Bouzoukis are long-necked lutes, part of a family that includes Ouds, Bouzoukis, Sazs, and Banjos. Bouzoukis are light weight with long thin necks. They are usually about 3 ft in length. The neck on the bouzouki is longer and thinner than on the lute of oud. The light colored, pear-shaped soundboard is backed by a bowl-shaped resonator. There are a number of fixed metal frets along the neck. Typically there are three or four metal strings paired in courses. The instrument is tuned with geared tuning pegs and is played with a plectrum. Bouzoukis are commonly linked with Greece, as they are the mainstay of modern Greek music. But the bouzouki can be found in a number of countries. It is also a mainstay of other Balkan folk music, particularly of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is even an Irish bouzouki.
There are three main types of bouzouki: Trichordo, having three pairs of strings (courses), Tetrachordo, having four pairs of strings, and Irish, having four pairs of strings and a flat back. The trichordo bouzouki was the usual type of bouzouki from around 1920. It had fixed frets, rather than movable ones, and it had 6 strings in three pairs, tuned D-a-d (or E-b-e). This type of bouzouki was used for rebetiko. The illustrated bouzouki is a replica of a trichordo bouzouki used by Markos Vamvakaris. It has tuners for eight strings, but has only six strings. The luthiers of the time often used sets of four tuners on trichordo instruments, as these were more easily available, since they were used on mandolins.
The tetrachordo bouzouki has 8 metal strings which are arranged in 4 pairs, known as courses. It was conceived and established in the scene by a major Rebetis, Manolis Chiotis, during the early 1940s. In the two higher-pitched (treble) courses, the two strings of the pair are tuned to the same note. These are used for playing melodies, usually with the two courses played together. In the two lower-pitched (bass) courses, the pair consists of a thick wound string and a thin string tuned an octave apart. These 'octave strings' add to the fullness of the sound and are used in chords and bass drones (continuous low notes that are played throughout the music).
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.