Museum of Greek folk instruments: plucked

By: | Post date: July 2, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Greece, Music

The Greek versions of the dulcimer and the zither, the santouri and the kanonaki, are instruments of Asia Minor, and are shared with the Arabic musical world (santur, qanun). The hammer-struck santouri is fearsome enough:

the plucked kanonaki (thimbles pictured if out of focus), with its fine-tuned bundles of strings, appears to me beyond the reach of mortals, and any performances I’ve seen, I’m convinced are done with mirrors:

Compared to them, the guitar-related instruments are rather more straightforward: the ud, again shared with the Arabic world:

the laouto, which has come to dominate in the islands as backup to the lyra (its name itself a missing link between al-ud and lute):

and instruments more closely associated with Turkish music-making—and with the unrecorded, urban tradition of music-making leading up to bouzouki music in Greece (but abundantly painted in the 19th century):

from left to right, the tambouras (which is constantly mentioned and depicted in the 19th century, and is arguably the proto-bouzouki); the saz; and in the middle,

the tiny, improvised and much-smuggled baglamas, which is what rebetika music started off with in prisons—and which the police used to confiscate as drug paraphernalia.

The baglama, and the nascent bouzouki, grew in sophistication and professionalised, with the baglama becoming a soprano bouzouki, but it happened only gradually. At the beginning, baglamas in particular were still crude affairs, put together out of tortoise shells and gourds.


At the time the bouzouki and baglama were looked down on, the reputable plucked instruments were the guitar (which I didn’t bother photographing, seen one seen ’em all), and the mandolin family. The mandolin was ubiquitous enough at the time to make it to early rebetika recordings, just like it did with very early blues:

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