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Playing Irish Bouzouki With A Guitarist

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I just picked up an Irish bouzouki because I'm trying to make more accurate celtic type music and I love the sound of it.


About two miles down the road from me there is a weekly ( every Sat.) get together where players of all kinds of acoustic instruments converge into groups and "noodle" together...as you might have guessed there are plenty of guitars and fiddles..even dobros and a mandolin or two.


I was thinking about bringing the "zouk" to try. It's tuned GDAD but it can be tuned GDAE. I doubt there will be any guitarists there tuned to DADGAD but maybe......It all has to do with the fingerings I suppose, but I'm thinking my instrument isn't naturally predisposed to fit in with standard guitar chords and tuning. I believe a fiddle is tuned the same only higher by an octave..so I might fit well with one of those. I could probably squeek by if I kept my playing light. I'm not really sure what to expect and if I'll be more of a hindrance than an asset. 


Ive played it out already and a hang nail on one of my fingers caught the string and pulled it off the bridge since I was finger picking it...needless to say that wasn't an entirely successful veture, but I pulled out of it ok afterwards and played fine:)

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The irish bouzouki is a direct descendent of the greek bouzouki although the two are different in several ways. It all started in the 1960's when a few irish musicians got hold of greek bouzoukis and they became popular in celtic music. I have tried to post a picture of mine here...we'll see if I did it. 
The main differences being that the greek version had a more rounded back and was tuned differently. The irish version has a flat back and usually 4 courses of strings or 8 strings total sometimes strung in octaves as mine are on the first two courses...since the 60's the irish "zouk" has been inseparable from celtic music....so the irish gave the greek instrument a work over, also sometimes referred to as an octave mandolin. Here in the states you're more likely to hear it called that becuse Gibson made one and called it that...body styles differ but the scale is basically the same and tuning is different than the greek tunings.Many of the greek zouks had only three courses but some irish ones have 10 strings....also the term "cittern" is used. The cittern goes way back probably before the greek zouk and it very much resembles the medieval instrument played duting the middle ages and before...mine is a Trinity College LM375 which is mass produced but very good...there are lutiers who will make you a very nice cittern or zouk but I didn't want to spend that kind of money unless I get really serious. I have seen some real beauties online with built in pickups.
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  • 3 weeks later...

Well I have been going to the local musicians meet up for the past few weeks. I have yet to play with these guys although I have been invited to....the largest hurdle is that they are primarily bluegrass players who have been playing together for a long time. I have gained a lot of insight from them which can directly help me even though I'm not a bluegrass kind of player and my instrument really was't made with bluegrass in mind.


The thing that really amazes me is how many tunes these guys know from memory with not one stitch of music between them. They would let me sit in and "blend" with them....but if you know bluegrass you might know that they play in a circle and each takes a turn with a solo...usually one person get a look or a nod and the nexy guy is off while the others accompany. Since I don't know bulegrass music I would be feeling around by ear which I could probably pull off enough to squeak by...but it really just takes experience and practice like anything else.


The other misconception is that bluegrass is  redneck music and not sophisticated....music only "country folk" would be interested in. I play several instruments already and I know enough to say this is NOT true...in fact many a classically trained musician would have trouble keeping up with these guys in terms of skill and technique. Did you ever try to play a violin? No frets...now do it all by feel and do it fast...see it's not that easy :) 


I think it's close to the groups who play in Ireland or Scotland...they learn by sitting 'round and playing together and listening..only they play slightly different music. Bluegrass is a close relative to some Irish music though.

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Thanks for chiming in Mike and Rudi. 


Well...the reason violin was on my mind is because I also recently obtained one of those :)...I tend to get really anal in doing my homework before I buy something...probably too anal to the point of overload, but I will say in the case of a violin...to any who might read this...don't get a cheap one on ebay. You don't need to spend a lot of money...just spend it wisely. The Stentor II is what I ended up with...a great starter and not a lot of money. You most likeley want the 4/4 violin unless you are small of stature.


On playing the violin- I was told it is one of the most difficult instruments there is to play...it isn't easy that's for sure...but it isn't THAT bad either. If you can play guitar you can probably learn the violin in a year or two to a basic level. I got the "feel" of it fairly quickly...I can make a decent tone on it after a few weeks..it has much to do with mechanical physics and if you know that up front you have an advantage over a child who hasn't a clue.


Going to this group has been really helpful... since there are violinists there...and as I watch them...I am much more confident that after I get the feel of it down, I'll be just like them ! 

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I bought a violin from a fellow who with his wife, played in an orchestra. He had made violins for himself and her, and he was selling this other one on e-bay. I cant recall what I paid, but it had failed to sell initially & he had to relist it a little cheaper. 


It is loud. Louder than any of those I tried out in my local store in Portsmouth. It hangs in my studio now. I like to think I may be able to use it on some recording however modestly (t will need to be pretty simple too) at some point.

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Sounds as if you got a good deal on a violin Rudi...what I have found with mine is the bridge makes a huge difference in sound. I tried to file a bridge for the first time and I don't think I got it completely right....I bought two bridges just in case...and i think the "in case" was a good idea. The more the body resonates ( I'm talking about the violin body) the better the sound. If the bridge isn't tight to the body I think it looses tone.


There is a video on youtube where a guy takes a 39 dollar violin and plays it like a million dollar violin...but he is a GOOD player. Things like tuners that don't stay are just some of the things you have with a cheap violin.


I hope you can get it into a recording Rudi!  That is why I got mine!

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 8 years later...

Welcome to the world of Irish bouzouki! It's awesome that you're diving into Celtic music with this unique instrument. The weekly acoustic get-together sounds like a fantastic opportunity to introduce the "zouk" to the mix. While it's tuned differently, the GDAD tuning can indeed complement fiddles well, and you might find a sweet spot in the melodic flow.

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