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Instruments used in rebetika

Rebetika featured an amazing variety of instruments, including Turkish and Greek traditional instruments, Roman gypsy instruments, European instruments, and rebetika-specific instruments. I will cover some of the more common and important instruments below.

Oud The oud (also spelled 'ud and ud) was rarely found in Greece before the Rebetika period (before the late 1800s), as it is a distinctly Turkish and Arab instrument and ideally-suited to playing the rebetika modes using quarter-tones. It is a fretless 11-string lute (though some rebetika musicians used older ouds with only 8 or 10 strings), the precursor of the Greek lauta (Turkish lavta) and the Western lute and guitar. It is shaped much like a renaissance lute, and played with a tortoise shell or eagle's quill pick. (Check out Mike's Oud Forum for more on the oud).
Violin A European invention (based on folk fiddles found through Europe and the Near East), it was incorporated into Near Eastern music in the 16th century following its discovery by Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The playing style of rebetika is unique, not really related to any other folk fiddle tradition, involving a lot of portamento (sliding) between notes, and a bowing style which pushes and pulls the dynamics of every note. There is vibrato, though it is slow and very deep.
Santouri and cembalo Many instruments share the santouri name; I am referring to the hammered dulcimer found in the Balkans and Greece, which is similar both to British Isles dulcimers and the Persian santour. It has 60 or more strings, in groups of 3 or 4, which are suspended over a large resonant chamber. Though some santouris had fixed bridges that were tuned in a dodecaphonic system, I believe some had movable bridges, allows them to be tuned with notes other than the 12-note equal-tempered system. (Thanks to Peter Verity for his information on the santouri. He has an excellent article here).
Bazouki The bazouki is a 8-stringed lute which looks like a large mandolin. It is the most famous modern Greek instrument, to be found in many Greek restaurants in America (and in the famous Cheese Shop Sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus). It is played somewhat like a guitar, though it has characteristic tremolo, slide and hammering effects never found on guitar. Interestingly enough, the bazouki is not an old Greek intstrument, but was first to be found as part of 1930s rebetika music. Before that time, the bazuq was a folk instrument in Syria and scattered through Turkey.
Baglama-saz and Baghlama Now the national instrument of Turkey, this was previously regionally found amongst Turkish and Kurdish communities throughout Anatolia and further east. It has a very long neck, small body and thin movable frets (allowing any selection of 17 notes per octave). Saz-family instruments have 3-8 strings, organized into 3 choruses, and are played with a small pick (mezrap) or strummed with fingers (selpe).

Though full-sized baglama-saz instruments appear occasionally in Turkish recordings of rebetika music, far more significant is the Greek-modified baghlama version. The baghlama is about 1/3 the size of the Turkish saz; it appears as an accompaniment instrument in practically all late rebetika pieces, and often 3 or more will chunk along chords, freeing up the lead bazoukis for complex melodic playing.
Clarinet The clarinet always was more prominently featured in Greek, Armenian, and Roman gypsy music than in Turkish folk and classical music styles. Even in Turkish fasil and rebetika orchestras, the clarinet players were consistently Greek, Armenian, or Roman. Rebetika music uses a G clarinet, lower pitched than Western clarinets. Here, too, there is a unique instrumental style that relates only, perhaps, to Salonikan and Roman gypsy styles of clarinet playing.
Guitar and Lauta The lauta is a cross between a western guitar and an oud; it's tuned in fourths and fifths, with four sets of doubled strings, and is round-backed, like an oud. However, it has frets, and is used mostly for chords (which are harder to tune on a fretless instrument). It has been a very popular lute in Greece for at least a 150 years. It appears that greek guitar playing during the rebetika period is similar or even identical to the lauta playing, and that perhaps we would find one rather than the other due to whatever instruments were available to the musician rather than lavta and guitar being two separate playing traditions.
Accordion The accordion (accordian) appears in Rebetika music with Ladino (Sefardic) influences, and as such there is often great similarities between much Rebetika and the same period of Klezmer music. The accordian doesn't appear so much in the Turkish-based rebetika music. Both button and keyed accordians were used, depending on what was available.
Spoons You ask, what are spoons? Well, in the case of the popular song "Manga ke Alani," they are teaspoons on a beer or wine bottle. Sometimes people put two spoons together and play them on their knee.
Percussion One will find occasional drums such as the Arab or Turkish darbukka, or a tambourine instrument such as the Turkish daire or Arab riqq. However, most pre-1940s recordings have no percussion at all, since recording technology of the time was not able to make a quality recording featuring a large ensemble including instruments as dynamic as a darbukka. We don't know, however, to what extent one or several may have been a regular feature of all performing rebetika groups. Later rebetika always had percussion, and even incorporated trap set drums.

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