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  • the tambouras, a Greek traditional string instrument of the lute family and ancestor of the bouzouki, features movable frets?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bouzouki tetrachordo.jpg
Related instruments

The bouzouki (gr. το μπουζούκι; pl. τα μπουζούκια) (plural sometimes transliterated as bouzoukia) is the mainstay of modern Greek music. It is a stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body and a very long neck. The bouzouki is a member of the 'long neck lute' family and is similar to a mandolin. The front of the body is flat and is usually heavily inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The instrument is played with a plectrum and has a sharp metallic sound.

Many musicians such as Manolis Chiotis and Giorgos Zampetas began using specially designed pickups to achieve a slightly thicker humbucker-like sound in the mid-1960s. These pickups are widely used by several Greek artists today and came in active and (usually) passive versions. Bouzouki pickup manufacturers include Savvas, Archondis and EMG.

There are two main types of bouzouki:

  • Three-course, having three pairs of strings (courses).
  • Four-course, having four pairs of strings.



In Greece, this instrument was known as the pandura or pandourion, also called the "trichordo" because it had three strings; it was the first fretted instrument known, forerunner of the various families of lutes worldwide. The source of our knowledge about this instrument is the Mantineia marble (4th century BC, now exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens), depicting the mythical contest between Apollo and Marsyas, where a pandouris is being played by a muse seated on a rock.

From Byzantine times it was called pandouras and then tambouras(Elizabeth Jeffreys,John Haldon,Robin Cormack, The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, Oxford University Press, 2008, p928. Cf. Nikos Maliaras, Byzantina mousika organa, EPN 1023, ISΒN 978-960-7554-44-4). The modern Turkish Tanbur is practically identical to the ancient Greek pandouris. On display in the National Historical Museum of Greece is the tambouras of a hero of the Greek revolution of 1821, General Makriyiannis. This tambouras bears the main morphological characteristics of the bouzouki used by the Rebetes.

The Tambouras was still in use in Greece mainland during 19th century. Modern Bouzouki which is a mix of tambouras and mandolino invented by Greek luthiers (like Stathopoulos) was mostly used by the Greeks living in Asia Minor (now Turkey). This explains the origin of the word "bouzouki."

An explanation for the origin of both the word "bouzouki" and the "bozouk saz" is that it comes from persian word "bozorg", or more precisely "tambur-e bozorg" or "tambur-i bozorg" which means "big tambouras" (the word "saz" is also persian and means "instrument"). In Greek and Turkish the sound "rg" became "k" for linguistic reasons. This explanation based on the size of the instrument seems more logical than the explanation based on the word "bozouk" meaning "broken", because all the different names of the saz specify the size of the instruments.

As far as the theory based on the word "bozouk" meaning "broken" is concerned : The Turkish saz belongs to the same family of instruments as the tambouras. A medium-sized kind of saz is called a bozouk saz. Bozuk in Turkish means "broken, not functioning, modified." Here it is used in order to specify the size of the instrument. It is concluded, therefore, that the bouzouki has been named after the jargon of the Turkish saz by the Greeks living in Asia Minor(now Turkey). An alternative popular etymology maintains that the word bozouk was used because different tunings (the Turkish 'düzen') are required for the instrument to play in different musical scales (known as Dromoi in Greek, Maqam (pl. Maqamat) in Arabic). A tuning known as the bozuk düzen (broken tuning) still exists in Greek folk music.

The bouzouki is also related to the Arabic buzuq. As "buzuq" does not mean anything in Arabic, the explanation based on persian word seems more likely to be true than any other one.

The early bouzoukia were mostly three-string (trichordo), with three courses (six strings in three pairs) and were tuned in different ways, as to the scale one wanted to play.

After the late 1950s, four-course (Tetrachordo) bouzoukia started to appear. The four-course bouzouki was made popular by Manolis Chiotis. Chiotis also used a tuning akin to standard guitar tuning, which made it easier for guitarists to play bouzouki, even as it angered purists.

The Irish bouzouki, with four courses, a flatter back, and differently tuned from the Greek bouzouki, is a more recent development, dating back to the 1960s.

The three-course bouzouki (trichordo)

Greek tetrachordo bouzouki

Bouzouki with six strings but eight tuners

This is the classical type of bouzouki, that was the mainstay of most Rebetiko music. It has fixed frets and it has 6 strings in three pairs. In the lower-pitched (bass) course, the pair consists of a thick wound string and a thin string tuned an octave apart. The conventional modern tuning of the trichordo bouzouki is Dd-aa-dd. This tuning was called the European tuning by Markos Vamvakaris, who described several other tunings, or douzenia, in his autobiography. The illustrated bouzouki was made by Karolos Tsakirian of Athens, and is a replica of a trichordo bouzouki made by his grandfather for Markos Vamvakaris. The absence of the heavy mother of pearl ornamentation often seen on modern bouzoukis is typical of bouzoukis of the period. It has tuners for eight strings, but has only six strings, the neck being too narrow for eight. The luthiers of the time often used sets of four tuners on trichordo instruments, as these were more easily available, since they were used on mandolins.

The four-course bouzouki (tetrachordo)

This type of bouzouki has 8 metal strings which are arranged in 4 pairs, known as courses, typically tuned Cc Ff aa dd (i.e. one whole note below the four high strings of a guitar). In the two higher-pitched (treble) courses, the two strings of the pair are tuned to the same note. In the two lower-pitched (bass) courses, the pair consists of a thick wound string and a thin string tuned an octave apart. These 'octave strings' add to the fullness of the sound and are used in chords and bass drones (continuous low notes that are played throughout the music). The four-course bouzouki is mainly used and most common.

The Baglama

Greek baglama.jpg

The little Greek Baglama, (named after the Turkish Bağlama) is a version of the bouzouki pitched an octave higher (nominally D-A-D), with unison pairs on the four highest strings and an octave pair on the lower D. Musically, the baglama is most often found supporting the bouzouki in the Pireas style of Rembetika.

The body is often hollowed out from a piece of wood (skaftos construction) or else made from a gourd but there are also baglamas with staved backs. Its small size made it particularly popular with musicians who needed an instrument transportable enough to carry around easily or small enough to shelter under a coat. During parts of the 20th Century, players of the bouzouki and baglama were persecuted by the government, and the instruments were smashed by the police.

See also


Further reading

  • Richards, Tobe A. (2007). The Greek Bouzouki Chord Bible: CFAD Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 10: 0-9553944-8-1 ISBN 13: 978-0-9553944-8-5. 


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