March 6, 2004 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Odd Ethnic Croatian instruments...I found my dad's old bugarija, and took it to the local folk-music shop to get restrung. They gave me strings based on the thirty-year-old strings that were on the thing. I looked online and foud out that the instrument is commonly tuned to an open D, but there's no way I can wind the strings up that tight without breaking stuff. If possible, I'd like to tune it like a guitar's top strings, and leave the bottom two strings as a drone and octave ('chorus'), but don't really know what my options are. My dad hasn't played it in 40+ years so he's no help...any one know anything 'bout a bugarija? One other thing: it's got five tuning pegs, but both the nut and the bridge have seven slots, with different spacing. Anyone know what the heck is going on?
posted by notsnot to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
The Lark in the Morning has a bit more on traditional tunings, and I'd be surprised if they couldn't help with more suitable strings.

They basically suggest two variations on three systems, thus:

Bulgarija I DGB or DCE or GGBD
Bulgarija II GBD or GGB DBDG
Bulgarija III F#D or AF#D or F#AF#AD

Note what they say about the different systems for stringing them. There's another take here.

I don't know the bugarija specifically, but I have meddled with a few folky stringed instruments. Some advice:

- just because a book says D, that doesn't mean that your particular one was made for that pitch. Folk instruments are made by, well, folk, and they vary a lot. For that matter, what your Dad calls a "bugarija" might mean something different to him than it does to your reference book - maybe a "piccolo" member of the family, who knows?
- again, does your source say which D? Often these things are tuned in courses where one string of the pair is thinner and tuned an octave higher (think 12 string guitar)
- the bridge/head discrepancy could be a) because someone's adapted the instrument in the past. I've seen some weird things done to old mandolas like that as they were changed from four triple courses to five pairs, etc. Or b) some player in the past habitually preferred a different string spacing to the original maker, and butchered it accordingly.

On the "tune it like a guitar" front, I'd try and resist if I were you. A lot of the appeal of traditional instruments is the unfamiliar resonances and tone colour of their tuning. You'll lose a lot of the distinctiveness if it's just a different flavoured guitar.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:50 PM on March 6, 2004

Darn! Tambura maker John Valentich' amazing Tamburaweb.com site is down and perhaps lost for ever! You can search the archives at the East European Folklore Center or sign up and ask one of their folks on the list.

This page has Croatian tunings way down the page.

There are lots of Tamburiza groups all over the US. Maybe these guys could tell you something.

By all means do not try to make your bugarija into a guitar. The inside bracings are different and these are not meant to sound like a guitar. If it was your father's, it may be a valuable instrument.

Two weeks ago I was down in south Hungary for the "Sokac" minority's carnival. They speak Serbian but are affiliated with the Croatian Catholic church. Lots of groups came over from Croatia. Tons of tambura music in the streets and main square.
posted by zaelic at 1:35 AM on March 7, 2004

Hey, I am going to call Budapest Bug vituroso Ivan Barvich and ask him what strings he uses. Wait a bit. I'll get back to you here.
posted by zaelic at 1:38 AM on March 7, 2004

Oh yeah - the nut and bridge have extra slots because all instruments in the tamburitza family have various combinations of single (lower) and doubled (higher) strings. The doubled are always in unison like a mandolin. Last year a buddy bought a bugarija, it was a very good old one, and it had strings like telephone cables. It was so nasty to play I gave up, but apparently that's how they liked them. Since the Bugarija "chops" chords on the off-beat or plays counterpoint tremolos behind the melody and harmony tamburitzas it needs to be loud and sustain is not a quality anybody tries to build into the instrument.

As to which string guages to use, hard to say. Various combinations of guitar - or if you need loop-end strings, banjo - can be used. I'm pretty sure you could order special strings from any of a number of Croatian sites on the web.
posted by zaelic at 3:38 AM on March 7, 2004

zaelic: Off topic, but is it a coincidence that the name of the instrument is the same as the Macedonian word for Bulgaria?
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on March 7, 2004

You can play around with various string gauges using this string tension calculator. Just measure from nut to bridge to find out the scale length.
posted by transient at 12:01 PM on March 7, 2004

Oh yeah; this is a good place to find strings of odd lengths/gauges. Nothing specific for your instrument, as far as I can tell, but when you figure out what you need, you could probably cobble together something suitable.
posted by transient at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: wow, thanks guys!
posted by notsnot at 5:38 PM on March 7, 2004

L-Hat: Lots of instruments all over the world are called tambura. The bugarija is also called "cellovec" - "cello guy" by some players. The Macedonians also play a two-double course strung long neck tambura, while the bulgarians play a four double-string tambura. The short neck mandolin type tamburitza seems to have developed from an earlier instrument called the sargija (which is what Albanians call their stringed instruments...) They became popular in orchestras in the late 19th century in Croatia, Serbia, the east of Slovenia (around Cernomelj) and in south Hungary. They are also still played by Croat and Serb immigrant communities in the US, particularly around Pittsburgh and Chicago. Les Blank made a great documentary about the Popovich Brothers Tamburitza band that you can rent at some better video stores. Searching for it got me to this amazing web site that streams videos of traditional music!
posted by zaelic at 2:18 AM on March 8, 2004

I guess I should have been clearer. I wasn't asking about tambura (which is from Arabic tanbur and, as you say, is a widespread word) but bugarija (which is the Macedonian name for Bulgaria). And now you mention cellovec, which looks an awful lot like the Slovenian name for the capital of Carinthia (in German, Klagenfurt): Celovec (pronounced tselovets). Curiouser and curiouser.
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2004

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