The Irish Bouzouki is an instrument that raises a lot of questions, even amongst seasoned members of the Irish music community. This intriguing instrument has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past few decades and, as I don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon, I thought it might be helpful to answer some of the questions I receive most often on the subject.
So here we have the answers to the six most commonly asked questions about the Irish bouzouki, and bouzoukis in general…
1. Is The Bouzouki Hard to Play?
The bouzouki is a relatively simple instrument to play. Like most musical instruments, it requires good finger dexterity and hand coordination but if you’re willing to put in the work there’s nothing else standing in your way.
The biggest issue beginner players may encounter is that, in the early stages, pressing on the strings can hurt their fingers. This is no different to the guitar or violin for example and after a while you will develop callouses on your fingers as they adjust to the friction of the strings and the pressure required to play the notes.
With a little patience and hard work it’s definitely possible to make significant progress on the bouzouki in a short amount of time. So whether your heart is set on playing traditional Irish tunes or accompanying Irish folk ballads, you’ll be on your way in no time.
2. What’s the Difference Between an Irish Bouzouki and a Greek Bouzouki?
Irish bouzoukis are used to play traditional Irish music and Irish folk music, while Greek bouzoukis are used within their own musical culture. Aside from this, there are three main differences between the Irish bouzouki and Greek bouzoukis:
Difference in Body Shape
The Irish bouzouki has a pear shaped body with a flat back, which allows for more comfortable playing. The Greek bouzouki however features the traditional rounded back.
Difference in Scale Length
Greek bouzoukis are typically larger instruments with a longer scale length of approximately 27 frets while Irish bouzoukis typically have a scale length of 24 frets.
Difference in Tuning
Standard tuning for a Greek bouzouki is CFAD with the string pairs tuned to octave intervals, while standard tuning for an Irish bouzouki is GDAD or GDAE.
3. Can You Tune an Irish Bouzouki Like a Greek Bouzouki?
It’s not recommended. If you really want to play in CFAD tuning then it’s best to invest in a Greek bouzouki.
Why? Well, there are a number of reasons…
The strings on your Irish bouzouki are the wrong gauge to tune to CFAD (especially if you hope to use the alternate octave pairs). So, first of all you would need to buy new strings as tuning the upper courses a perfect fourth and minor third higher respectively, would likely snap your strings. You can’t use Greek bouzouki strings on an Irish bouzouki as they are designed for different scale lengths.
Different string gauges can also cause issues for your bouzouki. Modern Irish flat back bouzoukis are designed with GDAD/GDAE tuning – and therefore the relevant string tension – in mind. The increased string tension required for CFAD tuning may place additional strain on your instrument, particularly the nut and bridge, leading to damage.
NB: Never try to string your Greek bouzouki with Irish bouzouki strings. You will damage your instrument.
Alternate Irish Bouzouki Tuning
There are a number of alternate tunings you can try on your Irish bouzouki such as ADAD, GDGD or FCGD. You can find out more about these tunings here: Irish Bouzouki Tuning
To learn more about the dos and don’ts of tuning your Irish bouzouki, check out my handy blog post: McNeela’s Expert Guide – How To Tune Your Irish Bouzouki
4. What’s the Difference Between a Bouzouki and a Mandolin?
Mandolins are much smaller than bouzoukis, typically only measuring about 13″ in length. They are the soprano member of the mandolin family, of which the bouzouki is not a part.
In Irish music, mandolins are most commonly tuned to GDAE, the same as the fiddle or violin, and the Irish tenor banjo.
The mandolin produces a bright tone an octave higher in pitch than the sound produced by the bouzouki.
5. What’s the Difference Between a Bouzouki and a Mandola?
The mandola is the tenor member of the mandolin family. To the untrained eye it can look the same as an Irish bouzouki as both are both crafted with flat backs.
There are a few key differences between the two instruments however:
- Tuning: As we already know, Irish bouzoukis are tuned to either GDAD or GDAE. Mandolas however are tuned to CGDA – just like a viola.
- Scale Length
The neck on a mandola is shorter than that of a bouzouki. As a result there is less of a stretch between frets which in turn can affect fingering. Mandolas are generally preferred for playing tunes or melodies, while bouzoukis are used to play chords for chordal accompaniment. This is not a hard and fast rule however – you can play in whichever style you want on whichever instrument you want.
- Tone: Some players will argue that bouzoukis produce a clearer, brighter more piercing tone than mandolas, but the difference is subtle.
6. How Much Does a Bouzouki Cost?
Depending on make and model, a good quality bouzouki can range in price from as little as $350 / €350 to several thousand dollars/euro.
If you’re just starting out however, I recommend sticking to the lower end of that budget. You can always upgrade your instrument in the future as your playing progresses.
Price will of course vary based on brand, type of bouzouki, quality of construction, materials used, and whether it’s electric or acoustic (yes you can get a pickup in your bouzouki, just like a guitar) and more.
Irish Bouzoukis For Sale
If you’re hoping to invest in an Irish bouzouki then why not check out the McNeela Instruments online shop where we offer a wide range of bouzoukis, alongside an extensive selection of folk string instruments including Irish Tenor Banjos, five string Banjos, Irish Guitars, Mandolins, Mandolas and of course, Irish Bouzoukis.
In addition to our own brand instruments we also stock a range of instruments by Koda and top Portuguese maker, Antonio Carvahlo. There’s something for everyone!
Your Irish Bouzouki Journey
To learn more about the Irish bouzouki and how to get the most out of your instrument make sure to check out my Irish Music Blog. It’s packed full of information to help you on your musical journey:
- Andy Irvine: Irish Bouzouki Legend