From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The standard cümbüş with 12 strings and no fretboard, configured as an oud
Related instruments

The cümbüş (/mˈbʃ/; Turkish pronunciation: [dʒymˈbyʃ]) is a Turkish stringed instrument of relatively modern origin. It was developed in 1930 by Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş (1881–1947) as an oud-like instrument that could be heard as part of a larger ensemble.[1]

The cümbüş is shaped like an American banjo, with a spun-aluminum resonator bowl and skin soundboard. Although originally configured as an oud, the instrument has been converted to other instruments by attaching a different set of neck and strings.[2] The standard cümbüş is fretless, but guitar, mandolin and ukulele versions have fretboards. The neck is adjustable, allowing the musician to change the angle of the neck to its strings by turning a screw.[3] One model is made with a wooden resonator bowl, with the effect of a less tinny, softer sound.[4]

Origin of the maker and the name[edit]

Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş holding one of the instruments he invented, from a newspaper clipping

The word cümbüş is derived from the Turkish for "revelry" or "fun", as the instrument was marketed as a popular alternative to the more costly classical oud.[1] Unlike inventors who name their inventions after themselves, Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş took his last name from his instrument. He was born Zeynel Abidin in Skopje, Macedonia and immigrated to Beyazit, Istanbul, Turkey.[1] His name is often written "Zeynel Abidin Bey" online in Turkey, where Bey is an honorific, such as mister.[5] Early instruments show his name as he wrote it "Zeynelabidin" (a single name, not two). When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk decreed that families take surnames in 1934, Zeynel Abidin adopted the name of his famous instrument.[1]

Rising and falling with social tides[edit]

After the Turkish War of Independence Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş wanted to create a new instrument to embody the ideals of peace, an instrument for the masses. He switched his company from dealing with arms to manufacturing musical instruments for "the support of peace through music." In a meeting with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, he showed one of his new inventions. It was "an inexpensive instrument easy to transport and hard to break, capable of playing both Eastern alaturka music and, with a quick change of removable necks, Western alafranga music as well." It was a modern instrument for a modern country.[1]

The cümbüş was inexpensive and was bought by people who couldn't afford a more expensive instrument; as a result, his dream of the masses accepting it was marginalized. The instrument became a folk instrument of the poor and of ethnic minorities in Turkey, including Rûm, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, and Romani, "playing indigenous folk music or repertoires shared with ethnic Turks." It was excluded specifically by classical musicians of the era, being seen as lower-class or ethnic. A perception grew of it being "other" or ethnic or different or lower-class, and Turkish society did not adopt the instrument widely. By the 1960s, use of the cümbüş declined among these minorities, except for Román professional musicians. They adopted the instrument because of its ability to be heard alongside the other instruments they played at weddings and parties.[citation needed]


Beginning in the mid-1990s, more people started to take up the instrument again at Armenian and Jewish folk music revivals and in Kurdish and Romani folk music recordings. It has been since taken up by modern Turkish-rock and techno musicians, some making statements with the way the music sounds, and others apolitical or humanistic or spiritual.[1][6]


Cümbüş Music is still an active company in Istanbul and manufactures a wide range of traditional Turkish instruments.[7] The instruments are hand made in the family's workshop in Istanbul, by three members of the Cümbüş family, Naci Abidin Cümbüş and his two sons Fethi and Alizeynel. They still make approximately 3000 cümbüşes a year (as of 2002). They also manufacture about 5000 darbukas per year (middle-eastern drums), and sell guitars as well. They export approximately half the cümbüşes to the United States, France and Greece.[6]


Mando-cümbüş, a Turkish banjo in the style of a mandolin. On this instrument the name is spelled Cünbüş instead of Cümbüş.
Tanbur Cümbüş of Dr. Ozan Yarman photographed in his residence at Istanbul in January 2013.

The Cümbüş Company in Istanbul, Turkey manufactures several different models. They include:

  • Cümbüş: tuned like an oud, short neck, fretless, six courses of strings, 34 inches long overall
  • Cümbüş Extra: like the standard cümbüş but has wooden resonator instead of metal
  • Cümbüş Saz: tuned like the a bağlama, long neck, tie-on frets, three courses of strings, 40 inches long overall
  • Cümbüş Cura: tuned like the bağlama saz but higher pitched as a cura saz, three courses of strings, 29 inches long overall
  • Cümbüş Tambur: tuned like the tambur, also spelled tanbur; super long neck, three courses of strings, 51 inches long overall
  • Cümbüş Bowed-Tambur: tuned like a Yaylı tambur, played with a bow
  • Cümbüş Guitar: fretted, tuned like a guitar, six strings, 34 inches long overall
  • Cümbüş Banco: fretted, small, tuned like a mandolin four courses of strings 23 inches long overall
  • Cümbüş Ukalele: fretted, small, tuned like a ukulele, four strings, 21 inches long overall
  • Cumbusmisen. Cumbus/Shamisen hybrid. like the japanese counterpart
  • kokyuumbus tuned like a kokyu, like cumbus bowed tambur.


Standard cümbüş[edit]

The cümbüş has its own tuning, but can be tuned the same as an oud.[1]

  • Cümbüş: AA2 BB2 EE3 AA3 DD4 GG4

Use in Western popular music[edit]

Turkish area musicians[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Eric Ederer, The Cümbüş as Instrument of “the Other” in Modern Turkey
  2. ^ "The Stringed Instrument Database". Archived from the original on 18 December 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Tom Waits Fan Club Library". Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  4. ^ Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş manufacturers, Cumbus Extra Archived August 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Bey - Turkish title". Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Rootsworld artilcle: Cümbüş means fun, Birger Gesthuisen investigates the short history of a 20th century folk instrument.
  7. ^ "Eric Ederer: Cümbüs". ericederer.com. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  8. ^ "Blabbermouth: Hörspiel". Dirter Promotions. 2019. Retrieved 2019-12-03.

External links[edit]