History of design: The bouzouki is descendant of the long necked lute, which was known from Ancient times. Same type of instrument was played in Pre-Hellenic civilizations like Egypt & Chine. In ancient Greece predecessor of a bouzouki was known under the name of “pandouris” that changed into “tambouras” during Byzantine era. The National Archeological Museum of Greece displays the “tambouras” that belonged to the hero of Greek revolution of 1821, and which bears great similarity to the bouzouki used by “rembetes”.
Bouzouki was reintroduced to Greece in early 20th century by immigrants from Asia Minor and Turkey. Since then the main instruments for traditionally Greek type of music called “rembetiko” were bouzouki and its much smaller version – baglama.
At that times bouzouki used to have three pairs of strings with strings of each pair tuned the same and tuning for the bouzouki being D(re), A(la), D(re). The re-string was basic for the melody and the la- string and second re-string used to play chords. The first bottom re-string is known as Kantini and the first top re-string as Bourgana. Adding of the forth pair of strings in 1950’s made it possible to enrich the sound of the instrument and add new styles to the traditional melodies played with bouzouki. The bouzouki with four pairs of strings is tuned C, F, A, D and the chords are played same as a guitar.
Baglama has three pairs of string just like an old bouzouki and is tuned in the same way – re, la, re. Today baglama is an essential instrument for playing “rembetiko” music, as it gives the distinct traditional sound to the composition.
The bouzouki is played with a plectrum (pena or pick) which, in older times, would have been made from a feather, a horn or the bark of a cherry tree.
Making of the bouzouki: The sound box of a bouzouki can be made in two ways. One way is carving the entire sound box from wood. At present there are only few skillful makers to use that method for making of a bouzouki, even though it is still widely used method to craft the baglama. The second way is the mold method where strips of wood are bend over a specific pear shape mold and glued together to produce the sound box. The pear shapes being used vary in size and shape, and the resulting instruments can be longer or shorter, deeper or shallower, rounder or narrower depending on the shape used.
In the old days makers were using turtle shells, half of gourd and other similar objects. In the times of war musicians were known to make small baglama out of water flask given to the soldiers.
Additionally: The origins of the name.
The name of bouzouki seems to be related to the name of a Turkish instrument of a same shape. The instrument was called saz, but the smaller version of it carried the name “bozouk saz”, where ‘bozouk” means broken and refers to smaller then usual size.
In 1960 Greek music was rapidly gaining world-wide recognition. Never on Sunday served to highlight the fact that the Greeks had something new and fresh to offer to those of us who had been nourished on French, Italian and Spanish popular music. The dynamic Greek sound of the Bouzouki and the colorful, vigorous and unusual rhythms of Greece soon captured the ear and fancy of the devotees of Continental music. Although the bouzouki was and is the main lead instrument of the "Rembetika" and "Laika (Greek)" songs it does not stop there. With some fantasy and daring compositions unusual sounds of creativity can be produced.