It is said that balalaikas embody the Russian people's character, with its ability to switch from happiness to sadness with ease. Originally it was a folk and peasant instrument. It was common for the peasant ballads, composed for the balalaika, to irreverently poked fun at the authority of the times. For this reason there were times when Balalaikas were banned by both the Orthodox Church and the State. The balalaika is a chordophone.
The Balalaika strings are tuned above middle C to: A, E, E (1st-3rd). The 1st string is the thinnest, and lays over more frets than the 2nd & 3rd strings. Use a piano or electronic tuner as a reference for tuning. To play, the left hand notes the strings while the index finger of the right hand strums high on the soundboard near the neck. The dark rosewood on the soundboard is decorative but also protects the soundboard from the strumming.
In the later 19th century the instrument underwent a number of changes, including the adoption the classic triangular shape. Reportedly, in the late 19th century, the Russian nobleman Vassily Vassilievich Andreyev, was responsible for the transition of the Balalaika from folk instrument to concert stage performances. Andeyev’s chamber ensemble’s first public concert in 1888 was a great success. It was this ensemble that was renamed The Great Russian Imperial Balalaika Orchestra. As this orchestra toured the balalaika was introduced beyond Russia’s borders, even to the US. Balalaikas were also carried by the common people when they fled Russia at times of war.
The most striking structural component of the Balalaika is the triangular body. The Neck is narrow and terminates in a peg box that is at an acute angle to the neck, and has three strings and metal frets. Balalaikas come in number of sizes. The Piccolo Balalaika is the smallest and is rarely seen. The most common size is the Prima. It is approximately two and one-half feet in length. The next two larger sizes are the Second, and Alto Balalaikas. There are larger Bass and the very large Contrabass Balalaikas.
SPECIAL NOTE - No Warranty on Strings: Whether you purchase an instrument on-line or in a neighborhood store, manufacturers recommend that you change the strings on your instrument as soon as you receive it. Your instrument has completed a long journey to your home. During this time the strings WILL oxidize and this may shorten their life expectancy and may reduce their sound quality. On occasion instruments may arrive with a broken string, therefore, it is recommended that you purchase a replacement set of strings and consider changing your strings as soon as it arrives. Learning to change strings should be the first lesson learned when embarking on the journey of playing a new instrument.