Europe East ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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Europe (East)

Here is the second page of Europe, the East :
Austria, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania/Hungary and Croatia/Serbia.

Go to Europe West
for the western side :

Spain, Portugal, Canary islands, Madeira, Azores, Cape Verde, Ireland

Go to Europe South
for the south side :
Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica

 

 

top Austria
concert zither
example :
bought in Austria, 1995
L=550 B=320 H=30mm
scale 430mm
You Tube
concert zither

The concert zither is a typical instrument of the mountainous area of central Europe, so Austria and surroundings. Although zithers in general would not be included in this website, this one is different, as there is a fingerboard with frets to play the melody.

The concert zither is basically a wooden box (although in a nice rounded shape), with on one side (like a kind of keyboard) 5 strings over a fretboard with metal frets. Next to the fretboard are about 27 more strings, which are played open. They are arranged in 7 chords of 4 strings each, which for orientation are separated by strings in a different colour. The strings over the fretboard are tuned with guitar-like tuning machines; to tune the rest you need a tuning key. The two top strings are in the same pitch, but appearently not played together.

To play the zither you put it in front of you on a table with the fretboard towards you. The right hand picks with a metal thumbpick the melody strings, and with the index or ring finger you strum the chord strings, just aiming for the right chord group. The left hand has to push down the strings on the fretboard. As the highest string is nearest the player, the playing is just the other way around from playing guitar.

Usually just folk music is played on it and due to the soft sound - mainly only at home.

For the history of the concert zither see Zitherorchester (in German).

top  
schrammel gitarre
example :
bought via eBay, 2005
L=1090 B=380 H=75mm
scale 620/660-840mm
You Tube
the instrument solo
You Tube
in Austrian folkmusic
schrammel gitarre

This is a special harp guitar used in so called "schrammel quartets" in Wien (Vienna), with violin, viola and clarinet to play semi-classical music in restaurants. Called after the two brothers Schrammel who made this type of music popular in the 19th century. The schrammel guitar (also called kontra-gitarre) provides the harmony and the basses for the music. Nowadays often only a harmonica and schrammel gitarre are used.

The schrammel guitar can have many shapes, but basically it is a spanish guitar (with 6 nylon strings), with an extra unfretted neck, with 3 to 9 extra bass strings, which are only played open. The peghead can be different (some look like Fender guitars), with some having a separate nut for each string, giving extra string length. To withstand the enormous pull of the strings on the body, there is a steel pin inside. To get some orientation in the bundle of bass strings, some are coloured red.

Playing is like a normal classical guitar, mainly in chords, with the thumb picking the occasional bass string (like on the baroque lute).

 

For a look at very many schrammel gitarre see Harpguitars.net - it will be under form 2c; don't drown in all the hundreds of other types !

   
top Russia
balalaika
example :
bought in 1984
L=670 B=430 H=110mm
scale 430mm
You Tube
balalaika

The most famous Russian instrument is the balalaika. It has an awkward shape to hold. It comes in several sizes, from the soprano ("primo"), alto and tenor, to the large bass balalaika in big balalaika orchestres, playing (fast) folk melodies.

The balalaika is made from ribs joined together (a bit halfround) with the shape forming a triangle at the front. It has a narrow neck with a flat tuning head, with 3 tuning machines from the back. The body has a small round soundhole, and the front is either painted with some folk like decoration, or (the more professional ones) has inlayed woods in the top and lower corners.
Three strings run over a loose wooden bridge to pins at the edge of the body.
The tuning of a primo is a" e' e'. The first string is made of steel, the two other made of nylon.

Playing the balalaika is either with a plectrum or strumming with the fingers. Well known are the repeated mandolin-like tremelos. Usually the two lower strings are fingered with the thumb and the melody played only on the first string.

 

For more information about the balalaika see : get-tuned.
top  
domra
example :
bought via eBay, 2002
L=610 B=250 H=120mm
scale 370mm
You Tube
domra

The domra is another Russian instrument, which comes in many family sizes (soprano to bass), for use in balalaika- or special domra orchestres. It also comes in two different types : one with 3 strings and tuned like a balalaika, or with 4 strings, tuned like a mandolin. Don't confuse the name with the dombra, which is a longneck lute from Kazakhstan (see Central Asia).

The domra is made with ribs glued together in half a football shape. The front is almost a circle. On the top half is some overlay with black painted wood like a scratch plate, with white dots. The rosette has a black wood flowershape inlay. The narrow neck has metal frets.

There are two types of tuning head : an open peghead with a scroll to the front, and with either 3 or 4 tuning machines, on both sides. The other type has a flat tuning head, with a scroll to the side and with the tuning machines from behind. The 3 or 4 metal strings run over a wooden bridge to pins at the edge of the body.

Playing is with a plectrum or strumming with the fingers, like the balalaika.

For more information see barynya.
top  
Russian guitar
example :
bought via eBay, 2008
L=950 B=340 H=75mm
scale 610mm
You Tube
with nylon strings
Russian guitar

The native Russian guitar of the early 19th century was a 7-string instrument with an open G-major tuning and metal strings.
This Russian guitar (also known in Russian as : semistrunnaya gitara, or even semistrunka) was modeled on the West-European guitars, and mainly on the Austrian type (Stauffer model), with the neck not glued to the body, but fixed with a bolt, which made the neck-angle adjustable and the fingerboard not touching the soundboard. The friction pegs were of a special type that could be fixed to avoid slipping.
All 7 strings could be fretted, so it does not count as a harp guitar. Some regard this instrument as a guitar-shaped cittern (due to the open tuning and the metal strings).

After Segovia’s visit to Russia, the 6-string (spanish) guitar soon replaced the Russian guitar, although the instrument remained popular with amateurs as it was easy to play basic chords.

Nowadays the Russian guitar with 7 strings is still available, made by both Russian and Romanian factories, often using modern versions of the spanish guitar.
Note that the fingerboard has the same width as on a normal guitar, so the seven strings are closer together.

The steel strings are tuned : D G B d g b d'.


Mr. Oleg Timofeyev is trying to revive this instrument and has recorded some CD's with the original music. The amount of old repertoire is vast, but not readily available.

See for more information Earlyromanticguitar.com.



left : picture from CD Russian Guitar by Timofeyev

Note that in Brazil is also a type of 7-string guitar, called violão de sete cordas (see South America).

   
top Ukraine
kobza
example :
picture from website honchar.org.ua
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale mm
You Tube
kobza (unfretted)

In Ukraine existed some old lute-like instruments, which all had some connection with the bandura, which is a zither/harp. These were called husli, bandura, torban and kobza. The husli was a proper zither, the oval shaped bandura (see under miscellaneous) had many strings on the front, and a neck with bass strings, that could be fingered if you wanted, but were normally played open; the torban was a theorbe lute (see page lutes) with additional short strings on the soundboard (like the bandura), and the kobza was a bandura with fewer strings, and the bass-strings on the neck were sometimes fingered. Only the bandura is nowadays still very popular, and it is even the "national instrument" of Ukraine. However in the 1970's they have tried to revive the kobza, and it is still used by folk groups.

The body of this modern kobza is carved from solid wood, with a slightly rounded back, and a flat soundboard on top. The shape is usually a nearly symmetrical oval, with often a star-like soundhole. The neck is short and has a fingerboard stretching over the soundboard. It has no frets.
The tuning head is similar to a violin : bended to the back, ending in a decorative curl to the front. There are 6 friction tuning pegs, three on each side of the head.

The 6 main strings run over a loose wooden bridge to a metal (or leather) string-fastener at the edge of the body. To the right (the treble side) of the main strings are 6 or 7 harp-like strings, fitted to the edge of the soundboard, which can be tuned with frictions pegs (from behind). These strings run over the same loose bridge, also to the stringfastener.

The tuning is usually : G c d g a d' / g' a' b' c" (c#") d" e"

The playing of this modern kobza is with the fingers for the harpstrings, and the thumb for the bass strings. Even chords are played on the fretless neck. This instrument is now popular again with groups playing traditional folk music.
For more information about Ukrainian instruments see Kutash.

Note that there exists another kobza instrument in Romania/Hungary, which is a kind of lute (see under : Romania).

top  
kobza
example :
bought via eBay 2013
L=1020 B=370 H=100mm
scale 580mm
You Tube
kobza
example :
bought via eBay from Ukraine 2014
L=710 B=250 H=160mm
scale 360mm
You Tube
kobza (fretted)

Besides the above mentioned unfretted kobza there are also several types of fretted kobza in Ukraine. These were designed in the 1970's, to revive an ancient round instrument shown in old pictures (played by Cossacks), and which would also have been called kobza.

The body of this kobza with frets is made like a guitar (or a large flat-back mandolin). The body is either oval shaped or pear shaped. The peghead (with tuning machines) usually ends in a decorative curl to the front.

There are basically two versions : the mandolin-type and the guitar-type.
The mandolin-type kobza has 4 strings, and is tuned like a mandolin. This type is used in orchestras (so it is often called "orchestra kobza") and comes in different sizes : prima, alto, tenor, bass and even contra-bass. The instrument looks quite similar to the Russian domra.
The guitar-type kobza (often called "accompaniment kobza") can have 4, 6, 7 or even 12 (6x2) strings, and will be tuned like a bass guitar, like a normal guitar, like the 7-string Russian guitar, or like our normal 12-string guitar.

Playing this fretted type of kobza is usually with a plectrum.

mandolin-type kobza
pear shaped body, with loose bridge
and leather string fastener

(picture from photo)

mandolin-type kobza
oval shaped body, bridge with bridge pins

(picture from zap)

guitar-type kobza
with guitar-type bridge

(picture from sale on eBay)

   
top Romania / Hungary
koboz
example :
bought via internet,
Hungary 2002
L=640 B=270 H=170mm
scale 445mm
You Tube
kobza / koboz

In the area of Moldovia exists an old lute-like instrument, which is called kobza (or kobsa, or cobza) in Romania, and koboz (or coboz or kobuz) in Hungary.

The body of the koboz is made from 5 wide ribs, glued together. It has a long tear drop shaped front, with inlayed (square) scratchplate, just above the bridge, and some star like slits as soundholes (some have an extra, small triangular soundhole). The bottom edge of the front of the body is protected with a strip of leather.

The very short neck has no frets, and the fingerboard is flush with the front. The open pegbox joins the neck at an almost straight angle. The wooden friction tuning pegs are 4 on each side.
The 4 double metal (or gut) strings spread out to the bridge and run over a small strip of wood (a loose bridge) and are tied to rather high the glued-on bridge.
The tuning is usually : GG dd gg c'c' or : dd aa d'd' g'g'.

The playing is with a plectrum or strumming with the fingers. Even chords are played on the fretless neck. Although almost forgotten this lute is now popular again with groups playing traditional folk music.

There existed also a kobza instrument in Ukraine, which is often a kind of harp/zither (like the bandura), see under miscellaneous ("not included").
However sometimes the neck is fingered : see Ukraine (earlier on this page).

 

The example instrument is made in the factory of Szaszrégeni.

   
 

tamburas

East Europe has quite a few long neck lutes; a lot of them called tambura (or tamboura). Originally they are based on instruments like the Turkish saz, or the Albanian cifteli or the sargija (see for those : Europe South). The body used to be pear-shaped, but slowly the guitar-shape is getting more popular.
They exist in several versions :
- 2 courses tuned with the Farkaš system (both courses the same pitch)
- 3 courses tuned with the Jancovic system
- 4 courses tuned with the Srijemski system

Some tamburas are played as the single plucked instrument in a group (like in Bulgaria and Macedonia), but in Serbia and Croatia they have groups (tamburitza) playing solely plucked instruments, of different sizes. The different instruments are from the smallest to the biggest : bisernica, brac, bugarija, celo and berde. Some groups have just one of each, others are entire orchestras with at least 3 of each, and sometimes each one in a different size and tuning.

 

 

tambura Farkaš
example :
bought via eBay, 2003
L=870 B=210 H=100mm
scale 595mm
You Tube
tambura Farkaš

Tamburas made with frets in the so-called "Farkaš system" are now rare, hardly anybody knows how to play them properly. They were used in tamburitza groups, so they came in all sizes.

The body of this tambura is carved from one piece of wood to a quite thin shell. Originally the body had a teardrop shape, but later they were also shaped like a small guitar (still carved from one piece of wood) . The top half of the pine front (and often a small bit on the lower end) is made from dark coloured wood, with a patterned edge.



picture from Kupujem Prodajem

The long neck has metal frets, in the Farkaš system : only the first 5 frets are full size. From then there are two rows of half frets : on the right side a diatonic row and on the left all the frets in between, so together they form a chromatic range. The fingerboard is just a dark veneer.

The tuning head is flat with a sideways curl to the right. The tuning machines are of the tamburitza type (see under Croatia), with a curly metal coverplate on the front (which has some resemblance with the Stauffer guitar - see guitars1). All four metal strings (in two double courses) are tuned the same. They run over a small loose bridge to two metal pins at the bottom of the body.

Playing is with the fingers strumming both strings, to accompany folk singing or other stringed instruments.

 

 

top Bulgaria
tambura
example :
made by Stefan Stefanov, bought via eBay, 2003
L=920 B=240 H=60mm
scale 610mm
You Tube
tambura

The Bulgarian tambura (or tamboura) is made in two styles : with two double strings or with four double strings.

The body of this tambura is made from a hollowed out piece of (maple) wood in teardrop shape; the body is quite shallow. The pine soundboard is made of one piece, and slightly vaulted.
The rounded fingerboard is raised over the soundboard, and has metal frets. The long neck ends in a flat peghead. It has 2x2 or 2x4 tuning machines from the back. There is (blue-ish) plastic decoration around the edge of de body, the bridge and the nut.

The metal strings run over a very wide loose bridge to a metal tailpiece at the lower end of the body.

The tuning of a 4 course tambura is guitar-like, with no octave strings. Tuning usually is : dd gg bb e'e'.
A two course tambura could be tuned with all strings the same, or tuned something like : aa e'e'.

The instrument is quite heavy, and sounds loud.

This tambura is played with a plectrum, and used to accompany (folk) singing, or to play solo music.

   
top Macedonia
tambura
example :
made by Kievski, Skopje
bought via Kupujem Prodajem, Serbia 2011
L=870 B=220 H=130mm
scale 610mm
You Tube
tambura

The tambura (or tamboura) made in Macedonia looks very similar to the tambura of Bulgaria, but also a bit like a Greek bouzouki.

The body of this tambura (and the beginning of the neck) is carved from one piece of wood, but deeper than the Bulgarian tambura. The top half of the pine front is made from dark coloured wood, with a patterned edge.

The neck and tuning head are made from one piece of wood. The fingerboard is made of different wood, and level with the soundboard. It has metal frets. The tuning head is flat, with tuning machines from behind - two on each side.

The strings (in two double courses) run over a loose wooden bridge to a mandolin-like stringholder at the edge of the body. Tuning could be : dd aa.

Playing is with a plectrum, to accompany folk singing or other instruments.

   
top Croatia / Serbia
dangubica
example :
bought via Kupujem Prodajem, Serbia 2010
L=730 B=170 H=65mm
scale 480mm
You Tube
with 4 single strings
tambura samica / dangubica

On the Balkan (in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia) they still play some small saz-like instrument, which is called in some areas tambura samica and in others (like Lika in Serbia) it is known as dangubica. Also the name tambura kuterevka is used.

The pear-shaped body is carved from one piece of wood. The back is flat. The top end of the front (and sometimes also a bit of the lower end) is usually inlayed with a darker coloured wood (or just varnished in a darker colour). The frets are made of U-shaped metal and in a kind of diatonic scale inlayed in the neck (there is no fingerboard). It has a small round soundhole.
The tuninghead is often in a sideways curl (made famous by Mr. Stauffer and Mr. Fender). It may have 4 separate tuning machines from the back, or more traditional : 4 wooden pegs from the front, paired and standing a bit sideways. The strings run over a loose wooden bridge on the front to 4 screws at the edge of the body.

The larger instruments may have two double metal strings, the smaller dangubica has often four single strings.
For the tuning it does not matter : bb e'e', or : a a d' d', or something similar.

Playing is usually with the finger(s), strumming all strings together and mainly fingering only the first string(s).
The instrument with 4 single strings is more twangy, because than you hear three free drone strings. The instrument is usually played solo in folk music, not as part of an orchestra.

top  
bisernica
example :
bought in NewYork, 1996
L=635 B=160 H=35mm
scale 385mm
You Tube
small ensemble
You Tube
full orchestra
bisernica

On the Balkan (in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia) so called tamburitza (or tamburica) orchestras are very popular. Even emigrants in USA (or Austria) from that area still play this type of music. Basically the tamburitza is an all stringed band. The different instruments are from the smallest to the biggest : bisernica, brac, bugarija, celo and berde. Bodyshape can be roundish (mainly only for the smallest instruments) or guitar-like for the bigger ones. Shapes and decoration can be quite different between different makers. The orchestras can be small (one of each instrument), or with several of each (in different sizes). For more information see Worldfrets.com.

The main melody is played on the smallest : the bisernica (or prim).
Although the shape can be different, usually this smallest tamburitza instrument is roundish. The body is carved from a piece of wood, with a flat back. The top half of the pine front is of different wood, and soundholes are just lots of small holes as decoration. The fingerboard is flush with the front.

The tuning head is often flat and mandolin-like, but could also have a sideways curl (like Fender) with metal encased tuning machines. The 3 or 4 double courses of metal strings run over a loose wooden bridge to pins at the edge of the body.
The tuning would be : e a d' g'g'.

Playing is with a plectrum, with very fast passages.

from left :
celo, bugarija, brac, brac

in front :
two bisernica

 

top  
brac
example : custom made for me in Austria, 2002
L=910 B=300 H=55mm
scale 565mm
You Tube
brac

The brac is the second smallest instrument in the tamburitza orchestra, playing second melody lines. The brac (or Brach or bas-prim) is often guitar-shaped, but could also be roundish like the bisernica.

The body of the brac is made like a guitar, with the top half (or an area around the sound hole) in a different wood. The neck usually ends in a flat tuning head with a side ways scroll (like Fender), and metal encased tuning machines (the metal plate is on the front, not on the back as with the Stauffer guitars).

The 4 or 5 metal strings run over a loose wooden bridge to pins at the edge of the body, with some metal covering. Usually the first two strings are double.
The tuning is often an octave lower than the bisernica, E A d gg (the lowest 4 strings of a guitar).

Playing the brac is with a plectrum, with very fast passages.

top  
bugarija
example :
bought second hand from Bosnia, via PIK.ba 2011
L=1050 B=390 H=85mm
scale 680mm
You Tube
bugarija

The bugarija is the guitar-like instrument in the tamburitza orchestre, playing harmony/chords like a guitar. The bugarija (also called : kontra) is always guitar-shaped.

The body of the bugarija is made like a guitar, with the top half (or an area around the sound hole) inlayed with a different (darker) wood. The fretboard is flush with the front.
The flat tuning head often had a sideways scroll (like Fender), with metal encased tuning machines on a row on the left side. Others may have a more symmetrical shape with tuning machines from behind.

The 4 or 5 metal strings run over a loose wooden bridge to pins at the edge of the body, with some metal (or leather) covering. Often the first two strings are double.
The tuning is usually in open g : G B d gg.

Playing is strumming with a plectrum.

 

Notice that a small sargija in Bosnia is also called bugarija.

top  
celo
example :
picture from website
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
celo / celovic

The celo (or celovic) is the guitar-like bass instrument in the tamburitza orchestre, playing bass lines/counter melodies. The celo is always guitar-shaped.

The body is made like a big guitar, with the top half (or an area around the sound hole) in a different wood. Often it has a normal, round soundhole, but some may have f-holes.

The neck ends usually in a flat tuning head with a side ways scroll (like Fender), with often metal encased tuning machines. Some celos have a violin-like scroll.

The 4 thick metal strings run over a loose wooden bridge to pins at the edge of the body, with some metal covering.
(picture from website)

Playing is bass runs with a thick plectrum.

 

top  
berda
example :
picture from website zmegac.hr
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
berda

The berda (or tamburaski bas) is the string bass of the tamburitza orchestre.

Although some berda may have a guitar-shaped body, most berda look quite similar to the normal western standing bass. However the berda is different : the body may have a flat front and a flat back instead of carved. The top of the front is made of different wood. The neck is flat, and the fretboard level with the front; it also has (metal) frets. It has a violin-like scroll at the end of the tuninghead.

The 4 thick metal strings run over a loose bridge to a pin at the end of the body.

The berda is normally plucked with the hand, or with a thick leather plectrum.

berda with guitar-shaped body
(picture from Njuskalo.hr)

 

   
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