If you flip through any musical instrument catalog, one fact will become blindingly clear: the guitar is by far the most popular instrument in America. But that wasn’t always the case, and I’ve often wondered: if the electric guitar hadn’t gotten so popular, what would we be playing instead?
To answer this question, I take a trip back in time by means of the 1903 Sears Roebuck catalog and a series of Philadelphia junk shops. In the process, I discover a type of instrument that used to be hugely popular and is now all but forgotten: the fretless zither. After finding and restoring a host of instruments I’d never seen before, including phonoharps, Marxophones, and Taishogotos, I end up building a harp of my own.
- Gregg Miner’s Fretless Zither pages
- Garry Harrison’s FretlessZither.com
- Sears and Roebuck 1903 Catalog
- Phonoharp Ad in 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalog
- Michael Corcoran’s original 2002 article about Washington Phillips, along with his followup blog post about the 1907 Teague Chronicle discovery.
- Hank Brass playing “Tennesee Waltz” on Autoharp
- Jonas Lorenz playing “Silent Night” on Akkordzither