Gadulka in the workshop

Gadulka: The Bulgarian Fiddle

The Gadulka

by David Brown


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 postion.

The 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.

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