Bulgarian folk musicians have their own unique bowed instrument, the gadulka.
Pear-shaped and unmistakeably a descendant of the medieval rebec, itself based
on bowed instruments of the oriental countries, particularly Moorish Spain and
the Byzantine Empire, the gadulka is an ancient fiddle which has been modified
this century by the addition of sympathetic strings which add another rich
element to the sound.
The gadulka has three main playing strings, like many similar Eastern and
Southern European fiddles such as the older Greek Lyra, the Turkish kemen¨e, the
Polish and Czech folk fiddles, etc. Most of these fiddles have rebec-like body
outlines and are held either on the knee or upright in some fashion, or at
shoulder level similar to the violin, but not tucked under the chin. The gadulka
player often uses a belt to hold the instrument, freeing the left hand.
Left hand technique varies from the violin; the three strings, tuned AEA,
are not pressed to a fingerboard, as indeed the gadulka has no fingerboard at
all, but are touched by the pads of the fingers, with some use of the back of
the fingernail on the highest string. The bow is held in a unique underhand grip,
which is really rather comfortable and well suited to the upright playing
LThe strings are now of metal and at a fairly high tension, to allow for
greater volume. In the past many materials were used for strings, and the pitch
was up to the player's taste, since before WWII most Bulgarian folk musicians
played solo, rarely in groups, so matching pitch was not very important. After
the war and the founding of the Socialist Bulgarian State with its
institutionalized music "of the people" (narodna muzika), ensembles became
common, and pitch standards were developed for many instruments, gadulka
included. Even larger gadulkas were made, such as the enormous bass gadulka,
which is almost as big as the player!
With the state came factory made instruments, although village craftsmen
still make gadulkas and many players make their own. The modern gadulka is about
23-24" long and has a scale length slightly longer than 13" or so. The bridge
rests on a small section of the soundboard between large D-shape holes, with one
foot on the treble side of the bridge resting on the soundpost which in turn
contacts the back. The back, and neck and peghead are carved from a single piece
of wood and are one piece (decorative verneers notwithstanding)
The bow is about 22" long, with the hair app. 16" of actual bowing length.
There is no frog, the hair is permanently secured at playing tightness, and the
bow curves inward like ancient and traditional bows, not like the modern recurve
violin bow. By David Brown
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