Last updated
Bouzouki tetrachordo.jpg
Other namesbuzuki; trichordo; tetrachordo;

Plucked string instrument

Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321
(string instrument with a pear-shaped body and a long neck, played with plectrum)
Playing range
C3 – E6 (tetrachordo), D3 – E6 (trichordo)
Related instruments

The bouzouki ( /bˈzki,bʊˈ-/ , [1] [2] also US: /bəˈ-/ ; [3] Greek : μπουζούκι [buˈzuci] ; alt. pl.bouzoukia, from Greek μπουζούκια), also spelled buzuki or buzuci, is a musical instrument popular in Greece. It is a member of the long-necked lute family, with a round body with a flat top and a long neck with a fretted fingerboard. It has steel strings and is played with a plectrum producing a sharp metallic sound, reminiscent of a mandolin but pitched lower. There are two main types of bouzouki: the trichordo (three-course) has three pairs of strings (known as courses) and the tetrachordo (four-course) has four pairs of strings. The instrument was brought to Greece in the early 1900s by Greek immigrants from Anatolia, and quickly became the central instrument to the rebetiko genre and its music branches. [4] It is now an important element of modern Laïko pop Greek music.



The name bouzouki comes from the Turkish word bozuk, meaning "broken" or "modified", [5] and comes from a particular re-entrant tuning called bozuk düzen, which was commonly used on its Turkish counterpart, the saz-bozuk. It is in the same instrumental family as the mandolin and the lute. Originally the body was carved from a solid block of wood, similar to the saz, but upon its arrival in Greece in the early 1910s it was modified by the addition of a staved back borrowed from the Neapolitan mandola, and the top angled in the manner of a Neapolitan mandolins so as to increase the strength of the body to withstand thicker steel strings. The type of the instrument used in rebetiko music was a three-course instrument with three pairs of strings, but in the 1950s a four-course variety was developed and was made popular by Manolis Chiotis. [6]


Bouzouki player in Athens, July 2018 DSC 3510 athens Bouzouki player street july 2018.jpg
Bouzouki player in Athens, July 2018

From a construction point of view, the bouzouki can have differences not only in the number of strings but also in other features, e.g. neck length, width, height, depth of the bowl or main body, the width of the staves (the wooden gores or slices of the bowl) etc. These differences are determined by the manufacturer, who in his experience and according to the sound that the instrument should make, modifies his functional elements to achieve a more piercing, deeper or heavier sound.

The size and type of the resonating body largely determine the instrument's timbre, while the length of the neck, and by extension the strings, determines the instrument's pitch range, as well as influencing the timbre. While neck length can vary from instrument to instrument, most bouzoukis have the same number of frets (27), spaced such as to provide a chromatic scale in 12-tone equal temperament. On modern instruments the frets are metal, and set into a fixed position in the fingerboard (in contrast to early instruments and the related baglama, in which frets were of gut or cord tied onto the neck, and moveable.) The quality of the wood from which the instrument is made is of great importance to the sound. For the construction of the bowl, mulberry, apricot, cherry, acacia, and elm are considered to be the best woods, with walnut, plane, and chestnut being slightly inferior. The wood must be solid and sourced from slow-growth trees. The top or soundboard should be cedar or spruce (preferably spruce) if possible, cut in one piece. The top plays a major role in the sound because it resonates and strengthens and prolongs the vibration of the strings. Another factor that affects the quality of the sound is the varnish and the method of its application. The best varnish is a natural one made of shellac, which is applied by hand in many layers in the traditional way, for both acoustic and visual effects. The neck must be of very dry hardwood in order not to warp and increase the distance of the strings from the fret board (the action height) which makes playing the instrument more laborious. Manufacturers use different techniques to achieve this, each one having its own secrets. Many modern instruments have a metal rod or bar (truss-rod) set into a channel in the neck, under the fingerboard, which adds some weight but increases rigidity, and allows adjustment of the neck should it begin to warp.


Bouzouki in the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments in Athens Bouzoukis.jpg
Bouzouki in the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments in Athens

The Greek bouzouki is a plucked musical instrument of the lute family, called the thabouras or tambouras family. The tambouras existed in ancient Greece as the pandura, and can be found in various sizes, shapes, depths of body, lengths of neck and number of strings. The bouzouki and the baglamas are the direct descendants. The Greek marble relief, known as the Mantineia Base (now exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens), dating from 330–320 BC, shows a muse playing a variant of the pandoura. [7] [8]

From Byzantine times it was called first pandoura and then tambouras. [9] On display in the National Historical Museum of Greece is the tambouras of a hero of the Greek revolution of 1821, General Makriyiannis.

The tambouras of Yannis Makriyannis in the National Historical Museum, Athens Makriyannis tambouras.JPG
The tambouras of Yannis Makriyannis in the National Historical Museum, Athens

Other sizes have appeared and include the Greek instrument tzouras, an instrument smaller in size than standard bouzoukia.

The bouzouki arrived in Greece following the 1919–1922 war in Asia Minor and the subsequent exchange of Orthodox and Muslim populations between Greece and Turkey when the Orthodox Ottoman citizens (both Greek- and non-Greek-speaking) fled to Greece. The early bouzoukia mostly had three courses (six strings in three pairs, known as trichordo) and were tuned in different ways, according to the scale one wanted to play. At the end of the 1950s, four-course (tetrachordo) bouzoukia started to gain popularity. The four-course bouzouki was made popular by Manolis Chiotis, who also used a tuning akin to standard guitar tuning, which made it easier for guitarists to play bouzouki; this angered purists, but allowed for greater virtuosity and helped elevate the bouzouki into a truly popular instrument capable of a wide range of musical expression. Recently the three-course bouzouki has gained in popularity. The first recording with the four-course instrument was made in 1956. [10] [11]

The Irish bouzouki, with four courses, a flatter back, and differently tuned from the Greek bouzouki, is a more recent development, stemming from the introduction of the Greek instrument into Irish music by Johnny Moynihan around 1965. It was subsequently adopted by Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, and many others, [12] although some Irish musicians, such as the late Alec Finn, continued to use the Greek-style instruments. [13]

Three-course bouzouki (trichordo)

Greek trichordo bouzouki Trichordobouzouki.jpg
Greek trichordo bouzouki
A close up of the headstock of a trichordo bouzouki. Two of these eight tuners are not strung. Bouzouki 8 tuners 6 strings.JPG
A close up of the headstock of a trichordo bouzouki. Two of these eight tuners are not strung.

This is the classic style of bouzouki, introduced around 1900, that was the mainstay of most rebetiko music. It has fixed frets and 6 strings in three pairs. In the lower-pitched (bass) course, the pair consists of a thick wound string and a thin string, tuned an octave apart. The conventional modern tuning of the trichordo bouzouki is D3D4–A3A3–D4D4. This tuning was called the "European tuning" by Markos Vamvakaris, who mentioned (but failed to describe) several other tunings, or douzenia, in his autobiography. [14] The illustrated bouzouki was made by Karolos Tsakirian of Athens, and is a replica of a trichordo bouzouki made by his grandfather for Markos Vamvakaris. The absence of the heavy mother-of-pearl ornamentation often seen on modern bouzoukia is typical of bouzoukia of the period. It has tuners for eight strings, but has only six strings, the neck being too narrow for eight. The luthiers of the time often used sets of four tuners on trichordo instruments, as these were more easily available, being also used on mandolins. [15]

Four-course bouzouki (tetrachordo)

This type of bouzouki has 8 metal strings, which are arranged in 4 pairs, known as courses, typically tuned C3C4–F3F4–A3A3–D4D4 (i.e., one whole step below the four high strings of a guitar). In the two higher-pitched (treble) courses, the two strings of the pair are tuned to the same note. In the two lower-pitched (bass) courses, the pair consists of a thick wound string and a thin string tuned an octave apart. On the bouzouki the lower-pitched string comes first in these courses, the reverse of most other instruments with octave-paired courses (such as the 12-string guitar, charango or bajo sexto). 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). The guitar-like tuning was introduced by composer and soloist Manolis Hiotis, who found it better suited to the kind of virtuoso playing he was famous for. Today, the tetrachordo is the most common bouzouki used in Greek music, though a few traditionalists still prefer the trichordo, particularly for the older rebetiko style of playing. [14]


In addition to developing the modern tetrachordo bouzouki, Manolis Hiotis was a pioneer of the use of amplification for the instrument, which he may have been using as early as 1945. [16] However, the earliest documented use of amplification for the bouzouki comes from a 1952 photograph, showing Vasilis Tsitsanis and Yiannis Papaioannou playing bouzoukis, each with an electric guitar-style pick-up attached in the soundhole. There are also numerous photographs between 1953 and 1959 showing bands in which both vocalists and bouzouki players are using microphones for amplification. [17] By 1960 special bouzouki pickups (such as the German "Ideal") were being produced and permanently mounted in the instruments. [17] [18] [19] Similar pickups are widely used by several Greek artists today and come in active and passive versions.

The Greek baglamas (Greek : μπαγλαμάς) or baglamadaki (Greek : μπαγλαμαδάκι) is very different from the Turkish bağlama. It is tuned the same as the trichordo bouzouki but pitched an octave higher (nominally D–A–D), with unison pairs on the four highest strings and an octave pair on the lower D. Musically, the baglamas is most often found supporting the bouzouki in the Piraeus style of rebetiko.

Notable players

See also

Related Research Articles

Mandolin Musical instrument in the lute family

A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally plucked with a plectrum. It most commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, thus giving a total of 8 strings, although five and six course versions also exist. The courses are typically tuned in an interval of perfect fifths, with the same tuning as a violin. Also like the violin, it is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.

String instrument Class of musical instruments with vibrating strings

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

<i>Bağlama</i> Stringed musical instrument

The bağlama is a stringed musical instrument.


The mandola or tenor mandola is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It is to the mandolin what the viola is to the violin: the four double courses of strings tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola, a fifth lower than a mandolin. The mandola, though now rarer, is an ancestor of the mandolin.

Rebetiko, plural rebetika, occasionally transliterated as rembetiko or rebetico, is a term used today to designate originally disparate kinds of urban Greek music which have come to be grouped together since the so-called rebetika revival, which started in the 1960s and developed further from the early 1970s onwards. Rebetiko briefly can be described as the urban popular song of the Greeks, especially the poorest, from the late 19th century to the 1950s.

Iovan Tsaous (1893–1942), was a Greek musician and composer of rebetiko songs from Pontus. His real name was Yiannis Eitziridis or Etseiridis.

Irish bouzouki

The Irish bouzouki is an adaptation of the Greek bouzouki. The newer Greek tetrachordo bouzouki was introduced into Irish traditional music in the mid-1960s by Johnny Moynihan of the folk group Sweeney's Men. Alec Finn, first in the Cana Band and subsequently in De Dannan, introduced the first Greek trichordo bouzouki into Irish music.

In music, a chorus effect occurs when individual sounds with approximately the same time, and very similar pitches, converge and are perceived as one. While similar sounds coming from multiple sources can occur naturally, as in the case of a choir or string orchestra, it can also be simulated using an electronic effects unit or signal processing device.

Course (music)

A course, on a stringed musical instrument, is either one string or two or more adjacent strings that are closely spaced relative to the other strings, and typically played as a single string. The strings in each multiple-string course are typically tuned in unison or an octave.

Pandura Ancient string instrument

The pandura or pandore, an ancient string instrument, belonged in the broad class of the lute and guitar instruments. Akkadians played similar instruments from the 3rd millennium BC. Ancient Greek artwork depicts such lutes from the 3rd or 4th century BC onward.


The buzuq is a long-necked fretted lute related to the Greek bouzouki and Turkish saz. It is an essential instrument in the Rahbani repertoire, but it is not classified among the classical instruments of Arab or Turkish music. However, this instrument may be looked upon as a larger and deeper-toned relative of the saz, to which it could be compared in the same way as the viola to the violin in Western music. Before the Rahbanis popularized the use of this instrument, the buzuq had been associated with the music of Lebanon and Syria.

Octave mandolin

The octave mandolin is a fretted string instrument with four pairs of strings tuned in fifths, GDAE, an octave below a mandolin. It is larger than the mandola, but smaller than the mandocello and its construction is similar to other instruments in the mandolin family. Usually the courses are all unison pairs but the lower two may sometimes be strung as octave pairs with the higher-pitched octave string on top so that it is hit before the thicker lower-pitched string. Alternate tunings of GDAD and ADAD are often employed by Celtic musicians.

Plucked string instrument

Plucked string instruments are a subcategory of string instruments that are played by plucking the strings. Plucking is a way of pulling and releasing the string in such a way as to give it an impulse that causes the string to vibrate. Plucking can be done with either a finger or a plectrum.

Manolis Chiotis

Manolis Chiotis was a Greek rebetiko and laiko composer, singer, and bouzouki player. He is considered one of the greatest bouzouki soloists of all time. He popularised the four-course bouzouki (tetrachordo) and introduced the guitar-like tuning, who found it better suited to the kind of virtuoso playing he was famous for.

<i>Tanbur</i> Various long-necked, string instrument originating in the Southern or Central Asia

The term Tanbur can refer to various long-necked string instruments originating in Mesopotamia, Southern or Central Asia. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "terminology presents a complicated situation. Nowadays the term tanbur is applied to a variety of distinct and related long-necked lutes used in art and folk traditions. Similar or identical instruments are also known by other terms." These instruments are used in the traditional music of Iran, India, Kurdistan, Armenia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.


The baglamas or baglamadaki (μπαγλαμαδάκι), a long necked bowl-lute, is a plucked string instrument used in Greek music; it is a smaller version of the bouzouki pitched an octave higher, with unison pairs on the four highest strings and an octave pair on the lower D. Musically, the baglamas is most often found supporting the bouzouki in the Piraeus city style of rebetiko.


The laouto is a long-neck fretted instrument of the lute family, found in Greece and Cyprus, and similar in appearance to the oud. It is played in most respects like the oud. This instrument is known in Albania as "lauta" and in Romania as "lăuta".

Tambouras Greek traditional string instrument

The tambouras is a Greek traditional string instrument of Byzantine origin. It has existed since at least the 10th century, when it was known in Assyria and Egypt. At that time, it might have between two and six strings, but Arabs adopted it, and called it a Tanbur. The characteristic long neck and two strings, tuned five notes apart.

Tzouras Greek stringed musical instrument related to the bouzouki

The Tzouras, is a Greek stringed musical instrument related to the bouzouki. Its name comes from the Turkish cura. It is made in six-string and eight-string varieties.

Balkan tambura

The tambura is a stringed instrument that is played as a folk instrument in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, and Serbia. It has doubled steel strings and is played with a plectrum, in the same manner as a mandolin.


  1. "Bouzouki". Collins English Dictionary . HarperCollins.
  2. "bouzouki" (US) and "bouzouki". Oxford Dictionaries UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press . Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  3. "bouzouki". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt . Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  4. "Bouzouki". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. Musical Traditions, Issues 2–4, 1984, p. 19
  6. "Bouzouki name origin". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
  7. " - Greek Musical Instruments". Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  8. "instruments-museum, Greece". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  9. Elizabeth Jeffreys, John Haldon, Robin Cormack, The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, Oxford University Press, 2008, p.928; confer also Nikos Maliaras, Byzantina mousika organa, EPN 1023, ISBN   978-960-7554-44-4 and Digenis Akritas, Escorial version, vv. 826–827, ed. and transl. Elizabeth Jeffrey.
  10. Thessaloniki mou; Columbia DG 7229; matrix CG 3438, recorded June 16, 1956
  11. Pennanen, Riso Pekka; "The organological development and performance practice of the Greek bouzouki"; Polyphonia Journal; Spring 2009; 14:119–203, 142
  12. Interview with Andy Irvine: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015-06-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "Alec Finn interview". Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  14. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-28. Retrieved 2015-06-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. "Irish Bouzouki Tuning". Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  16. Shorelis, Tasos; "Rebetiki anthologia"; Athens: Plethron; 1981:4, pp. 179–180.
  17. 1 2 Petropoulos, Ilias; Rebetika tragoudia, 2nd ed.; Athens: Kedros, 1979. p. 488.
  18. Gauntlett, Stathis; Folklore and populism: The 'greening' of the Greek blues; in Margaret Clarke (ed.), Proceedings of the Fourth National Folk Conference: 1991a. pp. 86–91.,
  19. Gauntlett, Stathis; "Orpheus in the criminal underworld. Myth in and about rebetika"; Mandaforos deltio neoellinikon spoudon; Canberra: Australian Folk Trust; 34:Dec. 1991b. pp. 7–48

Further reading