering an entertaining look at a lot of odd antique musical instruments many people have never before seen, the purpose of this exhibit is twofold. It endeavors to answer two fundamental questions:
What are fretless zithers?
One objective of the exhibit is to offer a look at fretless zithers from the musical standpoint, in terms of their merit as musical instruments. It is not generally known that seemingly endless varieties of them were invented and produced during the years mentioned above; in fact, it seems that the majority of people, including musicians, are totally unfamiliar with them. Though only a fraction of the total number of known varieties is represented, most of the major categories are covered. 53 instruments are displayed, and descriptive text of each gives the locality and approximate chronology of manufacture as well as an insight into the functional intent of the categories and of the individual instruments. A detailed catalog is available for in-house viewing.
Where and when were these instruments made?
A second objective is to offer a glimpse at the world of the fretless zither from the business standpoint, in terms of its manufacturing history. These instruments represent a facet of American industry that quietly thrived in the period from approximately 75 to 120 years ago and which just as quietly vanished. As with many industries, the challenges presented by the Great Depression and World War II took their toll on the fretless zither business, and evidence of this can be seen in this exhibit. Despite all hardships, fretless zither production continued into the 1970s, and one lone representative, the autoharp, survived and is still in production today.
The exhibit is scheduled to run from October 5-30, 2004. Additional features of the exhibit include a talk and a performance on October 17.
Those interested in additional information concerning fretless zithers should consult:
I am indebted to fretless zithers authorities Kelly Williams and Bob Buzas for some of the information in this catalog.
What is a fretless zither?
Perhaps the most concise way to begin answering this question is to illustrate what the fretless zither is not, namely a fretted zither.
What is a fretted zither?
The fretted zither is an instrument native to Germany. It has a fingerboard affixed to its soundboard, like that of a guitar but much shorter in length. Five strings pass over this fingerboard, and the performer plays these strings like a guitar, picking them with the right hand and making various different notes by pushing down on the strings with the left hand.
The metal strips running across the fingerboard are called frets. Thus, this is a fretted zither. The type exhibited here is commonly called an "Alpine" or "concert" zither. Another common variety of fretted zither has only four strings and is played with a violin-type bow.
1. Alpine zither, Lyon & Healy (Washburn brand), American, c. 1900
On the other hand, the fretless zither has no fingerboard and thus no frets. Each of its strings make only one note and can not be manipulated to make more than one because there is no fingerboard to provide the means to do this.
Plucked and hammer-struck instruments
Fretless zithers without chord groups
Simple all-melody zithers
This instrument is an example of a type that appears to have preceded the family of instruments represented by the rest of this exhibit. They are plain all-melody zither-type instruments, but of a specific form. Though such instruments doubtless existed for centuries before the 1800s, there is a small group of simple zithers that are characterized by the letter names and/or numbers of the strings being imprinted in an arc across the soundboard. Given their abundance, it is likely that they were produced in America, probably in the 1860s-1870s.
2. Simple all-melody zither, 20 strings, c. 1870
The simple all-melody zither was re-invented in many different body styles throughout the years, with variants still being introduced as recently as the 1950s. An example of a later form is exhibited.
The Gideon's Harp (also sold as "Harpolute") is a simple 20-string all-melody zither. It was produced by the Phonoharp Company around 1910-20. Functionally, it is identical to Exhibit No. 2, which dates from several decades earlier.
The history of the fretless zithers featured in this exhibit that were produced by the major manufacturers begins with the first deviation from the simple all-melody zither, the autoharp. A brief chronology of American autoharp manufacturers is given below. This historical sketch follows only the direct successors of the first American autoharp manufacturer. Recent years have seen a number of autoharp producers that are unrelated to this lineage.
American autoharp production began at the shop of C.F. Zimmermann in Philadelphia, PA. Mystery shrouds the actual origin of the autoharp. There exists evidence to the effect that the creator of the instrument was not Zimmermann but rather a German inventor named Gutter. Nonetheless, in 1885 C.F. Zimmermann began to manufacture America's first autoharps.
In 1893, Zimmermann sold the autoharp to Alfred Dolge, a piano parts manufacturer of Dolgeville, NY. It is said that at the peak of its production the Dolgeville factory manufactured 3000 autoharps per week. Several new models were introduced by the Dolgeville firm. Dolge built an impressive business empire, but it toppled in 1899. No autoharps were produced in America for the next decade.
In 1910, the Phonoharp Company of East Boston, MA stepped forth as America's third producer of autoharps. No new models were introduced and in fact the line was trimmed to just a few varieties. The company continued to produce autoharps until its demise in 1926.
For the few years following, autoharps were produced by International Musical Corporation of Hoboken, NJ.
Around 1930, IMC was absorbed by America's best-known producer of autoharps, the Oscar Schmidt Company, which was founded in Jersey City, NJ in the 1870s. Though ownership has changed hands, the company still exists and produces autoharps today.
The autoharps on exhibit are all 19th century instruments. Some standard production models are represented, along with a few special models. Examples from both the Philadelphia and Dolgeville firms are displayed.
4. No. 2 (Philadelphia, Type 1, 1885-88) : 4 bars, 23 strings
5. No. 2 3/4 (Dolgeville, c. 1895) : 5 bars, 23 strings; The ivory finish of this instrument is unique. Introduced at the dawn of American autoharp manufacture in 1885, the No. 2 3/4 enjoyed the longest production lifespan of any model; it was still available through the mid-1960s.
The following two autoharps have bars equipped with "shifters", which allow each bar to make more than one chord. This was a very early innovation of Zimmermann himself; examples of shifter bar models bearing appointments of the very earliest type are known, the following instrument being one such example.
6. No 5 (Philadelphia, Type 1, c. 1885) : 28 strings, 5 bars, 8 shifters, for a total of 13 chords; The No. 5 was a popular model. This is a very early example.
7. No 6 (Philadelphia, Type 2, 1889-93) : 32 strings, 6 bars, 10 shifters, for a total of 16 chords; This model was the top of the line for the Philadelphia shop. This example is in a remarkable state of preservation. It has never been repaired, restored, or even cleaned in the nearly 120 years since its manufacture.
8. No 73: (Dolgeville, 1897) : 37 strings, 12 bars; Introduced at Dolgeville in 1897, the No. 73 was the most popular autoharp model of all time. It was continued by all the manufacturing successors of its Dolgeville parentage, countless thousands being sold over its approximately 70-year production lifespan. This example is from its first year of production. Beginning the following year, a wooden tail cover was added.
The following two instruments are special model 19th century autoharps.
9. Zimmermann "All-Chord" : 41 strings, 13 bars, 39 chords; introduced at Dolgeville, this model plays every chord of the chromatic scale in major, minor, and seventh form, plus the three diminished chords, for a total of 39 chords. It does so by moving the bars into any of three different lateral positions. Several examples of this model are known.
10. Zimmermann Parlor Grand (Dolgeville, 1898-99) : 39 strings, 7 regular-width bars with 13 shifters, 3 narrow bars for the three diminished chords, total of 23 chords. This instrument, with leather-clad case, sold for $170 in the 1890s, which would exchange to nearly $4000 today. Needless to say, not many were sold; in fact, only three examples are known to exist. The Parlor Grand was offered in two forms, trimmed in either bird's-eye maple or mahogany. The instrument featured here represents the only known example of the mahogany-trimmed variety.
The chord-zither was a very popular instrument in terms of sales. The idea of the instrument is that it enables one to play a melody on the designated melody strings and to produce self-accompaniment on the designated accompaniment strings. The latter are grouped into chords, each of which has a bass string and three or four higher-tuned strings, so each chord spans the same range of pitch as the corresponding chord of a guitar.
The chord-zither first appeared in the early 1890s. The first patent for the instrument was granted to Frederick Menzenhauer of New Jersey on May 29, 1894. Menzenhauer called his creation the "Guitar-Zither", while the other major producer of chord-zithers, the Phonoharp Company, used "Columbia Zither" as both a brand name and a generic name for the instrument. Each company's zither had its own distinctive body profile.
Menzenhauer partnered with Oscar Schmidt around 1900, and production of Menzenhauer-style zithers continued under the Menzenhauer & Schmidt label. Phonoharp also continued to make chord-zithers, along with a legion of other fretless zithers, until dissolving in 1926. At that time, Schmidt's company became the sole remaining producer of chord-zithers, and a few years later the body profile of the chord-zither was changed to a new one. The company continued to produce chord-zithers until around 1960, though on a small scale, relative to its output of autoharps. During the period from about 1930 to 1960, only three models were offered.
Both Menzenhauer and Phonoharp produced a number of different models, the variation between models being the number and tuning configuration of both chords and melody strings. All were based in the key of C.
Phonoharp Company chord-zithers
11. No. 2, c. 1910 : 4 chords, 15 melody strings; The No. 2 was Phonoharp's most popular model. The two diatonic octaves of melody strings are nicely supported by the chords C, F, G, and Am.
The label inside this example is that of a distributor from Indianapolis, who re-named the instrument a "Guitar-O-Lin." (This name was also used for a fretless zither of the bowed variety.)
12. Yendrick's Mandolin Harp, c. 1920 : 4 chords, 16 melody strings; This model was introduced around 1920. It added one melody string, an F# in the lower octave only, to the diatonic 15 melody string configuration. This odd note is supported in the accompaniment section; the 4th chord was changed from Am to D. The 4/16 configuration was adopted by Schmidt and continued, using the new body style introduced around 1930.
13. No. 2 1/4, paired melody strings, c. 1910 : 4 chords, 30 melody strings; Introduced around 1910, this model was offered with both single and paired melody strings. It is likely that it was first introduced as the paired string type and that Phonoharp realized they could offer yet another model by simply making the same instrument with single melody strings.
14. 4/30 scroll-and-pillar, c. 1910 : The scroll-and-pillar body style is a frequently encountered design frill. The scroll and pillar are purely ornamental and serve no functional or structural purpose. The vague resemblance to a concert harp was intended to legitimize these zithers in the minds of prospective buyers. The gullible masses made this marketing ploy an altogether successful one, and it still works today; common scroll-and-pillar zithers have fetched some thoroughly ridiculous sums in recent times. Most often, they are 4/30 or 4/15 chord-zithers.
15. No. 2 1/2, early example, pre-1894 : 4 chords, 17 melody strings; The No. 2 1/2 is an early model; it appeared at the very beginning of chord-zither production, as illustrated by this example.
There exists a letter from Menzenhauer to the US Patent Office, pleading that they hasten in granting him the patent he had applied for. He attributed his urgency to the fact that a competitor had already begun to produce his instrument. That competitor was the Phonoharp Company. Once the patent was granted, every chord-zither produced by either company bore the May 29,1894 patent date. However, Menzenhauer's plea is substantiated by two known examples of chord-zithers by the Phonoharp Company which precede this date; it is present nowhere on or inside the instrument. This zither, with its ghastly yellow finish and red pinstriping, is one of the two.
16. No. 2 1/2, c. 1910 : This is a later, fully evolved example of this model. The black finish and decal ornamentation had become standard features by the time this zither was built around 1910.
17. No 4, early example, prob. 1894 : 6 chords, 22 melody strings; This is Phonoharp's largest chord-zither model. The melody strings offer one string beyond the usual two octave range. It is at the high end and is to be tuned to either C# or D. This example almost certainly dates from sometime in the year 1894, as the celluloid tuning label was printed without the patent date. However, the date was rubber-stamped onto the label before it left its place of manufacture.
18. No. 4, c. 1910 : This is a typical example of the later type with black finish and a liberal application of decals. The No. 4 appears to have been a popular model, as examples of this later type are fairly abundant.
Menzenhauer produced a total of 12 different models of chord-zithers. A few of the more significant models are displayed.
19. No 2, c. 1905 : 4 chords, 15 melody strings; This model compares in size to the Phonoharp No. 2 1/4 and to the No. 2 in popularity. Though the company produced smaller 4/15 zither models, the Menzenhauer No. 2 was produced in greater numbers than any model in the line.
This example is from around 1905, early in Menzenhauer's affiliation with Schmidt. In addition to the standard company label, it bears a second one, that of a distributor in Rockford, Illinois. The presence of distributor labels, some even bearing the claim "maker," is a very common trait of fretless zithers. The strip under the low C melody string is a miniature false fretboard, intended to be used as a tuning aid. The idea is that the low C melody string is noted at the marks, and other strings are tuned to the resulting pitch. This feature appears randomly on all Menzenhauer models.
20. 4/30 Hudson-Fulton Special, c. 1910 : This instrument, boldly designated a "Hudson-Fulton Special", was made around 1910. It is in as-found condition.
21. No. 2 1/2 scroll-and-pillar, c. 1920 : Of the three manufacturers of chord-zithers, Menzenhauer appears to have been least enthusiastic about the scroll-and-pillar body style, as very few were produced.
22. No. 4, c. 1910 : Offering 7 chords and 26 fully chromatic melody strings, the Menzenhauer No. 4 stepped past Phonoharp's largest model, the No. 4. A larger model, the 9-chord No. 5, was produced. It measures 21" in width. An even larger 12-chord Model No. 6 is claimed by a period catalog, but no examples have surfaced to date.
Oscar Schmidt chord-zithers
As mentioned earlier in this brochure, Oscar Schmidt's company became the sole producer of chord-zithers when the Phonoharp Company dissolved in 1926. Around 1930, the company changed to a new body style of its own creation, featuring a single-curve treatment of the outline's slanted side. As the autoharp was doing very well for the company, its focus was drawn away from the chord-zither and only three models were offered, a 4/16, a 4/30, and a 5/25. No model numbers were assigned to Schmidt zithers.
The company continued to produce chord-zithers into the 1960s, though tiny batches of "commemorative" instruments were produced as late as about 1980. The labels of these most recent instruments cited the centennial of the company's founding in 1879.
23. 4/16, 1957 : This is a typical example of the new body style. The Schmidt 4/16 retained the Yendrick's name for only a few years after the new style was introduced around 1930.
24. Phonoharp Co. 4/30 re-issue, c. 1945 : This instrument is very unusual in that it represents a Schmidt re-issue of a Phonoharp Company 4/30 zither some 20 years after the demise of the company. The Phonoharp tuning decal and International Musical Corporation sound hole decal were reproduced for use on this instrument. It has no soundboard decal, a reversion to the decor of the earliest Phonoharp instruments.
The company of Henry Marx was a major producer of fretless zithers and assorted "gizmo-harps", several of which are displayed in this exhibit. The company did not pursue chord-zither production aggressively but did produce one model, a 4/30.
25. 4/30, c. 1970 : This example is a very late instrument, dating from about 1970.
Chord-zithers of unusual design
Over the years, a few alternative approaches to chord-zither design were taken, a couple of which are exhibited here.
26. Lyreharp, c. 1905 : A visually striking chord-zither, the Lyreharp differs from a standard 5/21 model in that its chords and melody strings are at two different levels of elevation off the sound board. This arrangement is player-friendly, as it allows the hands to be situated in close proximity to one another. It bears the name of its patent grantee, H.L. Porter of Chicago.
27. American Art Guitar, c. 1930 : Originally introduced by the Phonoharp Company, the American Art Guitar takes a linear approach to design, situating the accompaniment and melody strings of a 4/30 chord-zither in an end-to-end configuration. The example here is by International Musical Corporation and dates from around 1930.
Patented in 1898, the regent zither was intended to be another "self-accompanying" instrument on which the performer could play both melody and accompaniment. In practice, it is primarily an instrument of accompaniment only. Two models were made, the No. 5 and the smaller No. 3. An example of the former is displayed.
28. No. 5, c. 1900 : Both the location and number of sound holes were variable on these instruments, the number ranging from zero to two, the location being at either the top or bottom.
Shortly following the turn of the 20th century, there began to appear a wide variety of fretless zithers with mechanical attachments ("gizmos".) A few are exhibited here.
Henry Marx and the Marxochime Colony
One of the most prolific creators of gizmo-harp varieties was one Henry Marx. He began inventing instruments around 1900, but his first commercial success came with the Celestaphone, for which he was granted a patent in 1912. Originally, the Phonoharp Company did all his millwork, but in 1927, the year following Phonoharp's demise, Marx built his own factory at New Troy, Michigan. He constructed cottages for the employees of the factory and called the manufacturing complex the Marxochime Colony, a name found on the labels of many of the instruments produced there.
The Colony survived as a producer of fretless zithers until 1972. The building sat idle for years, and in 1991 its contents were for the most part liquidated. Among the items sold at that time were hundreds of finished instruments that had never been sold, as well as many experimental prototypes that had never seen production. The vacant factory building still stands, though probably not for much longer as it has reportedly fallen to ruin.
Several instruments of Henry Marx's Marxochime Colony are featured throughout this exhibit.
"Gizmo-harps" with chords
29. Celestaphone, 1913 : As mentioned above, the Celestaphone was Henry Marx's first commercial success. It amounts to a Phonoharp Company 4/30 chord zither with a spring hammer attachment for playing the melody strings. The example exhibited here is an early one; it retains its original sales slip from the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. in New York City, dated 1913. The ticket also reveals the price paid, a princely $5.50.
30. Marxophone, early 1940s : The Marxophone appeared shortly after the introduction of the Celestaphone. The two instruments are functionally identical, and apparently the Marxophone was introduced solely to offer visual variety. The Marxophone was continued into the 1940s, and the later instruments saw the lead hammer heads replaced by wooden ones, presumably in response to the demand for lead imposed by World War II.
31. Mandolin-Guitarophone, c. 1920 : Oscar Schmidt Company's answer to the Celestaphone and Marxophone was the "Mandolin-Guitarophone." The gizmo is one step further refined adding push buttons to manipulate the spring hammers, an innovation that does constitute a definite functional improvement. One item of interest is that the founding date of Schmidt's company is given on this instrument as 1877, rather than the usual 1879.
Products of Oscar Schmidt Company, these have a melody gizmo that consists of a little panel of buttons over the melody strings. The target market was presumably the "plectrally impaired", the manufacturer's intent being to empower those who couldn't do tremolo picking on a mandolin with the ability to do so on a chord-zither.
The idea is that the player pushes the button for the desired melody string(s), which lowers a "plectrum" down alongside the string, to a level where it can make contact. Then to actually pluck the string, the entire button panel, which rides on two wooden rollers, is moved in the direction of its length. The panel can be moved back and forth rapidly, producing the tremolo picking often associated with the playing of the mandolin.
Two different body styles were used specifically for these instruments. These "mandolin harps" are most often called "Style B" on the inside label. These instruments are most commonly of the partially chromatic 5/21 variety, as are the ones presented here. However, examples in the diatonic 4/15 configuration turn up occasionally, and there do exist a few fully chromatic examples.
32. Style B Mandolin Harp, c. 1910 : early type body style
33. Style B Mandolin Harp, c. 1935 : later type body style
One of the most often-encountered accompaniment gizmos is this "chord-thumping" device. The thumper mechanism shows up on a wide variety of fretless zithers, including some of the bowed type. The idea is that the player lifts the metal tab of choice, then releases it, causing the apparatus (which is equipped with a hard felt pad) to spring downward, striking the 4 strings of the selected chord all at once. As might be imagined, the functional intent of the accompaniment section is quite limited. However, the manufacturer must have realized this, as there do exist a few examples of the gizmo that have the thumpers split into two tabs per chord, one for the bass string, the other for the remaining three. This slightly enhances the functionality.
Most often the chord thumper gizmo is attached to a chord-zither of the 4/30 persuasion. Such instruments very often bear the trade name "Chartola" or "Chartola Grand", presumably so-named for the fact that they used the "chart music" which was sold specifically for fretless zithers of all types. The Chartola is an Oscar Schmidt product.
34. Chartola, c. 1935 : The typical form
What might be called the "King of the Gizmo Harps", the Dolceola was produced by two brothers named Boyd from Toledo, Ohio for only a few years (c. 1904-08.) The instrument features an actual keyboard, on which is played both accompaniment and melody. This keyboard is configured differently than a regular piano keyboard; rather, it is arranged in accordance with a 7/25 chord-zither. The keys at the left end of the keyboard are arranged in seven chords; the 25 melody keys on the right of the keyboard represent two chromatic octaves and play one string/note each (normal piano keyboard configuration).
It was long believed that gospel singer Washington Phillips accompanied himself on the Dolceola when he recorded in the 1920's. However, recent research into the matter has concluded without doubt that Phillips played Phonoharp Company chord-zithers.
35. Dolceola, later form, c. 1906 : The early form has flat, non-moulded sides and a uniform dark finish. The later form, exhibited here, has moulded sides and two-tone finish. Also, the keyboard's action was somewhat re-engineered sometime around the middle of its production lifespan.
Gizmo-harps without chords
These are gizmo-harps which do not feature chord groups in their stringing configurations.
Probably the first "gizmo-harp" to follow the autoharp was the Phonoharp. These were produced by the Phonoharp Company and bear a patent date of 1891. The company originated in Maine but relocated around 1900 to 150 Liverpool St., East Boston, Massachusetts, where it remained until liquidating in 1926. The company was a major producer of fretless zithers, and this exhibit features a wide variety of different instruments manufactured at its East Boston facility.
The Phonoharp has a grate attachment with three rows, each of which yields a different chord when a plectrum is dragged the length of the row. Both the Model No. 1 and No. 2 produce the chords C, F, and G7. The only difference between the two models is that the No. 2 has two additional strings, the F and G at the bass end. A model with a 6-chord grate attachment, the Model No. 3, was also produced.
The Apollo harp is unusual in that the body of the instrument has no back. Its gizmo is functionally much like that of the Phonoharp, in that a plectrum is dragged the length of any of its rows to produce a chord. It uses felt where the Phonoharp uses metal. Several models were produced, some of which were actually different functionally than the standard model displayed here.
37. Apollo Harp, c. 1905 : 28-string model, 5 chords
Marx Piano Harp
Another of Henry Marx's instruments built by the Phonoharp Company, the piano harp is a "chordless" gizmo harp. Its gizmo is of the accompaniment type and amounts to wooden bars which run perpendicular to the strings and are contained at one end in a holder. Each bar has hard felt blocks on its underside which correspond to those strings tuned to the notes of the chord it plays.
The bars of the Piano Harp are lifted upward and released, being snapped downward by an elastic strap in the holder, striking the strings, and thus playing a chord. True to its name, the action of the bars yields a tone similar to that of striking a chord on a piano.
The function of the Piano Harp's bars is the reverse of autoharp bars, which silence unwanted strings when pushed downward. An amusing letter was written to the Marx Company in 1939 by someone who had bought a used Marx Piano Harp from a pawn shop. The disgruntled owner also owned and played an autoharp and was writing to complain that the Piano Harp was defective because when he pushed down on a bar and strummed, just as he did his autoharp, the result was total discord, rather than the "perfect chord" his autoharp yielded by the same means. He demanded that they send him an instruction book, as well as a tuning key, C.O.D.
A double-strung version of the Marx Piano Harp was produced and usually called a "Pianophone." Several different body styles were used for both instruments, but functionally they are all the same.
The harmolin is interesting for a couple of reasons, the first of which is its functionality. It has at least two different attachments, both of which are displayed here. The two are quite different in regard to functionality. One attachment is a metal grate with narrow slots. When the metal grate is used, the instrument must be played with a special "roller pick". The other attachment is a wooden frame with "chord bars", which in effect converts the harmolin to an autoharp. The special roller pick mentioned above is not used with this attachment, but only with the metal grate attachment.
Another interesting detail is the fact that the Harmolin first appeared at a late date in the manufacturing history of these instruments. It was apparently invented around 1950. Also, the company was located in San Diego, California, and as such was the only actual fretless zither manufacturing facility that was located on the West Coast. This contrasts geographically with the other producers (Phonoharp, Menzenhauer, Schmidt, Marx), which were all located in the East or upper midwest.
39. Harmolin, c. 1950 w/grate and roller pick
40. Harmolin, c. 1950 w/ chord bars attachment
"Germania Harp" types
The Harpanola belongs to a small subfamily of instruments that have the accompaniment strings cut short, set at a higher elevation off the soundboard, and usually exiting out the instrument's back. Names of some of the other members of this family are Germania Harp, Symphony Harp No. 5, Aeolian harp, Sonora Harp, and Harp-Guitar-Zither. The differences between the instruments is simply the number and tuning configuration of the strings.
41. Harpanola, c. 1925 : With 66 strings, the Harpanola is one of the larger instruments of its type; only the 76-string Sonora Harp is larger.
Bowed fretless zithers
Around 1920, a new functional variety of fretless zither was introduced. This type required the melody strings to be played not with fingers but with a bow. The bow used was like a violin bow but much shorter in length.
These instruments were created for the purpose of cashing in on the Hawaiian music craze that erupted in mainland America at the time, and many were blatantly misrepresented as being authentic folk instruments of Hawaii.
The ukelin, billed as the union of a ukelele and a violin, was produced in two basic models. One is guitar-shaped on one end, the other is simply rectangular. The melody strings are supported by metal loops. These loops serve to funnel the bow into the spaces between them, where the melody strings are accessible. Self-accompaniment is offered by the ukelin's four chords. The ukelin was manufatured until 1964.
42. Bosstone guitar-shaped ukelin, early 1920s : "Bosstone" was the brand name used by the Phonoharp Company (of Boston) for its ukelins. They are the earliest ukelins.
43. IMC rectangular ukelin, c. 1925 : The IMC rectangular ukelin in the golden finish is the commonest form of the type.
Hawaiian Art Violin (ukelin type)
There is of course nothing authentically Hawaiian about the "Hawaiian Art Violin". These were stamped out at the Oscar Schmidt factory in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two different types were produced, the ukelin type and the stair-step type. Both are represented in this exhibit. The ukelin-type Hawaiian art violin differs from the ukelin only in that the melody (bowed) strings pass through posts, as opposed to the ukelin's loops.
44. Hawaiian Art Violin (ukelin type), c. 1920 : This is the earliest form of the ukelin type HAV. It bears the tuning information for the melody strings on their wooden hitch pin covers.
Hawaiian art Violin (stair-step type)
Though radically different in appearance, the stair-step-type Hawaiian art violin is configured exactly the same as its ukelin-type counterpart, offering the same 4 chords and 16 melody strings. This is probably the early form of the instrument, abandoned in favor of the easier-to-produce ukelin type. It is doubtful that many were produced; it is a scarce instrument.
45. Hawaiian art Violin (stair-step type), c. 1920
The violin-uke was the best-selling of the entire Marx line of instruments. The range of its melody strings differs from that of the ukelin, in that it is tuned in two diatonic octaves of G, rather than C. They were offered in several different finishes.
46. Violin-uke, 1931 (dated sales slip): This is the earliest type, characterized by the dark finish, the IMC sound hole decal, and tuning pins for melody string supports.
Introduced around 1930, the pianolin offers increased versatility with its fully chromatic melody strings and five chords. This instrument also often bore the "Pianoette" identity.
47. Pianolin, c. 1970 : This is a late form of the instrument, characterized by an asymmetrical body outline and all the tuning pins being situated at one end of the instrument. Early forms have a symmetrical body outline and tuning pins for chord strings and melody strings at opposite ends.
"Space-age" design features, metallic blue finish, and some strange functional features put the Marxolin in a class of its own. The "accompaniment" is by built-in spring hammers. The bridge is equipped with two levers which sharp and flat various strings. The rosin for the bow is affixed to the instrument; a few other Marx instruments also offer this feature. The name "Marxolin" was used for other instruments as well.
The Nuway Violin was a creation of Schmidt and Porter, in Chicago. Only three examples of instruments bearing this name are known to exist, and each is unique in that they represent three different physical configurations. However, the three are the same functionally, all being key of C bowed instruments with two diatonic octaves of melody strings and four chords.
49. Nuway violin, c. 1930 : This example is made in the image of a large violin-uke. However, as it is a key of C instrument, it would seem that "viola-uke" would be a fitting name for it.
The namesake of the Marxochime Colony, the name appears in a wide variety of Marx instruments.
50. Marxochime, chromatic, c. 1940 : This instrument is unusual in that the fully chromatic melody strings are arranged in three rows rather than the usual two. It is labelled as a key of C instrument in error; the open string lengths are those of a violin-uke. It is in fact a key of G instrument.
51. Marxochime, diatonic, c. 1940 : This diatonic key of G instrument is essentially a violin-uke with a rounded end instead of the wooden tailpiece and with the accompaniment and melody strings' tuning pins at opposite ends of the instrument.
These are instruments which have no relatives in any categories and which are sole representatives of their own.
A product of the Oscar Schmidt Company, the tremoloa was introduced in the late 1920s. It has four chords and only one melody string. This single string is noted by means of a gadget that amounts to a hinged arm, bearing a steel roller and usually a thumb-type pick.
This instrument stretches the boundaries of what is or is not a fretless zither by combining a small xylophone-type melody section along with three chord groups of strings for self-accompanment.
53. Marx Guitarchimes, c. 1940