- Book author
- Graham McDonald
A workshop guide to building Irish bouzoukis and citterns. In the past forty years bouzoukis, citterns and octave mandolins have become an essential part of acoustic music. The Bouzouki Book is the first, and only, book to guides the reader through the steps to build one of these fascinating stringed musical instruments. The book includes nearly 200 colour and B&W illustrations as well as plans for all major components.
Back in 1972 my friend Roger Hargraves rang me up and told me about a new LP he had just picked up from the import record shop in Sydney by a band from Ireland called Planxty. Listening to that recording the first time changed the whole way I thought about how music could be played and especially how folk songs and dance tunes could be accompanied.
Planxty had two members who played double strung instruments. Andy Irvine played mandolin and mandola while Donal Lunny played bouzouki and it was the sound of these instruments intertwining which was so captivating as much as anything else.
One thing led to another and eventually I had a go at building a bouzouki, armed with little else than a photo on a Planxty record cover and Irving Sloan’s book on building classical guitars. I discovered that the process of building that first instrument was really as much if not more fun than actually playing it, so I made another, then a guitar, a mandolin and then ended up working with Jim Williams for a couple of years whose guitar building methodology still permeates my approach to building musical instruments.
Over the years the flat-backed Irish bouzouki, the cittern and octave mandolin have infiltrated themselves across the wholerange of popular music. There can scarcely be an Irish or Scottish folk band without one and they regularly can be heard on lots of country and pop recordings as an extra tonal colour.
There is little standardization in shape, string length or tuning and while this is part of the instrument’s charm it might have something to do with why so little has been written about them. This book tries to cover as much ground as possible, providing information and instructions on building two specific instruments of the bouzouki/cittern/octave mandolin family.
It will cover building both a flat-top/pin bridge long scale - 660mm (26”) - bouzouki and an arch-top/floating bridge short scale - 560mm (22”) - scale cittern, with enough theoretical background to enable the builder to expand on that to be able to create a range of double strung instruments. In effect, it will be a cookbook, with basic techniques that will be able to be ‘mixed and matched’
There will, I hope, be enough for the first-time instrument maker to build a creditable instrument, as well as sufficient detail for the experienced guitar or mandolin maker to be able to branch out in a different direction.
The book pre-supposes some knowledge of timber and the use of woodworking tools. I am not going to tell you how to sharpen a chisel or set a scraper blade. Nor do I go into detail about timber milling and why you should use quarter sawn timber. There are enough specialist ‘tone-wood’ suppliers for the purchaser to be fairly certain of getting their raw material supplied in the right way.
The methods, tools and jigs are fairly ‘low-tech’, but do use a number of both stationary and hand-held power tools in addition to common woodworking and specialist lutherie tools. These are detailed in the section on tools and materials. This is not a book where every process is expected to be done only with handtools in some purist, romantic way, but neither are you expected to own a CNC router.