Traditional Irish Music
It's coming on two years since purchasing my present bouzouki (It was a gift from my wife, actually). As always happens, after time passes we all have a tendency to want "something better". Some of you have upgraded to better strings or preferred string gauges, added electronics (pick-ups & such), Zouk Hybrids (Guitzouki??), cases, etc., or just biting the bullet to purchase something new. I'm interested in hearing about the latest and greatest bouzoukis out there, their builders, their costs. Let us know what you presently have and what you would dream to own, pros/cons, happiness & disappointments.
I really love my cittern-bouzouki that I bought a few years ago - Phill Crump C-III. http://www.pwcrumpco.com/ - he's making instruments around $2200 mark.
Hey Mateusz. Thanks for your input and link. I'll be sure to check it out. Hope all's well with you. Cheers, mate.
My first instrument in the CBOM family was an O.M. It had a beautiful sound but the 'voice' was not big enough for session play and I wanted a longer scale length. A friend offered to buy it and with the proceeds purchased a 'basic bouzouki' from Herb Taylor, a wonderful luthier who works out of Golden, CO. Anyone interested in checking out Herb's work, the link to his site is: http://www.herbtaylor.com/instruments/bouzouki/. My initial outlay was 1,800.00 USD. With some rework I have about another 600.00 in it.
Earlier in the week I was returning from a high country autumn foliage drive and stopped in at Brightwood Music in Nederland, CO. I was chatting with Doug Armitage the proprietor. He asked what I played and when I replied Irish bouzouki, took one off the wall behind the counter. It was a pin bridge model made by Alan Dunwell, a luthier in Nederland. If interested in Alan's work, he specializes in 'double top' instruments and can be viewed at: http://www.dunwellguitar.com/. I really liked the sound and after researching other options and price points, purchased the instrument for 2,000.00USD on consignment. It is model B-1 so I presume it is Alan's first bouzouki. The pin bridge, double top and craftsmanship all appear to be influenced by his extensive guitar making experience. Playing it later that evening at a session, the melody players all liked the sound. All my other instruments had a wound 'A' string, but this is strung with a single gauge. The double top produces a good sustain, full bass, big sound and the single gauge strings produce a 'tinkly' high end. Very pleasing.
Although I don't own one, I have played instruments made by Lewis Santer, a S.F. Bay Area luthier. They are lovely instruments as well. You can check his site out at: http://lsanter.com/.
I've also played some of Phil Crump's zouks. They have a big sound, are solidly built, but a bit heavy for my taste. Stronger players may like them however. Herb specializes in making light, responsive instruments. I love the taper and feel of the neck towards the head stock on mine. Alans' is a little thicker in the neck, but that makes my quick draw capo work a little better. Herb's fret board is flat, Alan's is slightly curved. Each maker has their own preference and I'm sure each player does too.
If any members are interested in more information or comparisons one to another, or just general discussion, I'm happy to hear of other's experiences or questions. Cheers, John Mullen
Hiya John. Glad to see you're still around and making music. It's been tooooo long since our last discourse.
I think you have a direct hit on my own frustration with my bouzouki: NEEDS MORE VOLUME!!!,...especially in a seisiun setting (I'll usually play hunched over my zouk with my ear to the sound box). My preferred playing style is more soft & subtle. I don't like to bang on the instrument for more volume,...it affects my playing and makes it sloppy, and still doesn't have the impact I'm looking/hoping for (aside from the fear of popping a string). Sometimes, I'll even just sit it out and not play, or pick up my twelve string. I'd like more volume but still retain a sweet sound (on both low & high ends) that can still fit in with other musicians. Since most seisiuns don't really like the addition of amplifiers, installing a pick-up is out of the question (for me, that is). If I do play amplified, I'll use a mic,....moving closer or backed away for the balance of sound (at least to my ear). I know some members have commented on installing a pick-up. I wonder what they felt & heard after installation. Were they happy with the results??? Considering the quality of the pick-up as well as the quality of the amp the sound may be muddy. I can't help but think back to "Garage Band Days' of my youth, where each musician would start off at a certain volume and by the end of the practice or performance every player would be cranking up the volume to be heard, until it was more noise than music.
Also deserving some attention would be the quality grade and type of wood used by the luthier. The make up of different woods (Mahogany, Koa, Spruce, Rosewood, etc.) each carries with it certain attributes based on density, top & bottom vibration, low end & high end resonance, sustain, etc. that will affect the overall sound and style of music being played. I receive quarterly copies of Taylor Guitar's "Wood & Steel" which has afforded me a better understanding of woods used in making a guitar and what sounds would best fit a particular style of music. Also we haven't even addressed the bracing and materials used in construction of the instrument. If any members have any luthier experience or knowledge to share, please feel free to do so and provide us with some education.
I thank you for your links, John,...and will be sure to check them out. Don't be a stranger. Would love to hear what you've been up. Slainte,
Likewise... My take on volume in a zouk is simple. It's not the same kind of big body/big sound instrument that a guitar is. It will never compete in that sense, and like yourself prefer a subtler approach. When in session, esp when a guitar is present, I prefer to create different voicings using counter melody or capo. In that way, my instrument is hopefully an enhancement. I have, however, been repeatedly told that I play too softly and should 'drive it' more. That kind of goes against both my playing preference and the purpose of the instrument, but having one that provides a bit more punch now without sacrificing too much of the "PTS" as my friends in Molly's Revenge call it (pretty tinkly shit) is a better match as I play mostly sessions now.
In the past I have played in bands and groups and my Herb Taylor has a pick up. It is one that is not positioned over the sound hole but rather under the top on either side of the bridge with a D.I. plug in the end pin. I'd never play it that way in a session, but did play amplified in performance. My truly knowledgeable folk say the sound amplified is truer with a studio mic and stand. But sessions I play are always acoustic. One local mando player brings a small amp to sessions, but is definitely and universally considered 'bad form.'
The zouk isn't really a big volume instrument although it seems that dimensions of the body contribute to more or less. One friend plays a Fylde and it has a pretty large body. Most have to conform to the dimensions of the commercially available cases.
Your discussion of wood is a good heads up as that was one of the 'selling points' to my recent purchase. It is a sandwiched Adirondac Red Spruce/Western Red Cedar top with a honeycomb mid layer. It combines the sound properties of both. A neat trick which prevents having to make a choice between woods. I don't know how many makers do this approach.
What I've been up to is mostly playing sessions in the Denver/Boulder/Greeley area. Usually 2-4 a week. As no group projects have been in the offing. I'll be attending the Portal Irish Music week in Oct. in Arizona. This will be my first music camp and I'm looking forward to working for a week with Matt Heaton who also plays in GDAD. I'm hoping to have better skill and understanding of accompaniment after a total immersion week. I've never seen Matt play a note on either guitar or zouk that he didn't intend. I'd like to be that accomplished!
I'm attaching a YouTube video link of me accompanying a fiddler friend, Kellam Throgmorton, at my daughter's huband's family's home in Dolores, CO a couple of Thanksgiving holidays ago. It's a beautiful location overlooking Mesa Verde National Park. Hope you like it. It's on my Herb Taylor before the re-work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uf4zbxwyp-8. Enjoy your weekend, Danny, and all the best in your search for more VOLUME!!
Hey John. I really enjoyed your YouTube posting. Nicely done, beautifully shot. Thanks also for your posted links of Bouzouki Luthiers. I've placed all on our Bouzouki Links Page(s) for easier access by our members.
You look great for someone 98 years old,....and that was two years ago: Aging Gracefully. [ * just kidding, dude!!!* };^) ]. Also, thank you too, Mateusz for your posted link. It is also on our Bouzouki Links Page.
A tip of the hat and a raising of the glass to you both. Cheers & good health,......slurp!!!
Ayep, Danny. Let's just say Social Security is securely in my 'rear view mirror!"
Oh, and you might get a kick out of this. I was at session last night in Boulder, and a woman was there who has been playing for years but only comes very occasionally. I was talking to the session leader about my new zouk, and he pointed out that she had the same last name as the luthier... turns out she's his daughter, and took a photo and texted it to her Da.!! Oh, and I'll tell my wife you liked the 'video shoot.! She took it with my phone camera...
Very nice video indeed :)
You are right about the weight of the Phil Crump instrument. It's definetly not the lightest and I have the 10-string version with the big body, which only adds to that. I love the sound of the bouzouki but as a guitar player originally, I miss the lower end on the 8-string, especially with a small body. I don't have any issues with volume on sessions - I love the power my instrument has. I used to play a 10-string Freshwater bouzouki, which was even heavier to play...
What I should have mentioned is that I use a K&K 3-head pickup combined with L.R. Baggs acoustic Para D.I. - it makes the instrument sound very natural for a pick-up.
Hey Mateusz. Thanks for mentioning your pickup & sound system. How is the pickup mounted? Was it installed when the bouzouki was made or is it an after-market installation? Any other links or websites you could recommend for other "Zoukies" (that's us members) to check out as far as pickups or amps?
I agree with you on missing the low end on my 8 string. I tend to play more on the high end and will even use a capo for the "PTS" (see John's comment above). The highs give a more "piercing" presence in playing the music, where as the lows kind of get lost. If anything, I'll use my Taylor 12 string for everything else since it has a great "even" presentation for both the high & lows. Do you use an amplified sound in seisiuns or just for performances?
I use amps just for the live performances, on sessions it's powerful enough. Unfortunately I couldn't find a link for the pickup., but here's the link for the preamp:
Have you yet decided on what maker you are going with for your next instrument, Dhomhnaill? Difficult decision with all of the options out there..