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Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sat Jun 30, 2018 6:36 pm
by Caley Hand
I just got my EBay purchase yesterday, a Zither. I am guessing it is a Schmit re-issue, possibly a Phonoharp 4/30 (No. 2 1/4). The label inside calls it a Mandolin Harp. I guess there are all kinds of Zithers.

What I hope is that things aren't too far gone with this instrument, and that I can effect repairs on the cracks that I have found. Unfortunately it will require me to somehow remove the back in order to access the front and back panels to glue the cracks, and install cleats. I also will need to determine how to fill these cracks without causing harm to the outside of these panels, and ruining the artwork that still remains on those surfaces. Actually, there is probably a ton of stuff that needs to be done to restore this instrument to workable, and hopefully nicer looking condition.

I am going to take so pictures of all the surfaces now, so will post part two in a bit. Caley Ann Hand

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sat Jun 30, 2018 7:11 pm
by Caley Hand
Just got some pictures roughly processed. Now that I have a higher resolution photo of the front crack, it may not be possible to completely close that crack. I may be able to get it mostly there, which would help. I will have to await the experts opinions.

Unfortunately this Frum only allows low resolution photos, so I am not sure the problems will be visible to those examining them. Sorry Caley Ann Hand

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sat Jun 30, 2018 7:12 pm
by Caley Hand
And the last batch

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:47 pm
by Caley Hand
I am not a happy camper. I just removed all the strings on the instrument to get a better view of it.

What I found was another crack, though very minor above the sound hole matching the placement of the lower monster crack.

As for the monster crack, I doubt it can be brought together without taking the whole instrument apart. In other words, the front and back panels would have to come off in order for me to force the panel halves where the cracks are together. I did add a clamp on either side, and gently tried to squeeze some movement of that monster crack, with absolutely no movement, thus the talk about dismantling the whole instrument. The only other thing I could do is somehow insert wood or filler into the crack, but I get the feeling that is the wrong thing to do.

I have no skills when it comes to restoring musical instruments. This is where I try to get my feet wet, and it seems I picked a real winner to get started

All the tuning pegs are solid. The other end of the strings, those pins are OK except that some have been forced sideways.

Whomever had this instrument also did not know how to string it, with six and seven loops around the tuning peg, and in a couple of cases, the strings going to the wrong tuning peg. This is from me, someone who doesn't know squiddly about musical instruments, other than my reading, and of course, watching videos

Can someone tell me how I can clean the front with the decorative painting or maybe it is a large decal, without causing damage. I would just like to remove the dirt. I would also like to put some kind of protective coat on it.

I also would like to clean up the original tuning pegs. They look pretty good, but look like some kind of cleaning might make them look nicer.

Of course, doing the pegs and front cleanup are things that have to happen after I tackle the cracks. I think the back can be worked with, but the monster crack on the lower front is bothersome. Maybe someone can suggest a way to make it look nice. I am guessing that if I add cleats there, that may prevent furthur spreading of the crack. I just need help to find a way of making the instrument presentable, instead of the junky state it is in right now.

Thanks for listening to me blab. Maybe I will learn things eventually. Caley Ann

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:58 pm
by Caley Hand
As I said before, this is looking more daunting than ever. I have been trying to find replacement strings, but this particular Zither is not something anyone makes any more. I get the feeling I need to find a supplier of music wire string, or whatever they are called, and order the sizes in spools for thise wires that are not wound. I will have to go to somewhere else to purchase the wound type strings. I get the feeling that doing it this way will be a lot cheaper than purchasing from brand name suppliers that charge anywhere from$150-$300 for a set of 42. Mine has 46 strings, most of which are very thin. I have a caliper that can measure so one one thousandth of an inch. So much fun.

Hope Everyone has a great 4th Holiday. Caley Ann

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:13 pm
by Jim McConkey
Hi Caley, and welcome to the Forum. Sorry there hasn't been much interest in zithers here lately. I was given a similar one last year, but I have yet to get around to cleaning it up.

Don't worry about your lack of skills, we have all been at that point before. You have the interest and drive. Just take your time, ask questions, and have fun.

Fixing the cracks "properly" would require disassembling the instrument, which is really not as bad as it sounds. It looks like there is some separation from the sides anyway at the end. Get a thin knife or spatula blade in there and gently work it around the edge to separate the top and back from the sides. I would use hot hide glue (there are tons of discussions on the boards and in our Library) for the cracks, and add small cleats along the crack on the inside. You would also use hide glue to glue the top/back back on. You might want to consider doing one or the other at a time. The remaining face will help keep the sides in the correct shape.

That being said, you could just leave the cracks for now and see how it sounds. The back crack is ugly, but it won't really affect the sound much. I would be more worried about the top buzzing when you play.

Just warm, soapy water and a soft rag is probably best for cleanup, then towel dry. Don't let the wood stay wet. Try just a little area at the edge and/or end first, to see if it will affect the decals at all. Just go slow and gentle.

re: Strings - strings specifically marketed for zithers are very expensive. Don't get taken! Since you have a caliper, you can get the necessary sizes, and interpolate to find any that are missing. Then go to and search for "GHS Individual Strings." These are guitar-length strings, which will be way too long, but if you buy a bunch of them at a time, they are just over 50 cents a piece, vs. $5+ for "zither" strings. They currently only list sizes from .009 to .016, but I have definitely bought bulk strings from them in the past in much bigger diameters. For some strings around 0.020 you have to specify plain or wound. You should probably call customer service (which is outstanding!) and ask them if they still have bulk strings in other sizes (any brand is fine). Most local music stores also carry individual strings, if you just need a few. StewMac also carries zither pins, if you ever need them, as well as a tuning key. Theirs is a bent model, which works, but most people seem to prefer T-shaped tuners, if they can find them.

Happy fixing!

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:36 pm
by Caley Hand
Jim, Thanks for taking the time out from your holiday to reply. Back near the beginning of my introductory thread, someone mentioned using water along the seams, and prying just as you mentioned. Apparently it is a very tedious task.

I figure that once I get the pieces apart, I can clean up the old glue, remove any dirt, and other odd discolourations.

One thing I lack are clamps. I have put on my Amazon wish list the type that you use to assemble guitars; not overly expensive. I hope they will come in handy for other things.

Thanks for the tip on "Hide Glue". From what I understand, most of these old instruments were assembled with that type of glue.

Also, thank you so much for the link for strings. I have labeled all my strings with the information that was on the instrument, then grouped all the various sizes of strings . I will have to re-measure them, as some are like .016, then another .0165. I get the feeling that this difference might be an error in my caliper, even though I kept zeroing it to make sure I got correct measurements. Right now I have about 15 different sizes going from .012 up through .085, quite a range

Thanks again for your help. Caley Ann

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 12:12 am
by Jim McConkey
Have a look in our Library for discussions on spool clamps. They are easy and cheap to make. Think 2 sewing thread spools on a long bolt with a wing nut at the end. Go to Home Depot and get a bunch of 6" or 8" long 1/4" threaded bolts, and some matching washers and wingnuts. Also get a short piece of 1 1/4" or 1 1/2" closet dowel, then slide it into oo1/2" or 3/4" disks, and drill a hole in the middle. If you want to get fancy, get a thin cork sheet and glue some to the inside faces of the two disks in each assembly so it won't scratch your instruments, and possibly some flex tubing that will fit over the 1/4" bolts, which keeps the threads from scratching the side of your instrument. These are very versatile clamps that can be used on everything from thin zithers to guitars. You can also buy them from StewMac or LMI, but they are much cheaper to make yourself. Both places can also sell you hide glue crystals - just add water and heat.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:17 am
by Steve Sawyer
Caley - steel instrument string wire (in my experience) will typically measure +/- .0005, at least according to a good set of digital calipers. Thus something that measures. 0115 should be considered as .011 or .012, not as yet another distinct size.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:32 am
by Caley Hand
Jim, Thanks, sounds like I have another construction project to do. I already have a lot of what you mentioned in the shed, so I may only have to purchase a minimum of things.

Steve, Thanks for letting me know about instrument string wire tolerances. I noticed no one online listed anything other than even numbered wire sizes, with very few exceptions. So, I can group many of the odd sizes into the closest even sized wire. Looks like a few of these Zither strings are actually guitar strings because the sizes are .065 and .085. Other large ones are .036, .038, and .049. All the rest fall into the normal small wire sizes which I can get in bulk on EBay. The same seller also sells replacement tuning pins in bulk to take care of this instrument with a few left over.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:09 am
by Clay Schaeffer
If you buy music wire and need to make loop ends Harbor Freight sells a cheap wire twister: ... 45341.html

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 7:00 pm
by Caley Hand
I finally found a that deals with separating hide glue seams. It involved a spray bottle, old rag, and steam iron used on the seams. Now I just have to hope that the glue used on this instrument is hide glue.

Clay, Will look into a wire twister. I thought I could get by with vise grips, and a metal rod to act as a form for the loop.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:40 pm
by Caley Hand
Made more progress. Yesterday I carefully wiped with water only, all faces of the instrument. I was totally icked by how dirty it was, especially the decorated front. I actually can see the design and lettering a lot better now.

This morning I racked my beady brains to figure out how to clean up the tuning pins. I decided that spending about $50 for new ones was totally out of the questions. I initially used sandpaper, and that was just too tedious. So I tried my one inch belt sander for number two, and was that a mistake. It sure cleaned the rust off, but also took off metal to the point where the tuning wrench slips now. Then I finally remembered that buried in my everything room was a Dremel from the 80's, and a whole box of various grit/various shape claning/samnding/polishing type attachments. I used three of these, the absolute lowest abrasive ones, and half an hour later, 95 percent of the gunk is gone, and for the most part, the upper 80 percent of each pin is shiny. Of course, gotta purchase two replacement pins because of my stupidity using both the sandpaper, and the 1 inch belt sander. At least those are only 40 cents apiece, plus shipping, which is probably $5 versus what I would have paid for new pins.

I also picked up the hardware parts for making spool clamps. I have the dowel on hand from a previous purchase from years ago. But I have to purchase adhesive cork, and then figure a way of cutting 1.25 inch discs. I think there is such a thing as a cork cutting tool. Just have to find out what it is actually called. Maybe a new sharp X-acto knife blade will do. Have hundreds of those, from years ago.

I am still hedging on disassembling the instrument. I really hope I can steam the seams apart without destroying it. Maybe start on that after the holiday. Caley Ann

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:36 pm
by Jim McConkey
Don't worry too much about steaming the joints. If there is any place you can gently work a knife in, the old glue usually literally pops apart with no water/steam. Just work around the edge slowly.

If you have one of the small wire brush tools for the Dremel, it may clean up the lower 20% of your pins. I think Home Depot still carries Dremel tools like that.

For the spool clamps, cut the cork into squares and glue onto the dowel ends. Just cut around the edges with scissors. An X-acto blade will do the job, but is really overkill.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:25 am
by Caley Hand
Jim, I didn't bother with the lower part of the pins, since they are pretty much clean; no corrosion, just some discolouration from being imbedded in the wood.

As for trying to get the back off by prying, that is absolutely not going to work. The seams are all very tight, with no seperating at all. It is possible hide glue was not used, or that this instrument was opened in the past, and reglued. All I can do is try the wet towel with steam iron. If the glue won't soften with that, then my repair work will end. The Zither sound hole is way too small to squeeze implements in to place cleats.

Im waiting on Amazon to send me the cork with adhesive back. Where I live, stuff like that is unheard of. Most everything I need has to get ordered online. Twentynine Palms, California isn't known for its friendliness to big retail stores, and probably would not get many because we only have about 70,000 living in the Morongo Basin.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 5:49 am
by Chris Reed
If you can live with visible cracks on the soundboard then you can still cleat them.

Take a guitar top E string (or nylon fishing line), drill a tiny hole in the cleat, hot hide glue on the cleat, then use the wire to slide the cleat along the crack and pull into position. With HHG just pulling gently on the string for a few minutes is probably enough. Or you could attach a guitar tuner to a wooden block so you could tighten that to clamp the cleat in place.

Nylon fishing line with a knot in it might be better because you can leave a long end coming out through the sound hole to pull the line out once the glue has set.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 6:19 am
by Caley Hand
Hi Chris, I've been contemplating not opening up the sound box. Knowing how clutszy I can be, it could mean the end of the instrument. I need to read, and watch a lot more before I try to do what is more than likely a Luthier's job. This instrument cost $55, which includes the shipping. I will probably invest that in new strings. So I do not think it is worth putting more money into it. Just put my time, and what skills I have into it.

I have been wondering if I could get the cleats in and then fill in the huge font cracks with something. I've heard that fine sawdust and glue mixed can be used. I could then do what I can to match up some paint to disguise that area.

The big crack at the sound hole has one side higher than the other, so I will have to clamp it to get things even. A video I watch had the Luthier using Neodynm magnets to do that job. He also used the same type magnets to hold the cleats in place. The problem with a small sound hole is figuring a way to get those magnets in place.

I have also thought about a long cleat, not just pieces. I could join a lot of the cleats, placing it along the whole length of that monster crack. The other cracks only need cleats ever few inches. Again, trying to figure out how to get them in place, and holding them there will be the problem. The fishing line thing is probably the best bet. Just drill a micro hole, slip the fishing line through, fish the end out, put the cleat on the line, tie the knot, and then pull into place. I just need to make a tightener mechanism out of of some old guitar tuning parts to tighten and hold the cleats tight until the glue dries.
This project is going to take time. Each thing I have to do, I have to ask questions, read, and watch videos before trying to do that task.

Anyway, the spool clamps I am making may not be needed, but making them is fun. And they probably will be used sometime in the future, if I ever need to fix something that needs side clamping. Caley Ann

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:36 pm
by Steve Sawyer
Caley - hope I'm posting this in time to save you some work.

Evap-o-rust is just the thing for those pins. You can get it at most hardware stores and big box home stores like Lowes and Home Depot.

Drop 'em in a jar with Evap-O-Rust in it, let 'em soak overnight and they'll be bright and shiny in the morning. The stuff is very safe to use too. No worries about getting it on your hands and slopping it around. Don't get it on something like the cast iron top of your table saw though, as it will cause a bit of an "etch" in the surface. DAMHIKT.

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:43 pm
by Caley Hand
Steve, I think that stuff has something like I read to use on removing oxidation, "Vineger". It probably has that and the equivalent of baking soda in it. I found this recipe after spending a morning with my Dremel cleaning them, and shining them.

Since I cleaned them a day or so ago, they are no longer shiny, but still look OK. I put some 3 in 1 oil on a paper towel and swiped each, making sure to wipe off most of it. That should provide some limited protection.

I'm not sure what they used for these pins back in the 1930's, but I doubt they were stainless steel. Caley Ann

Re: Repair of Zither (Harp Mandolin) ??????

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:47 pm
by Caley Hand
Gotta go back to Amazon to order the Neodymn magnets. I sure hope I order the correct ones, ones that will provide enough force to bring monster crack back together evenly, but not so strong that I cannot at least pry the ones on the outside off, to let those on the inside fall off and allow me to rattle them out through the sound hole. Caley Ann