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Irish bouzouki (Irish: basúcaí Éireannach) is essentially another name for the octave mandolin, a member of the lute family tuned one octave below the standard mandolin. The name is derived from the adaptation of the Greek bouzouki for use in traditional Irish music in the late 1960s. The Greek bouzouki (often just called the "bouzouki") has a longer neck and usually a bowled back, whereas the so-called "Irish bouzouki" usually has a shorter neck, flat top and back, and in general resembles a large mandolin (which it is) more than a bouzouki. There are, however, many variations of both instruments.
Adoption for "Celtic" music
The original Greek bouzouki was a three course/six-string instrument (trichordo). In the mid-twentieth century a four course/eight-string (tetrachordo) version was developed. The newer tetrachordo bouzouki was introduced into Irish Traditional Music in the late 1960s by Johnny Moynihan of the popular folk group Sweeney’s Men, and popularized by Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny in the group Planxty. In a separate but parallel development Alec Finn, later with the Galway-based traditional group De Dannan, obtained a trichordo Greek bouzouki on his own. With a few exceptions, bouzouki players playing Irish music tend to use the instrument less for virtuoso melodic work and more for chordal and contrapuntal accompaniment for melodies played on other instruments such as the flute or fiddle. Because of this it is common to use matched strings on the two bass courses, tuning to unison pairs in order to enhance the bass response of the instrument.
Almost immediately after the Greek bouzouki's initial introduction into Irish music, new designs built specifically for Irish traditional music were developed. The body was widened and a flat back with straight sides replaced the round, stave-built back of the Greek bouzouki. English builder  Peter Abnett, who was the first instrument-maker to build a uniquely "Irish" bouzouki - for Dónal Lunny in 1970 - developed a hybrid design with a 3-piece dished back and straight sides. All of the initial Irish bouzoukis had flat tops, but within a few years a few luthiers such as Stefan Sobell began experimenting with carved, arched tops, taking their cue from American archtop guitars and mandolins. Even so, today the overwhelming majority of builders continue to opt for flat (or slightly radiused) tops and backs.
The Irish bouzouki has also become integrated into some other western European musical traditions over the past forty years. Popularly used in the music of Asturias, Galicia, Brittany, Spain, and even the Scandinavian countries (in fact, there is even now a new Nordic branch of the instrument, having been modified further to suit the unique requirements of those musics). The instrument's role is usually a combination of interwoven accompaniment (usually a mix of open-string drones, two note intervals, bass lines and countermelody) and melodic play. Instrumental arrangements by musicians such as Ale Möller from Sweden, Jamie McMenemy of the Breton group Kornog, Elias Garcia of the Asturian groups La Tuenda and Llan de Cubel, and Ruben Bada of the Asturian group DRD, typify the complex admixture of melody and chordal accompaniment to be found amongst skilled continental players. It has also become fashionable for some of these musicians to mix instrumental pieces from the Balkans into their material, creating the novelty of western European instruments playing music typically played by Bulgarian tamburas or Greek bouzoukis in their native setting.
By far the most common tuning for the Irish bouzouki is G2 D3 A3 D4, pioneered by Johnny Moynihan (apparently in an attempt to replicate the open, droning sound of Appalachian "clawhammer" banjo) first on the mandolin and then transferred to a Greek bouzouki. It was later picked up by Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny, and quickly became the next thing to a standard tuning for the 4 course instrument.
The next most common tuning, by players who view the instrument as an octave mandolin, is: G2 D3 A3 E3. Other, more rarely used tunings, include: Open D tuning: A2 D3 A3 D4; Open G: G2 D3 G3 D4 (used by some for "bottleneck" slide playing), and F2 C3 G3 D4, essentially octave mandolin tuning dropped a whole step.
The GDAD tuning is closer to the D3 A3 D4 tuning of the Greek trichordo bouzouki than is the guitar-like tuning C3 F3 A3 D4 used on the modern Greek tetrachordo, and it is particularly well suited to a modal harmonic approach to accompaniment as used in Irish traditional music. Alec Finn, playing a Greek trichordo bouzouki, uses the traditional D3 A3 D4 tuning with the octave pair on the low D course changed to unison.
Bouzoukis, octave mandolins, and citterns
Amongst many luthiers and musicians the Irish bouzouki is considered to be part of the mandolin family, whereas others consider them to be a new family of instruments. In actuality, both mandolins and bouzoukis are part of the lute family, sub-family "necked bowl lutes" (that is, lutes having bowl-shaped backs). At any rate, modern mandolins have frequently been given virtually flat backs, moving them more into the sub-family of "necked box lutes", the grouping which includes most modern guitars, and since the adoption of the bouzouki into Irish music in the late 1960s, luthiers have incorporated so many aspects of modern mandolin construction, particularly when building archtop Irish bouzoukis, that precise classification has become something of a moot point.
For most players -- and many builders -- the terms "bouzouki", "cittern", and "octave mandolin" are more or less synonymous. The name cittern is often applied to instruments of five courses (ten strings), especially those having a scale length between 20 and 22 inches (500mm and 550mm). They are also occasionally called "10 string bouzoukis" when having a longer scale length. The fifth course is usually either a lowest bass course tuned to C2 or D2 on an instrument with a long scale, or a highest treble course tuned to G4 or A4 on a shorter scale. Luthier Stefan Sobell, who coined the term "cittern" for his modern, mandolin-based instruments, originally used the term for short scale instruments irrespective of the number of their strings, but he now applies "cittern" to all 5 course instruments irrespective of scale length, and "octave mandolin" to all 4 course instruments, leaving out bouzouki entirely.
Mandolin-family luthiers producing an octave mandolin are more likely to use mandolin tuning machines and reproduce the details and styling of their American-style carved top mandolins. Some luthiers choose to refer to their clearly bouzouki-style instruments as octave mandolins, or even as mandocellos, despite the GDAD tuning. The octave mandolin is sometimes regarded as having a shorter scale length than the Irish bouzouki, in the vicinity of 20 to 23 inches (50 to 59cm), while the scale length of the Irish bouzouki most often ranges from 24 to 25 inches (60 to 65cm). Some instruments have scales as long as 26 or even 27 inches (66 to 68cm). These longer-scaled instruments are generally acknowledged to possess greater volume, sustain, and tonal richness but some players find the stretches involved in fingering too difficult and so prefer shorter scale lengths.
There may even be a trend towards calling all medium scale four course instruments "octave mandolins" in spite of their tunings and especially if they have carved/arched tops, as well as applying "Irish bouzouki" to any medium to long scale instruments, especially if they are tuned GDAD and have flat tops. Calling all such five course instruments "citterns," irrespective of their construction and tuning and in spite of their very tenuous connection to historical citterns, does also seem be a trend.
- O'Callanain, Niall (1997). The Irish Bouzouki. United States: Mel Bay Publications. ISBN 0-7866-1595-8. — An instructional guide
- Richards, Tobe A. (2005). The Irish Bouzouki Chord Bible: GDAD Irish Tuning 2,447 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 0-9553944-0-6. — A comprehensive chord dictionary.
- Richards, Tobe A. (2007). The Irish Bouzouki Chord Bible: GDAE Mandolin Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 978-1-906207-02-1. — A comprehensive chord dictionary.
- McLeod, Zan (2001). Learn to Play the Irish Bouzouki (DVD). United States: Music Sales Limited. ASIN: B00024ONEI. — A DVD instructional guide
- Loesberg, John (1989). Chords for Mandolin, Irish Banjo, Bouzouki. Rep. of Ireland: Random House. ISBN 0-946005-47-8. — A chord book featuring 20 pages of popular chords.
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- Von Hornbostel, Erich M.; Curt Sachs (March 1961). "Classification of Musical Instruments: Translated from the Original German by Anthony Baines and Klaus P. Wachsmann". The Galpin Society Journal (Galpin Society) 14: 3–29, SH# 321.321
- Ibid. SH# 321.322