Kalis and Co. International
by Hans de Louter, 1998
name “tambouras” has been used by the Greeks in reference to a series
stringed musical instruments resembling the “bouzouki”, regardless of
number of strings, fret distribution/positioning or tuning. This series
of instruments belonged to the Tamboura family based on the following
Small sound-box usually is the shape of a pear
- A thin long neck straight from one end to the other
- Usually with Frets that were originally movable (adjustable) which
are in modern days fitted on the fret board permanently
- Pegs (Klidia) which were originally made of hard wood, (ebony) and
were fitted similarly to those of the violin family, and have now been
replaced by the commercially made machine heads
- A number of strings which are supported by a bridge “kavalaris”
- They were played “Plucked” with a plectrum “Penna” or sometimes with
the players finger nails
The general name of the TAMBOURA family was also known as
TAMBOURO, TAMBRAS or TSAMBOURAS among other names, which had divisible
identifying names specific to each instrument depending on their size,
number of strings, tuning etc. Some of these names which may be
to many of us are: SAZ, BOUZOUKI, BAGLAMAS, TZOURAS, LAOUTO as we know
them. Other instruments which are only of historical significance today
and are not used by modern performers are: YIONGARI or LIONGARI which
three strings, MBULGARI with a variety number of strings, KITELI with
strings tuned in 5ths, KAVONDO with a flat sound-box and three double
having about 95 cm length, TZIVOURI, with two double strings and one
tuned in 5ths and KARNDOUZENI being a type of a large baglama. There
two methods of constructing the sound box of these instruments.
One was the carved method where the entire sound-box was carved from
wood in the pear shape as we know it, and the other was the mold method
where strips of wood were bend over a specific pear shape mold and
together to produce the box. The second method is the one commonly used
by most makers today. There are however skillful makers even today that
use the carving method, especially for the smaller instruments, such as
the baglamas and the tzouras. These pear shapes vary from instrument to
instrument and from maker to maker.
Some would be longer or shorter pear shapes, rounder or narrower,
or shallower etc. In the older days, makers were using the shell of a
half gourd and many other types of similar items. Musicians during war
times were innovative enough to make small baglama from water flasks
by the army to the soldiers.
Furthermore, prisoners were using small dry gourds or other similar
types of materials such as carved sound box to make small size baglama,
which they would conceal on them and smuggle in their jail cells. These
instruments were also known as “Gonato” which means “The knee” because
they would fasten it on to their knee when they were entering the jail
in such a way that the guards would not be able to detect them.
The soundboard was made from animal hide stretched over the box in
the older days and later out of wood, such as spruce.
Instruments of the Tamboura family were played in the older days as
single instruments without being accompanied by other rhythmic
The musician would play the tune on the first string being of higher
which is also known as the “Kandini” and at the same time would use the
other strings open usually wound and known as Mourganes or Mbourganes
produce isotonic, tonic or 5th sound etc.
This was always analogous to the number of strings and the tuning.
In time this method of playing has progressed to what we know today,
the harmonic accompaniment based on a specific scale.
INSTRUMENTS of the Tamboura family, with long thin neck and a small
round sound box were present in Greece since about the 4th century BC.
In those days these instruments were known as “PANDOURA”. This is
documented by various painting and mosaics from that epoch, depicting a
musician playing the Pandoura with a plectrum or penna. More evidence
their existence could be found in later years of the 10th, 12th, 16th,
18th and 20th centuries by official letters, memos and reports written
by various scholars and notable personalities of those years. For
a respectable author by the name of Constantine Porfirogenitos had made
mention in one of his reports, of Pandouras and Pandourists (The
being present at a high profile dinner in the 10th century, where
writer had made mention of Tambouras and other instruments entertaining
high caliper invited guests of a gala event at the Constantinople Race
Track in the 12th century.
The Lauto, also known as lavouto or lagouto, has been named as such
from the Arabic word “OUD” which means wood. This instrument or a
thereof is also known as “Lute” which was very prominent during the
and baroque eras. It is worth noting at this point that an instrument
is called a “LUTHIER” which is a derivative of the word LUTE. The sound
box of the Greek Lauto is unusually large in relation to other
of the Tamboura family, such as the bouzouki. Saz etc.
It usually has movable/adjustable frets, 8 strings and a bridge glued
permanently to the soundboard and it is played with a plectrum. In the
older days players would use plectrums made from tortoise shell, or
feathers of larger foul such as wild turkey etc.
At the end of the 19th century, the Lauto was constructed in
Today however makers have chosen the mid size Lauto as a standard size
with minor intentional or un-intentional variations depending on the
and his moulds, as well as the demands of the musician placing to order
for construction. The construction revival of Lauto/Bouzouki in Modern
day Greece has been documented from the early 1800’s to date.
The Bouzouki has been part of the wider Greek musical tradition for
centuries. Although it has been associated with Rebetika music it has
elevated its status to the more popular Greek music known as Laika and
Elafrolaika, as well as the classical composition of modern Greek
The Bouzouki is a member of the "Tambouras" family of instruments of
it is a variation. It is believed that the word Bouzouki is a
of the Turkish word "Buzuk" which means broken, but can also mean
The Bouzouki has not changed much in the very many years of
Throughout the epoch however, it has evolved from a six-string
to an eight-string instrument that is most popular with Bouzouki
of today, and the playing style and technique have also been amended to
reflect today’s sounds and musical expectation.
The Bouzouki has been persecuted by the authorities in the past century
and part of this century as they had associated it to the criminal
of Greece, (unfairly and wrongly). It is purely a "sole" instrument and
even though various qualified teachers have written many books it may
be learned by just anyone. By this statement I mean that even though
may have the ability with proper training, to make music with a
few of us posses the ability to be able to perform with it and to relay
through the instrument our most inner feelings, thoughts, and emotions,
which change from moment to moment. In a nutshell it is the "mirror" of
Other similar instruments belonging to the Bouzouki family
Baglamas, Bouzoukomana, and Gonato that can be distinguished from each
other by their means of construction, size, shape, number of strings,
The most common length for a normal Bouzouki is 70cm, in the older days
it would resemble a pear-shape and was somewhat smaller. In modern days
however it is made larger and resembles a large version of a Mandolin.
It has a long neck with frets and sounds somewhat like a Mandolin or
The smallest instrument of this family is the Baglamas, which is about
30-35cm long, and mostly with 6 strings (3 Doubles).
Bouzouki - Technique & Tuning
The Bouzouki is played with a small plectrum, otherwise known as the
"penna". As mentioned before the most common Bouzouki today is the
(8) string Bouzouki that in essence consist of four (4) double sets of
strings. The higher tuned strings starting from the bottom up are
"katini" and the lower tuned strings that are thicker and wound are
the "bourgana". The sequence of tuning from the bottom up is as
The first set of double strings is tuned as the "RE" or "D" note. The
set of double strings, which are again identical, are tuned as the "LA"
or "A" note. The third set of double strings which consist of one
and one Bourgana string are tuned as the "FA" or "F" note and the
set of double strings which also consist of one "kantini and one
are tuned as the "DO" or "C" note.
On the other hand the six (6) string Bouzouki which is still
many of the older players as well as some of the younger ones, which is
ideal for the true "Rebetiko" sound are tuned in double sets from the
up as "RE" or "D", "LA" or "A" for the second set and again "RE" or "D"
for the third set.
A good Bouzouki player must be able to produce clean notes at
speed than other stringed instruments. It takes years of studying and
hours of constant practicing on a daily basis. Once a player commits to
playing the instrument he may not be able to slack off and ignore daily
practice time, as this will result in a decline in his dexterity and
Keep in mind that regardless of how much one devotes to practicing, not
everyone may be able to master the true sound and feel of a Bouzouki,
it is a reflection of the player’s soul.
All Rights Reserved
©Copyright 2003 Kalis
and Co. International