Early Boehm Instruments

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Early Boehm instruments until ca. 1904

Characteristics of the early Boehm instruments

Martina Rosenberger describes in her Waldzither Puzzle only two Boehm instruments which differ in size and design from the later standard models. Today, more than a dozen of these instruments are known, as well as several photos of early Waldzither groups on which far more of them can be seen (but usually not in great detail). It is therefore possible to make some guesses about the early Boehm Waldzithers and how they evolved into the standard models of later years.

The early Boehm Waldzithers differ in several features from the later standard design. Of the early instruments that are presently known not two are exactly the same: It seems as if C. H. Boehm had experimented quite freely in those early years, especially with regard to the decoration of his Waldzithers. Fortunately, the labels are also repeatedly changed so that it is possible to put those early instruments into a chronological order, as well as to work out some common features.


a) With a length of ca. 58-59 cm (23"), the early Boehm instruments are considerably smaller than the later standard models, which have a length of ca. 68-69 cm (27"). The scale of ca. 41,5 cm (16 1/3") is also shorter than the later standard length of ca. 46 cm (18"). The last two instruments in the photo gallery (both with a "Musikwaaren" label which includes the Walddoline) are already considerably lagrer than their predecessors, but they still do not reach the later standard measures.

b) The shape of the body is more round and less teardrop-like than that of the later models, and the sound hole is smaller. The sides are almost even, what distinguishes these instruments from traditional citterns.

c) All early Boehm Waldzithers have "Portuguese" tuners with long screws arranged in two rows. The “spade” at the top of the head is therefore also longer than on later models. This spade is damaged on many early Boehm instruments, which indicates that it has been built too weak in order to be an effective protection for the screws.

d) The end of the fingerboard is even, i.e. it does not follow in its shape the curvature of the sound hole. This also can be seen quite well on old photos of Waldzither groups.

e) The very first Boehm Waldzithers have no glass bridge, but an ebony bridge with a metal inlay, and the fingerboard of these instruments is very broad.

f) The frets are arranged in a strange, seemingly irregular manner. On fretted instruments, the distance between the frets usually becomes successively smaller in order to secure that that the steps between the half tones are all the same. But the early Boehm instruments depart from this rule: Judged by the notes that are raised or lowered, it seems as if C. H. Boehm had tried to realize a just (or pure) intonation on his Waldzithers. This would mean that those early instruments had been designed to be played only in C-major and related keys (like F-major and G-Major); other keys would have sounded (and do indeed sound!) very much out of tune. And Boehm would have departed from this idea only later when his customers demanded to play in other keys as well (or to use a capo).