Phonoharp (Fretless Zither) [Kontakt, SFZ, Ableton, Decent Sampler]


The charming tones of this early 20th century instrument available in four convenient versions:  Kontakt (requires the full version of Kontakt (version 5.8.1 or later)), SFZ, Ableton Sampler, & Decent Sampler.


All proceeds from the sale of this sample will go to Black Lives Matter / Community Bail Funds for protestors.

A few years ago, Dave Hilowitz had a pretty intense fretless zither phase. He was working on a podcast episode about these instruments, and he kind of went overboard, buying no less than six instruments to use in the episode. The harp we’ve sampled here, the Phonoharp No. 2, was purchased at a flea market in Philly and was the first instrument he bought (the one that kicked off his obsession). It was made in the early 20th century by the Phonoharp Company of Boston. What differentiated this zither from its competitors was that it had a grill on the top that allowed you to play three chords. The chord functionality sounded terrible, so we took the grill off in order to sample it better.

A zither is a kind of harp that lies flat on a table; one plays it by plucking its strings with a pick. The traditional kind of zither, a sort that was crafted in Germany in the mid-19th century, was very fancy, had several sets of strings and a fretboard, and was very difficult to play. By the late 19th century, a simpler version without the fretboard was being mass-produced both in Germany and in the US by German immigrants. They were sold door-to-door and in catalogs, a came with song cards that showed how to play popular songs of the day. Today, this second class of instruments is referred to as “Fretless Zithers.”


  • Four round robins per note
  • Two additional pads samples that were made by applying effects to the raw samples
  • The Kontakt and  version comes with three controls: tone and reverb
  • Four versions:
    • SFZ version tested with Plogue Sforzando
    • The Ableton version was created with Ableton Live Suite 10 (NOTE: it will not work if you don’t have the Sampler instrument)
    • The Decent Sampler version works with the free Decent Samples player plugin. Download it here.
  • Sample rate: 24-bit 48khz
  • Library size: 180MB compressed

Intro Video:

Demo track:


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