The Waldzithers of C. H. Boehm

The German Waldzither enjoyed its greatest popularity during the first half of the 20th century. Thousands of these instruments were produced and sold in Hamburg and the Vogtland region; in the 1930s, there were Waldzither courses with large groups of pupils in Westphalia and the Ruhr area. But it is not commonly known that this success is closely connected with the ingenuity of a single person, the Hamburg instrument maker C. H. Boehm.

The history of German citterns can be traced back to the middle ages, but at the beginning of the 19th century, these instruments had nearly been forgotten (although they were still produced in their traditional form in the regions of Thueringen and Harz): Citterns had become so rare that their original name "Zither" would even be transferred to another string instrument, the multi-string "table zither" which had become more and more popular in the southern region of the Alps. But towards the end of the 19th century, C. H. Boehm developed a modern form of the cittern whose design and construction was inspired by the Guitarra Portuguesa (another form of the cittern which was - and is - nearly unknown in Germany) and which inspired numerous other manufacturers to start producing their own Waldzithers. In the foreword  of his songbook  "Grillenscheucher" , C. H. Boehm writes about the differences between his own instruments and their traditional predecessors:

"In those days, a greater distribution could not be achieved because it was impossible to produce such bright and mellow sounding strings, and because the construction princi- ples of resonance were not well-known enough. The mechanism to put the strings un- der tension consisted of simple wooden pegs, the body was big and domed and there- fore unhandy, the wooden bridge was replaced by glass etc. Through all these improve- ments, this instrument experienced a rebirth and was protected by the patent office."

It was therefore not the single elements that were new, but their combination in one instrument which had made possible the production and distribution of Waldzithers in greater numbers. After C. H. Boehm had started his Waldzither production in 1897, other Hamburg companies closely followed; later, in the 1920s and 1930s, manufacturers of the Vogtland region (which was the center of the German production of string instruments back then) also took over the idea. In the catalogues of the Vogtland companies, Waldzithers were usually offered with a more traditional design, but also optionally as "Hamburg Models" with Preston tuners and glass bridges.

Although the Waldzither enjoyed a renaissance in recent years (especially in folk music, but also in other fields of music), there is still little known about C. H. Boehm and his instruments. This website is designed to fill this gap: It tries to re-construct the development of the Boehm Waldzithers from the founding of the factory in 1897 until its supposed closing in 1942, and it documents the great variety of the instruments produced by the C. H. Boehm factory during these 45 years. The Waldzithers produced by the GEWA Company (which took over the Boehm Company probably in 1942) are only mentioned in passing, they are presented on a separate GEWA website (which exists presently only in German).

What is presented on the following pages is based on photos of more than 300 Boehm Waldzithers (internet, private collections etc.) and the comparison of their characteristics with the following sources:

  • Boehm Catalogues from 1912, 1926 and 1929 and a price list from 1934,
  • Address and telephone books and yellow pages of the city of Hamburg,
  • Entries about C. H. Boehm in the German "Zeitschrift fuer Instrumentenbau (= Journal of Instrument Making), 
  • Contemporary postcards relevant to Boehm and his Waldzithers,
  • Material from the private property of Robert Andresen (USA) a grand nephew of Margarethe Caroline Andresen, the wife of C. H. Boehm)

- H. Heyde: "Historische Musikinstrumente der Staatlichen Reka-Sammung im     Bezirksmuseum Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder, Leipzig 1989

- R. Malhotra and A. Pilipczuk: "Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe: Die Jugenstilsammlung 2", Hamburg 1996,

- Michel, L. Schmidt and J. C. Dentler: "Musikinstrumentensammlung Herbert Gruenwald: Zistern", Sonderausstellung Suhl 2011.


One source is worth to be particularly mentioned: Martina Rosenberger's book "Das Waldzither-Puzzle Teil 2: Die Waldzither in Hamburg", Krumbach 2005 (the book can be  downloaded  here from Martina's page). This fine volume of 50 pages is, up to the present day, the only attempt to collect and present information about C. H. Boehm and his instruments in printed form. It is also the starting point for what these pages have to offer, for example the method of dating Boehm Waldzithers by establishing a chronological order of the labels inside the instruments. But as Martina had only 20-30 instruments for to base her analyses on, it is now possible to draw a much more detailed picture than the rough sketch that she had been able draw. Another essay by Martina Rosenberger is also worth mentioning: "Die deutsche Cister - die enge Verknuepfung eines Instruments mit der technischen Entwicklung seiner Stimmvorrichtung" (Erfinder Visionen 1/2011, 24-25).

Unfortunately, no documents of the Boehm Company have survived, and there are also only a few other contemporary sources available. Many things must therefore still be guessed on the basis of the existing evidence (what will be sometimes more and sometimes less convincing). This holds true for the conclusions based on the photos of the Boehm instruments as well as for the dating of them by comparison with external evidence. How long did it take (for example) until Boehm's new telephone number was printed on the labels of his instruments? Why do some labels display black bars and what do they hide? In these and like cases often only speculations are possible. The years presented in the chronology must therefore be seen as "guesstimations", and the dating of an instrument is to be taken with a certain amount of vagueness (of usually a few years). This is all that we have, but it is certainly much better than nothing.

This website is conceived as a "work in progress": Every Waldzither found in the attic or basement of a house, every postcard of a Waldzither club in Hamburg, every new price list or Boehm catalogue can provide some information that will help to improve these pages (the ten songbooks called "Grillenscheucher" are already known, but early issues from before 1910 would be interesting). So, if anyone should happen to know something which can correct a guess made here, or who can add to the material presented on these pages, I would be glad to receive a message from him or her!

I'd like to thank the German "Verein der Freunde und Foerderer der Waldzither e.V." who gave me the opportunity to present the results of my researches every two years on its Cittern-Symposia since 2015. At these meetings, I was also able to also discuss my findings with a very interested and highly competent audience (including Martina Rosenberger).

And last but not least, if you want to know what it's like to be in love with the Waldzither - and why the group of people who love this fantastic instrument is constantly growing - I can recommend nothing better than watching the video of that incredibly kind man and brilliant artist Kieron Seamons, which he made after I told him that I had found, and would send him, a suitable glass bridge for his old Boehm instrument:

One final remark about the pictures presented on these pages: Wherever possible, I used my own photos, or else pictures whose authors gave me their permission to use them. Therefore, I'd like to thank Robert Andresen, Klaus Augustin, Juergen Clauß, Gerlinde and Gerhard Gruenwald, Hermann Harriehausen, Dave Hynds, Holger Paetz, Panagiotis Poulopoulos, Martina Rosenberger, Joerg Schillinger, Andreas Wetzel and Birgit Wyrowski, who let me inspect their Boehm instruments or who supplied me with photos of their Waldzithers and other important material. But in some cases, it was impossible to document important features without using pictures that I found in the internet and whose authors are unknown to me. If anyone should see a photo on these pages whose owner he is and which he does not like to be presented here, please let me know: I will remove the picture immediately.

Norbert Feinendegen 
Bonn, Germany 


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Norbert Feinendegen
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53127 Bonn


Telefon: +49 (0) 228 9180735
E-Mail: norbert.feinendegen[a]

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