Folk Music in the Southern Regions
Commentary by Musicians, Luthiers & Sundry Inquisitors Regarding Bouzoukis, Citterns, Mandolins, Mandolas & Related Instruments
(Please send comments to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
[addendum to 19jan05] I thought I would let you know that I finally got to try a Fylde Longscale archtop bouzouki and I have to say that it was a case of must-have. I now am therefore a very proud owner of this very fine instrument.
I purchase most of my strings (the odd penny whistle, etc.) from a small music shop in Glasgow, Folk Revolution (www.folkrevolution.co.uk). The owner, Kenny, also attends our local folk club. He was aware that I wanted to try the Fylde so he contacted Roger Bucknall at Fylde and asked if he would send one up for me to try and the rest as they say is history.
I have joined a folk band, Quaich (schedule posted at www.quaich.org.uk) and we are currently recording some tracks for promotional purposes and to put on the site. I will let you know when they are available. I also have a Web site with some clips of material recorded pre-Fylde: www.nickmusic.co.uk.
Got to go and practice!!!
Nick (John Nicol, email@example.com)
I own a beautiful and fine instrument, a bouzouki in guitar model by Gidgee Guitars in Australia. I've been looking for a place to sell it. You can find it on my Web site (www.rycooder.nl/pages/marc.htm) and contact me from there.
[addendum to 21sep03] I wasn't completely happy with the DADAD tuning for my cittern, so after many discussions with fellow string players of all kinds, I've been enjoying a *new* tuning. This seems much more versatile. The low D gets rarely used, but covers the drone bass line nicely. The new tuning is: DADAE.
Brian Striman, Lincoln, NE (firstname.lastname@example.org)
[addendum to 17feb04] Just to update you, the Trinity College zouk is gone. Instead, I found a Fylde short-scale archtop bouzouki that I haven't been able to stop playing. The tone is so rich and the playability is so good, I would rate the Fylde right up there with the Sobell. As for amplification, I am just using a mic (Shure SM-57). If you can get your hands on a Fylde, I highly recommend it.
Mike Jeanneau, Bedford, NH (email@example.com)
I come from former Czechoslovakia, now from the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia was divided into Czech and Slovak republik in 1993). I used to play mandolin; my first was an A-style, carved-top mandolin. Then I switched to a vintage Italian bowl-back, which was better for me at the time because my repertoire contained (for the most part) classical pieces and also some folk tunes. But I still felt that the mandolin is not ideal instrument for me. I started becoming interested in bouzouki and Greek music in general. Then came hours and hours of listening to Greek tunes, and I finally decided to buy a Greek bouzouki. I contacted a friend, whom I knew from one discussion board, just from the times I used to play mandolin. He gave me some advice about this instrument and about to where to buy, etc.
Now I'm an enthusiastic "bouzoukist" who has put his mandolin aside. The bouzouki is really a very, very universal instrument, but there is still very little information about it (that's why I like your site, Dan!). This made me start my own mandolin/bouzouki Web site (only in Czech language yet): http://3web.dkm.cz/mandoweb. I collaborate with two luthiers and we try to familiarize these instruments to your readers. It is paradoxical that in country with so many great luthiers, too few people know about mandolin/bouzouki. We have a small community around our site (cca 70 players), but we are still growing. :)
you very much. Best regards,
Alex Knapek (firstname.lastname@example.org)
[addendum to 18nov04] I continue to gig two to three times a week while trying to hold down the day job as well. The bouzouki is still used as a "niche" instrument as I mainly use guitar for trad. accompaniment. I find myself using more dropped D recently as it is relative easy to retune back to standard -- however, there is always a gap while this is done, so I end up missing the first "round" of the next tune. Can be hazardous if the retuning is not done correctly. If amplified, I always use the onboard tuner in my effects pedal -- hard to trust your ear in the middle of a set of tunes.
After almost 30 years of accompanying trad. (and playing guitar for over 30 years), I still feel there is no "correct" guitar tuning; they all have their merits. The main reason I use standard tuning is because that's the way I learned the guitar, and I can use chords which would be difficult in alternative tunings.
[addendum to 2dec04] -- Well, I ummed and ahhed (how *do* you spell that?) and so ordered my zouk from Dave Freshwater in late December. Now I just have to wait for the new family member!
Since I've had such a long break from music (about 15 years), for now I'm
mostly working my way through mandolin studies on zouk and mandolin to bring myself properly back up to speed. Also helping a couple of folks learn to play -- which is great for me as it forces me to revisit the basics of tone and technique.
Fascinated to read your article on Bouzoukis. I am at present going through a similar process. I am originally a flute/whistle player and last year purchased a Musikalia Bouzouki (because I liked the sound of bouzouki on records). I am now absolutely hooked on the instrument and although the Musikalia was much better than I expected for the cost (£140.00) aspire to something better.
I have been directed to another string instrument manufacturer based in Scotland (www.fotheringhams.co.uk/index.htm) who, apparently, has recently supplied a bouzouki to Brian McNeill (formerly a member of The Battlefield Band).
At one time I came across a site with a list of bouzoukis grouped according to price (high, mid and low) and desirability. I have no idea where it was located and cannot now find it anywhere. Any ideas?
you ever compared the Sobell with a Fylde?
Still wistfully anticipating my introduction to a Fylde. Like John, I'd be
interested to hear comparative comments. . . . Anyone? Also, if some of
you know of the bouzouki price list, perhaps we can give it a link.
Will stack mine up against anyone's. Free seven-day trial; you pay postage. Not cheap but not expensive, either.
Sample pic: The octave is available at $1,000; the 10-string bell models are out of stock but $1,400 (left) and $1,600 (right).
Nikos Apollonio, Rockport, ME (email@example.com)
I ran across your Web site just now and thought I'd drop you a line. I noticed (I'm not sure when it was written) that it was a goal of yours to own a Fylde bouzouki/octave mandolin. I sold one a few years ago to a fiddler in Greensboro. It was an Octavious bouzouki. I've had a Fylde mandolin a few years.
I haven't been playing music for a couple of years now. I was in a band called Gaelwynd for several years. I was getting a little burned out on Celtic music and playing the same tunes over and over. Lately I've been more into old-time. I was actually a judge at a fiddler's convention in Virginia this past summer. It was enjoyable if taxing.
My old friend Sonny Thomas is not only a musician but a longtime stalwart
promoting folk music activities with the Fiddle & Bow Society in
In response to your piece at http://www.hornpipe.com/hp/bouzouki.htm here's my zouk path:
Played violin from year dot until about 22 -- so fifths just seem normal.
first fretted instrument was a horrid little plywood mandolin with crude
humbucker. I think it was Czech or something -- the sort of instrument
that could be picked up in junk shops and second-rate music shops for
around £30 in the early eighties. Very jangly, not very good intonation
and soft frets (which of course quickly made the intonation even worse).
But it was a starting point.
While at college, I used to spend a couple of months every summer hiking through Greece, and having heard that bouzouki was tuned in fifths, picked up a Tetracordia as soon as I came across a town with a music shop but no tourists. Since I didn't know how to tell a "real" instrument from wall art, this seemed like a good way to increase my chances of getting something playable. So I picked an instrument with minimal decoration and just within my reach at the time (think it was about £100 sterling in 1982-ish -- I'd taken a year out working for my folks at £20 a week just before this first trip).
Of course, at the point of purchase I'd already found out that an 8-string Greek bouzouki is tuned in fourths, which felt weird, so I retuned to GDAE -- not with any reference tone, but just up to the point where all strings were playable(ish). I toted this instrument around for many thousands of miles with this set-up, though once back home did experiment with different gauges until I had something that worked a little better (heavier G strings, lighter E strings).
instrument miked up adequately with a violin limpet, though was a
little boomey. At the time I hadn't really come across Celtic folk, but was playing in a slightly off-the-wall Goth band -- mostly fiddle, dodgy mandolin and balalaika and tabla.
I decided a solid-back bouzouki would be a good idea, but horrified Greeks when suggesting it! Eventually found John Hullah, a luthier near my hometown who had already made two electric bouzouki, and commissioned a solid mahogany instrument tuned GDAE with the bottom two courses in octaves and a twin-bladed humbucker.
This instrument has a really dark tone, with plenty of potential for raucous rock, and soon became more of a permanent accessory than shoes and socks. With more experience, I'd now say the action is a little high, and with a shaped neck, drastic surgery would be required to lower it -- it's too much a part of me to risk this.
I also had John Hullah make a matching mandolin. This has a lower action and a nice bright tone. I often use this short-scale instrument to work things out before moving to a long scale. It sounds good clean or overdriven, and like the zouk (or I suppose a 12-string), when bending strings the progressive discord is wonderful for filthy leads.
of these instruments are quite highly strung, the zouk ranging from 12s on
the top down to 48s on the bottom G -- obviously louder, but mainly
because of the greater range this affords when bending.
this year, I added a GDArmstrong 10-string (CGDAE) -- at 648mm; the scale
is about half an inch shorter than my Hullah bouzouki, has a low action
and a beautifully honeyed sound -- more suited to jazz and blues than the
Hullah. Its also feels lower-strung (though the strings are 58, 46, 30,
17, 12 -- suppose the half-inch scale and action make the
with strat styling (maple body) and three pickups. (After previous
difficulty sourcing an electric, was amazed to find luthiers
on solid-back mando family instruments).
I now have a need for an accoustic instrument, I'm looking at either a
Moon or Freshwater 10-string -- probably full-length scale. The way I
play, can't justify going into hock for a Sobell, etc. Have just been
quoted by David Freshwater (Inverness, Scotland) for a 10-string walnut
& spruce bouzouki with pickup; delivery hopefully mid-January; will
let you know how it goes.
I'm a Dublin-based musician and mainly play guitar -- have been for over 30 years now! A lot of the stuff I do is Irish traditional music accompaniment, for which I generally use standard tuning, with occasional forays into dropped D and DADGAD where I feel it is appropriate. The reason I mention this is that a previous background in guitar can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to bouzouki playing; also, tunings play a huge part in developing a style. I like to think I have adapted standard tuning effectively to Irish music by using a lot of modal chords (which are very possible in standard with a bit of effort), but there are limitations to every approach.
Anyway, on to bouzoukis!! One of the reasons your Web page struck a chord (so to speak!!) was your mention of an Eko as your first instrument. In the late '70s I bought one and tried to figure out accompaniment, with not much success as I will explain. The main reasons I got switched onto bouzouki was via the Bothy Band stuff and also because I met Joe Foley around that time; he had just begun to make bouzoukis. He plays a lot of melody and uses an unusual tuning -- ADAE. As I knew no better at the time I adopted this tuning, but found it difficult to make sense of it as I was using a chord approach.
I sold off the Eko in the early '80s and didn't do anything on the bouzouki front for about 10 years. I continued to play guitar, and around 1991 I decided to buy a Foley bouzouki -- spruce top with MADAGASCAR rosewood back and sides. Again I tried with the ADAE tuning and eventually made the switch to GDAD after a lot of soul-searching. Since then I have been a lot more comfortable with the instrument. . . . BUT, I find that most people still prefer me playing guitar!! I think this is because (as Joe said to me many years ago) I am a "chord man"; i.e., my basic approach to accompaniment is mainly based on chords. I have some problems with the scale length of the Foley bouzouki; I have even thought about switching to mandola but I prefer the thinner bouzouki sound. So for trad. gigs, the bouzouki gets used only occasionally, to add a bit of variety.
You mention strings. I obviously used the unison approach (no octave strings -- I don't really like the sound), and use 40, 32, 17 and 12 gauges. I haven't really experimented much with gauges and find these OK for playing.
Instruments -- surprise surprise, I have TWO Joe Foley guitars and a Foley bouzouki in my collection (also a Guild acoustic, a Fender Strat and Fender Jazz bass). My original Joe Foley guitar is about 15 years old and plays like a dream for trad. -- it is virtually unsurpassed and the sound is regularly commented on; for example, it knocks the socks off my Guild. It has an Oregon Pine top (a compromise between spruce and cedar) and Indian rosewood back & sides. The newer acoustic has a spruce top and Brazilian rosewood back & sides, but hasn't managed to replace the older guitar as a trad. backing instrument, as it has a completely different sound, a much more standard guitar sound.
Joe is obviously a good friend and lives nearby so I may be biased, but I feel privileged to know him and to have acquired the instruments mentioned above. I would highly recommend them to anyone, and he has sold them throughout Ireland and all over the world. They are relatively cheap by most standards, and I know musicians who have bought "name" instruments after having Foleys, who have gone back to the Foley instruments. Obviously, as they are hand-made, quality varies, but a good Foley instrument will usually at least hold its own with very well known makes. He has a long waiting list and this is part of the problem for anyone who is trying to get one. A delay of up to a year is common.
I have a mad idea to get a DOUBLE-NECKED acoustic, both 6-string necks,
one in standard and the other in DADGAD. This would allow the player to
switch effortlessly between the two, and the resonances off the unused
strings would probably add to the overall sound. If/when I win the Lottery
I will progress this; as it is my long-suffering wife feels she has enough
to cope with based on the six instruments I have lying around the house
(not to mention Spanish guitars that my three sons are learning on!!!).
I found your site by chance on the Net. I enjoyed your musing and wonder if you can give me some information.
I have a very rare Fylde Bass Bouzouki that Roger Bucknall made for me a few years ago. I sent him my designs and he built it. It is quite experimental. It has the most wonderful sound and great sustain. The problem I am having is, I am just too small to play it and after gigging on it all night I wake up with sour fingers.
You most likely know about Davy Stewart's Bass-Zouk made for Andy Irvine. This Fylde is much bigger and a fifth lower; works great with an Irish drum. The string scale is over 760mm. You need to be a big man to play it all night without being worn out.
I want to know if there are any sites for zouk players where I can put it up for sale. I would like it to go to someone who can make good use of it. I have not been actively going out to sell it; I want the right person with big hands to find it, however that may be.
I happened on your Web site and find it of interest and look forward to reading your books.
I have found someone to give me bouzouki lessons. Now I have the dilemma of finding an affordable instrument to learn on. Any suggestions? I found someone on the Internet selling one they purchased with a case from Lark in the Morning. They said they paid $797 and want 500; price includes hard case. It is a year-old Sakis. Do you know anything about Greek manufacturers?
Petrides Georgia Petrides (firstname.lastname@example.org)
liked your info on your Web page. I
bought a Stuart Octave mandolin used from a another student at Celtic Week
last year at Swannanoa. It's a
beautiful instrument with a great sound -- lots of bass and lots of projection. It took me about a year to find the pickup I was looking for. I wanted a passive pickup because a) I never want to have to change a battery inside that small sound hole and b) because I use an external Fishman Platinum Plus preamp.
I ended up sending the instrument to Carl McIntyre of Oak Island, NC, on Robin Bullock's recommendation. Robin was my bouzouki instructor at Swannanoa and is a fantastic player and teacher. Carl designs and builds pickups and also does installations. He installed one of his "feather" pickups. I shipped my instrument to him on a Wednesday and received it back with pickup installed the following Wednesday! Incredibly good service!
Davy's info: www.stuart.co.nz
And Carl's: www.mcintyrepickups.com/macindex.html
Michael Robbins, The BorderCollies (email@example.com; www.thebordercollies.com)
Hey Dan! I liked your bouzouki story, so I thought I'd tell you mine. I had to look up in the dictionary to find out how to pronounce bouzouki. . . . Yesterday morning I had never heard of such an instrument, and today I own one.
I was in the new/used instrument store buying my husband Stephen a left-handed guitar when I spied an old gentleman on the other end of the counter trying to sell (what I came to find out was) a bouzouki. I was mesmerized! It was gorgeous! The young fellow was trying to get me to sign my charge slip for Stephen's guitar, and I just walked away to see this lovely instrument. It has opposing dragons and flowers inlaid on the face (orange, yellow and green pearl on black; the inside is a sea of flowers).
The man wanted $300; the clerk offered him $150; I bought it for $200. The bouzouki is an Eko, with eight strings and an electric pick-up. It has a bowl back, so I guess it is Greek, not Irish (my preference would have been Irish). I'm determined to learn how to play it, but right now I am just trying to find strings and figure out how it is supposed to be tuned. Your article suggested that Eko is not the best of brands, but I'm sure this one will serve me until I get a good feel for what they are supposed to sound like.
Melanie in Wisconsin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I am jealous about your Sobell. . . . I've been drooling about one for quite some time. My first zouk was (and still is) a Trinity College. Originally had it strung in octaves and used the Greek tuning (CFAD). Good results playing Irish tunes but thin on the low end, with chords similar to guitar. It was a good transition for me (played guitar since age 7). Two years ago I switched to paired courses and GDAD tuning and improved the low end of the TC, but I was looking for more; since I find myself playing a lot of melody, the long scale of the TC was tough. I ran into a Weber (formerly Flatiron) octave mandolin at a music shop and after playing it, I ordered one! I now play a Sage I model, which is very mid-rangy and very LOUD for such a small body (~2" deep); it however lacks the bass response of the Sobell. Was having feedback issues using mics onstage so I installed a K&K western (triple-mini) transducer . . . a passive rig that reproduced the zouk sound so cleanly and naturally that it actually sounds better plugged in now!
Let me know if you'd like more info on the ducer and how I installed it.
Mike Jeanneau, Bedford NH (email@example.com)
I'm off work and decided to do a little octave mandolin/bouzouki search on the Web before going home for the day. I enjoyed your article. For most of my instrument-playing life, I've played acoustic and electric guitar. About three or four years ago, I went to a folk/bluegrass festival and saw and heard a mandolin used in many different types of music -- bluegrass, folk, Celtic, etc. I was intrigued. I traded an amp and a nice mic at a local music store for a mandolin. It was a cheap one, but I learned to play it and was soon using it at church regularly. I've been playing now for about two years and have come to enjoy it, perhaps, more than guitar. I've given my mandolin to my uncle (it was my only one), as I felt God wanted me to do this. Now he's playing it in church.
I've since built a an Army-Navy style mandolin from a Stew-Mac Supply. It was a simple kit; it's solid wood and plays quite nicely. I've come to really want an octave mandolin (the bouzouki looks too long for my statue/arm reach!). I don't have the money yet for such a venture but hope to some day. I'm no expert on Celtic music but have purchased a Tim O'Brien CD and simply love his music. Do you know of any Christians who produce/record traditional/Celtic music?
Thanks for the interesting article.
Scott A. Dinnel (SCOTT_DINNEL@rsausa.com)
EDITOR: Michael Card is one Christian recording artist who spent time in Ireland and during the 1990s began using acoustic Celtic sounds substantially in his recordings. Do readers have other suggestions?
I used to live near Bob Gernandt, and have bought two of his instruments over time. The first was the first cittern he ever made. Three inches thick, walnut back and sides with redwood top (to keep the notes clear). Set up as a five-courser. I no longer have it; it is being used by a piper in Cleveland named Tim Benson.
I also have an octave mandolin by Bob. It's four inches thick in koa back and sides, with wester cedar on the top. Roars.
I use, in descending order of thickness, 46, 32, 22 then 12 on the octave mando. The cittern was the same except the last (highest-tuned course) is a 9. These work the best on these two instruments. I have experimented with heavier and didn't like the results.
Now, I bet your bouzouki is not as thick as either of my two instruments. I have seen the earlier ones, and Bob doesn't build them like that anymore . . . everything is cross-braced. (My cittern was maybe the last straight-braced one made.)
Glad to hear you have one if his pieces. I really like the ones I've played. He also made a cittern based on plans for a Florentine mandocello (no kidding) and it's made of curly cherry back and sides and has a spruce top. You should here that thing!
BTW, pics of some of Bob's stuff are at www.gernandt.com.
John Neack (John_Neack@ca6.uscourts.gov)
your Web site, I think you asked about string settings you were having
trouble with. . . . I'm not sure if it was for a cittern. If
it's a 10-string cittern, try DADAD.
a mere toddler on this instrument, but I thought you'd like some input one
way or 'tuhther.
I'm a mere toddler on this instrument, but I thought you'd like some input one way or 'tuhther.
Brian S., Lincoln, NE (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I am up here in Seattle and Iím a mandolin player. I caught sight of a Foley cittern and I want to know what you think. It is around $1,800; it was made in 1998 and itís new.
I play normally classical or Italian style of music. I have owned Gibsons and other makes.
Stumbled on your site. I make and play an Irish Bouzouki in a Ceili band out of the A.O.H., Akron OH. My first one is black walnut body and neck, ladder braced same for two, and three. No. 2 went to Co. Clare for a person I met in the U.S.; No. 3 is being played in a band called Brace Yourself Bridget; No. 4 is mahogany with walnut neck.
I had some problems with humidity but seem to have solved it. Really dry here in OH in the winter Ė 27-percent humidity in the house.
asked about string diameters. I use ball-end strings I buy in bulk. I
use phosphor bronze: .039 wound G, .026 wound D, .020 solid A, .011
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