Wednesday, March 01, 2006


In response to the comments on this post, which turned into a treatise on bouzoukis, rolling chords, traditional Celtic style, and diadokokinesis, here is a picture of my bouzouki being cautiously played by Mr. Attitude. This one is an octave mandolin, which means the pairs of strings are tuned one octave lower than a standard mandolin. Some players string a bouzouki like a 12-string guitar, with one of each of the sets of lower strings of a different gauge and tuned an octave higher than the other, but I just use sets of identical strings.

This one was made by Flatiron and has a spruce top with birds eye maple back and sides- very pretty wood. I can't say I'm an expert at playing it, but I love it for its deep, resonant tone.


Floridacracker said...

He looks sleepy.

Deb said...

I think it may have been time for a nap, although I do not remember a nap being taken yesterday!

Eleutheros said...

Flat Iron instruments are great! Did you know they buy all the necks from Martin Guitar Co.

The bouzouki is a Greek instrument (the word is Turkish and might come from the root meaning "brawl" since players and aficionados were looked upon as being coarse). The Greek Bouzouki had octave strings on the lower two courses and was tuned to CFAD.

Most Irish bouzoukis now of days are actually octave mandolins although many use full scale bouzoukis and tune them to GDAD or ADAD in order to play chords more easily, but then, as I have opined, the original Celtic sound is muddied by use of chopped chords.

Here is one of the bouzoukis I made:

And here is the one I play. It's Greek, but all the pairs are in unison and tuned to the righteous GDAE:

Deb said...

Very beautiful instruments, Eleutheros. One question: having never played an instrument with a shaped back like the one in your photos, how does it affect the tone? I know that is the historical shape of the mandolin, but I'm just curious what tonal properties it has.

I was very fortunate to buy that one while we were double income, no kids. ;) I saw Tim O'Brien and Matt Flinner play them at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and I was hooked. Does Flatiron still make them anymore, after they left Bozemat? I haven't seen anything like that online lately. All I know is, I like mine, I came within an inch of selling it when I needed the money, and I'm grateful that I didn't.

Deb said...

Oops, I meant to say Bozeman.

Eleutheros said...

Flatiron didn't so much leave Bozeman as it was that the Gibson company bought them out, made mandolins under the Flatiron label for some years, then discontinued it.

Gibson made Flatirons are not worth nearly as much as the Bozeman Flatirons per se.

I'm a bit of a skeptic about the subtle nuances of this or that design or this or that wood. An archtopm though, has a starkly different sound than a flattop with tone bars. Carry that difference forward and a bowl back (or lute back) instrument has yet a different sound.

An arch top, like the typical f-style, derives most of its sound and it's characteristic tone from the wood rather than the air chamber. The opposite is true of a bowl back instrument. The tone of the wood is less important than the size and configuration of the air mass. The reason for the popularity of arch top instruments is mainly their volume due to a higher bridge, higher string tension, and the wood being under more tension. Complexity of tone and sustain are sacrificed. Bowl back instruemnts do not have as much volume but have a more complex tone and a longer sustain.

Flat top instruments are a very good compromise betweent the two. The bouzoukis I make have only two tone bars on the top (sound board) and two on the back. The back is slighly bowed but the top is a triple laminate of spruce.

The only mandolin I have at present is an archtop f-style (Aria Pro II) and I'm quite fond of it. But I want a flat top mandolin with a large soundbox and a round sound hole. Probably going to have to make one myself as the one's I've tried have all been crap.

Had a chance to get a Gibson A7 once for $1200 but couldn't swing it. Still an archtop though.

Since there aren't going to be any more Flatirons, yours is (are) worth quite a bit now.