Like many string instruments, it has many variations and is generally considered to be a broad term for that genre of instrument. It usually consists of a wooden box that works as a resonator, over which between 30 and 45 strings are stretched. Some of these strings pass over a fretted surface and are thereby able to be “played” to produce a tune. The rest of the strings are used as accompaniment. The melody strings are played with a plectrum attached to the player’s right thumb and “stopped” with the left thumb. Meanwhile accompaniment strings are plucked by the three larger fingers of the right hand.
The instrument is played across one’s knees or on a table.
The zither reached a world-wide audience with Anton Karas’ score for the 1950 spy-thriller, set in Vienna, The Third Man. The main theme reached the top of the hit parade charts that year.
Someone who plays a zither is known as a zitherist.