Saturday, January 22, 2011

Domra, Dombra, Dombura, or Tambura? Or what

A long and thin necked 4 stringed, steel strung, free bridged, small bodied, fretted, wood, strumming or plucking instrument.

I found this last summer at a second hand store. The neck was broken away on the back side from the heel. But I figured it could be fixed with some Titebond III. I took it over to a chair and plinked around with it. That's when I realized that it wasn't just a fancy wall hanging designed to look like a folk instrument, but a real instrument.
The neck is thin and deep, carved of one piece with the head. The little piece of metal on the back was used to hang the instrument from the wall as a decoration. The frets wrap around the fingerboard about 1/4" on both sides. The body is carved out of one piece of wood.
The head has an inlay of mother of pearl. The tuning pegs are geared brass and steel with an embossed brass plate. I'm not sure what the ends of the pegs are made from but it looks like they were to match mother of pearl. There is a tension wire under which the strings go before going over a bone nut. The tuning assembly is similar to one on this page on the Domra.
The fingerboard is the same wood as the neck. The bottom (high) strings have 24 frets. Three fret markers of inlaid mother of pearl at the 5th, the 12th, and 17th frets. The top (low) strings are chromatic up to the seventh fret and then follow the pattern whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half up to what is the 17th fret on the bottom strings. I've never seen this kind of half-fret design before. The final 5 frets are placed on the heel and the soundboard.

The sound board is glued over the body and made of three different pieces of wood. The bridge is bone and floats freely like a banjo bridge. It is missing whatever decorative rosette it had. I'm thinking of designs and looking at other examples of the Domra, Dombura, Dombra and eastern European Tambura.
Here you can see the arches of the bridge. It is held to the soundboard by the tension of the strings. The tailpiece is screwed into a piece of what looks like oak that makes up the bottom of the body. The tailpiece is of sheet aluminum marked with concentric circles . The strings are about 1/4 inch apart, making it a bit difficult to fingerpick. It is fun to play.

So, what is it? Does anyone know?
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Jenny said...

I'm going to send this to my lovely BIL, John Birner, who is a luthier of sorts. He owns more stringed instruments than anyone I know, some of which are very unusual. He makes and repairs them, in addition to collecting and using them, so maybe he'll have a clue... (He's sister Kate's new husband, in case Mary's curious. I went to high school with him, and he and Kate hooked up a couple of years ago through me, and they got married soon after)

David Russell Walter said...

Well I see you asked over two years ago, so likely somebody's already told you, but in case not, that's a tambura farkaš.

See for example


Joseph Abrahamson said...

Thank you so much! I thought I had seen that page back when I asked. But I didn't find it again. Then, after time, I just got busy with other things. So, now, the next question is, are there any English books on how to play it?

Thanks again for your help. I greatly appreciate the answer and the resource.

David said...

Well I don't know a great deal about your instrument, but I'm interested in the long-neck lutes of Asia and Eastern Europe and in my study I've come across mention of the Farkaš system for the Croatian tambura a few times, which is how I recognized it when I saw your photos. Farkaš is the name of the fellow who invented that odd-looking fret arrangement.

I don't know either if any instructional books for it have been written in English, though I did just do a google search using every combination of key words I could think of and found no leads, or at least none in English.

There does seem to be a lot of information available in Croatian however, though exactly what I can't say, as I don't speak it, lol.

At least one Croatian tambura forum has an English sub-forum at , and likely a lot of bilingual members, and might be a good place to start asking, if you're interested.