Originated from the Greek bouzouki, discover the “success story” of the Irish bouzouki which has become a charming yet still rare music Instrument.
Part 1 :From the Greek bouzouki to the Irish bouzouki.
The Greek bouzouki
The Greek bouzouki comes in two version.
The trichordo version is a 6 strings in 3 pairs instrument. It is assumed to have been introduced in the very beginning of the 20th century to play rebetiko music. Each pair is based on a thick wound string and a thin string, tuned an octave apart and the frets are fixed.
The tuning is D3 D4•A3 A3•D4 D4 and is called “European tuning” by by Markos Vamvakaris who is “patriarch of the rebetiko”. Surprisingly, the head of the neck has tuners for eight strings while using only six strings. The reason is because those tuners were more easily available at this time because being also used for mandolins.
The tetrachordo version is a 8 strings in 4 pairs instrument which is more recent. It is generally tuned C3 C4•F3 F4•A3 A3•D4 D4. The two higher-pitched courses are tuned to the same note while the two lower-pitched courses, the pair are tuned an octave apart and the lower-pitched string comes first in contrary to of most other instruments with octave-paired courses like 12-string guitar. Today, the tetrachordo is the most played version even if some old-timers have a preference for the trichordo.
The introduction of Greek bouzouki into Irish music
In the mid-1960, the popular band Sweeney’s Men have introduced the tetrachordo greek bouzouki into Irish music. The band members were Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan and Terry Woods who replaced “Galway Joe” Dolan. Johnny Moynihan introduced the tetrachordo bouzouki into Irish music, using with a different tuning from the CFAD: GDAD..
Also, Andy Irvine who is known to master several stringed instrument can be heard playing greek bouzouki like in this live performance with Donal Lunny & Paul Brady at The Embankment in 1976.
Also, Alec Finn introduced the trichordo greek bouzouki in his instrument panel using it later into the traditional band De Dannan.
The birth of the Irish bouzouki
Andy Irvine met Donal Lunny in the late 1969 and gave him a Greek bouzouki he bought during his travels through Europe. Donal Lunny being left-handed reversed the string order and replaced each thick string by a second high pitched string giving a unison sound for the two lower pitched courses. He must have been very satisfied by the result because one year later, he and Irvine ordered a new instrument to Peter Abnett’s workshop with the same string set he choose for his Greek bouzouki but introducing a new flat back for the instrument, thus giving it a eastern guitar characteristic. This new instrument was then acknowledged as the Irish bouzouki instrument.
Part 2: The Irish bouzouki success.
Musical role and design of the Irish bouzouki
Basically, the Irish bouzouki was played to produce chords or to be a counterpunctal instrument for melodic instrument such as flute or fiddle. The unison courses contribute to enhance this musical role of the bouzouki. That is how the Irish bouzouki found his place into Irish music bands.
Outside the unison strings and the flat back, other modifications have been done to the Greek bouzouki. The body has been widened and the sides are straight in contrary to the round and somehow narrow back of the Greek bouzouki. However, some variations have introduced a slightly curved, arched top like luthiers produce for archtop guitars and mandolins.
Success among musicians
From Early years…
First, the Irish bouzouki gained popularity with the growing popularity and success of The musician that firstly introduced the instrument: Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Alec Finn, Paul Brady,…
Then, the Irish bouzouki became popular in other countries: Asturias, Galicia, Brittany, Scandinavian countries, Spain… Many musicians use the bouzouki both as a chordal and melodic instrument.
Finally, the Irish bouzouki has become more common among musician and have been seen even in popular TV shows. Indeed, one contestant of the popular TV show “The voice” in its 2013 French edition is a bouzouki player. While he didn’t win the show, Luc Arbogast has provided to the French audience a unique traditional and spiritual music mixing religious singing and traditional bouzouki chordal accompaniment
Although, it remains an original and versatile music instrument that would provide you with unique and new music possibilities. If you wants to give the Irish bouzouki a try, do not forget to read our guides:
- Which bouzouki to buy according to my needs and budget
- How to learn bouzouki