Also:       celempung      

Title: Pangkur Pamijen--Ladrang Pangkur; Riris Raras Irama. Label: Kusuma. Format: CS. Catalogue#: K.G.D. 018. Track: A-1.

Title: Street Music of Central Java--Ketawang Puspawarna; performers not listed. Label: Lyrichord. Format: CD. Catalogue#: LAS 7310. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The siter is a plucked box-zither chordophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. Except for the shape of its resonator and it having a dual soundboard, this instrument is functionally a celempung, a box zither found in most modern Javanese gamelan sets (listen to first audio clip). The siter is played in two distinct socio-musical spheres, that of the low status itinerant street musician and that of higher status Javanese urban/court gamelan. Itinerant siter musicians play (and often sing) alone or in small groups of two to five instrumentalists and singers (listen to second audio clip). They appear unsolicited at street corners in front of homes, markets and restaurants taking requests in exchange for a small monetary reward. Amongst urban, gamelan-centered players, a number of chamber gamelan instrumentations exist many of which have one or more celempung and/or siter (these combinations are called cokekan and siteran).


This siter is a double one, with the arrangement of strings, bridges and tuning pegs seen in this image being replicated on the backside of the shared resonator box. At the core of this instrument is an elongated trapezoid-shaped box resonator constructed from several pieces of wood; boards are used for the sides, blocks for the ends, and plywood for the soundboards. The twenty-four wire strings run the length of the resonator and are arranged in twelve double courses. One end of each string is hooked around a pin at the narrow end of the resonator and its other end is attached to a tuning pin in the pin block at the wider end. The vibrating segment of each string (these range from 20 to 8.2 inches in length) is articulated at the narrow end by a raised bridge with a metal rod nut and at the other by a high metal bridge that angles across the soundboard; it is this metal bridge the serves to transmit the vibration of the strings to the resonator for amplification. A metal tuning key is used to adjust the tension of each string. Hinged lids are attached to the sides of the resonator for ease of storage and transport.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

This siter replaces two celempung, one each tuned to the two Javanese scales (laras sléndro and laras pélog) (see Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for this siter when used with the Grinnell gamelan). A single performer seated on the floor at the instrument's narrow end plays the siter; from the player’s perspective, the longer, lower-pitched courses of strings are to the left, the shorter, higher-pitched strings to the right. The performer plucks the strings from above with his thumbnails, which are grown long to serve as plectra. The right hand position places most of the fingers under the plane of the strings while the position of the left hand has all the fingers above the plane. The fingers of both hands can be used to damp vibrating strings. The performer produces fast two-voice contrapuntal melodic patterns (cengkok) that lead up to important pitches (seleh) in the skeletal melody (balungan) of a piece (gendhing). When plucked, the strings produce a clear pitch and bright tone, and the siter is played at a constant dynamic level. Not all gamelan musicians play the siter/celempung. Even though it is a specialized role, siter/celempung players are not responsible for leading a group musically in performance and therefore do not carry high status. For an extended video example of the siter being performed, follow this link.


Little is known about the age and origins of the siter and celempung in Java. Most of the oldest extant court gamelans have one or two celempung, but these are almost certainly nineteenth or twentieth century innovations/additions. Perhaps the siter developed in the village strata of Javanese society first, later to have its shape modified in aristocratic circles (possibly in ways influenced by Dutch colonial furniture) for inclusion in the gamelan. But this is only conjecture.

Bibliographic Citations

“Celempung.” 1984. NGDMI v.1: 319-320.

Kunst, Jaap. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Pickvance, Richard. 2005. A Gamelan Manual. London: Jaman Mas Books.

Sumunar Javanese Gamelan Instructional Videos website, accessed 16 May 2019:


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

314.122 chordophone--true board zither (the plane of the strings is parallel with that of the string bearer): with resonator box (box zither); the resonator is made from slats

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - board

Resonator design, chordophone: box with wood soundboard

String courses: double at unison

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction pin

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one


21.5 in. length 10 in. width at wider end 5.6 in. width at narrower end 2 in. depth of resonator 1.5 in. height of bridge

Primary Materials

string - wire
metal - sheet

Entry Author

Roger Vetter