The most commonly used string folk instrument in Turkey, the bağlama has seven strings divided into courses of two, two and three. It can be tuned in various ways and takes different names according to region and size: Bağlama, Divan Sazı, Bozuk, Çöğür, Kopuz Irızva, Cura, Tambura, etc. The cura is the smallest member of the bağlama family: larger than the cura is the tambura, tuned an octave lower. The Divan sazı, the largest instrument in the family, is tuned one octave lower still.
A bağlama has three main parts, the bowl (called tekne), made from mulberry wood or juniper, beech, spruce or walnut, the spruce sounding board (göğüs) and a neck of beech or juniper (sap ). The tuning pegs are known as burgu (literally screw). Frets are tied to the sap with fishing line, which allows them to be adjusted. The bağlama is usually played with a mızrap or tezene (similar to a guitar pick) made from cherrywood bark or plastic. In some regions, it is played with the fingers in a style known as Şelpe or Şerpe.
There are also electric bağlamas, which can be connected to an amplifier. These can have either single or double pickups.
The bağlama is a synthesis of historical musical instruments in Central Asia and pre-Turkish Anatolia. It is partly descended from the Turkic komuz. The kopuz, or komuz, differs from the bağlama in that it has a leather-covered body and two or three strings made of sheep gut, wolf gut, or horsehair. It is played with the fingers rather than a plectrum and has a fingerboard without frets. Bağlama literally translates as "something that is tied up", probably a reference to the tied-on frets of the instrument. The word bağlama is first used in 18th-century texts. The French traveler Jean Benjamin de Laborde, who visited Turkey during that century, recorded that "the bağlama or tambura is in form exactly like the cogur, but smaller." He was probably referring to the smallest of the bağlama family, the cura.
According to the historian Hammer, metal strings were first used on a type of komuz with a long fingerboard known as the kolca kopuz in 15th-century Anatolia. This was the first step in the emergence of the çöğür (cogur), a transitional instrument between the komuz and the bağlama. According to 17th-century writer Evliya Çelebi, the cogur was first made in the city of Kütahya in western Turkey. To take the strain of the metal strings the leather body was replaced with wood, the fingerboard was lengthened and frets were introduced. Instead of five hair strings there were now twelve metal strings arranged in four groups of three. Today, the cogur is smaller than a medium-size bağlama.
There are three string groups, or courses, on the bağlama, with strings double or tripled. These string groups can be tuned in a variety of ways, known as düzen (literally, "order"). For the bağlama düzeni, the most common tuning, the courses are tuned from top downward, A-G-D. Some other düzens are Kara Düzen (C-G-D), Misket Düzeni (A-D-F#), Müstezat (A-D-F), Abdal Düzeni, and Rast Düzeni.
Bağlama düzeni (La, Sol, Re) (A, G, D)
Bozuk düzen, kara düzen (Sol, Re, La) (G, D, A)
Misket düzeni (Fa#, Re, La) (F#, D, A)
Fa müstezat düzeni (Fa, Re, La) (F, D, A)
Abdal düzeni (La, La, Sol) (A, A, G)
Zurna düzeni (Re, Re, La) (D, D, A)
Do müstezat düzeni (Sol, Do, La) (G, C, A)
Aşık düzeni (La (bottom string set), Re (middle string set), Mi (Top string set) (A, D, E)
The musical scale of the bağlama differs from that of many western instruments - such as the guitar - in that, like many other non-western lute instruments, it is based on just intonation rather than equally temperedintervals. This gives a truer harmony at the expense of the number of keys playable without retuning.
The octave is divided in 15 intervals (the octave is the 15th fret).