Zouks

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Nanohedron
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Zouks

Post by Nanohedron »

Played cittern for years - I have to admit that whatever else I might play, I'm really a backup player by temperament - and owing to circumstances got rid of my instruments. Long story, all well and good, but now after a long hiatus I find myself playing with folks again. It was fun fumbling around on the whistle (I'm dreadfully rusty), but I found myself really wishing I had some kind of "tunable spoons" in my mitts instead. I find myself looking at the Irish bouzouki now, and I'm drawn especially to that biting sound that the long-scale instrument has. I'm hoping that my small hands and dinky pinky can accommodate the scale; I could go short scale, but the tone isn't as satisfying for me.

So I'm posting here as a babe in the woods, knowing nothing of optimal string requirements vs. what works pre-packaged (I love convenience if I can get away with it and still have a good result), brands, their quality, bang for the buck, all that. I'm not looking at custom made. Inundate me with minutiae!

Thanks in advance.
"If you take music out of this world, you will have nothing but a ball of fire." - Deedar Khoso, Balochi musician
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Nanohedron
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Tell us something.: Been a fluter, citternist, and uilleann piper; committed now to the way of the harp.

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Location: Lefse country

Re: Zouks

Post by Nanohedron »

Looks like I've found what I'm looking for. Thanks for the interest. :)
"If you take music out of this world, you will have nothing but a ball of fire." - Deedar Khoso, Balochi musician
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Tell us something.: I have a keen interest in wooden flutes (modern and antique), early music (Renaissance, Baroque), Romantic music and Irish Traditional Music of course! I also play the clarinet (my first instrument) and I've also started learning the cittern.
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Re: Zouks

Post by Flutern »

Out of curiosity, what did you go for in the end? :)
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Re: Zouks

Post by Nanohedron »

A preowned Trinity College TM-375. This is my first TC of any kind ever, although I've noodled on various of them before and was favorably impressed.

Image

I think it was a good deal - around 60% the price of new (full price is still a good deal for what you're getting), came with hard case, and looks as if it were brand new. Case has a couple of dings, but that's the least of my concerns. Tone and projection are just what I was hoping for, and so far it looks as if setup will be minimal apart from some personal tweaks: for instance, I'm a unison-courses sort of guy, but out of the box the TM-375 can only accommodate octave pairs on the two lower courses. So that's on the docket. A very recommendable starter instrument even though I see need to customize it after the fact, yet it's something one can stick with, too, and I might just do that, because in the end it's undeniably well-made for when you're in the trenches. And this is to officially state that I'm not a shill, only a consumer. And above all, do NOT take this as a C&F endorsement. There is no such thing. I'm only here in this thread as a private - and fallible - party.

You don't just march into Guitar Center and get string packs at the drop of a hat, though. What did we do before the internet?
"If you take music out of this world, you will have nothing but a ball of fire." - Deedar Khoso, Balochi musician
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Location: Sherbrooke, Quebec

Re: Zouks

Post by Flutern »

I've heard good things about Trinity College. Seems to be one of the best options before going custom-made. :thumbsup:

Since you used to play the cittern, is there a reason why you went for a bouzouki instead, besides availabily? I'd assume you'd miss the low course, especially for backing.
Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
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Re: Zouks

Post by Nanohedron »

Flutern wrote: Mon Aug 21, 2023 2:50 am I've heard good things about Trinity College. Seems to be one of the best options before going custom-made. :thumbsup:
I find myself agreeing with that. I discovered in Mandolin Cafe that TC is made in East Asia somewhere - Japan, S. Korea and China have all reportedly been manufacturing bases at some time or another - but it's owned by Saga which is owned by an experienced US bluegrass player on a mission to provide affordable well-playing instruments for those of us who for whatever reason can't go with boutique options that could cost 3 times as much. Plus the waiting period is only as long as it takes to ship. All basic parts are of solid wood, not laminates - spruce top, maple sides and back (stained in my case, just as in the photo above), mahogany neck and head, pau santo fretboard and bridge, and nut and saddle are of bone - just the way a serious player would want it at the very least. I consider a floating bridge essential for getting to best intonation, so I wouldn't have it any other way no matter who made it. The truss rod is adjustable above or below. The sealed tuning machines are solid and excellent, although a bit closely-placed, and on one side some of the tuners are set almost imperceptibly a bit off-angle; we'll see if that gets in the way of the winder when the time comes. So don't expect absolute perfection. The emblem on the headpiece is different from what usually gets displayed, and it's somewhat oddly placed among the capstans rather than at the very top where there's plenty of room for it, but it's of no concern to me; it still looks okay-ish. Whatever few skin-deep imperfections the instrument may bear, you can tell it's built to last and give good service to the discerning player, which is the main thing. So for my money TC isn't merely an intrusion into the market by a questionably-informed outlier, but I would consider it a legitimate, if decidedly more economical, part of our market. YMMV.

I'm not wild about the tailpiece, but that's more about looks than anything else. I might have that changed some day, but it's not a priority. While I've found TC to be good value for the price, I also consider it something of a blank slate to be customized after-market as needed. A good luthier in your pocket helps with the investment if relatively minor alterations are where you want to go; although it can rightly be called modest, as a working instrument it's perfectly good, so I think the make merits professional services. I will reiterate that it sounds great and plays well, which are my foremost criteria. The rest I can ignore if I feel like it.
Flutern wrote:Since you used to play the cittern, is there a reason why you went for a bouzouki instead, besides availabily? I'd assume you'd miss the low course, especially for backing.
For as closely related as cittern and zouk are, to me they are completely different instruments even with similar tuning, especially bringing the long scale and narrow neck into it. Chalk and cheese, as they say in the UK. Or apples and oranges, as we Left Pond types put it. I don't miss the 5th course stylistically, but familiarity-wise the lack of it throws everything off a bit (at least for now). More to the point is that especially with the long scale and narrow neck, my approach to the zouk is evolving very differently from how I approached the cittern, and this is due to the instrument itself, and to the light gauge strings. It's all based on how "right" it sounds. For example, IMO a long-scale zouk is not even close to its best if you're forever hanging around open first position (never mind the stretch); I'm exploring treble playing in a way that I never needed to previously, although some treble playing was part of the cittern as well. Some of the chord shapes that sounded poorly on the cittern actually sound good on the zouk, and have found a new place in the tool kit. I'll probably be doing a lot more capo use, too (for which my wee hands will no doubt thank me). Here's an example of the sort of playing that's made a big splash among the zoukster community, and rightly so:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPI_tHNjS78

It's Daoiri Farrell performing the Creggan White Hare. Capo on the 4th fret, playing as if in D. The key would be F#. My overall playing approach is similar to his: I mostly cross-pick with some ornamentation, rather than strum, although I have a ways to go before I come anywhere even close to his touch. But one must shoot for the stars, right? Yet although Farrell's version is well-nigh unto definitive, I won't want to parrot it, but am instead committed to come up with my own, and therein lies the challenge; I have a friend who sings Creggan White Hare, so for my immersion exercise I'm woodshedding that at the moment. If ever I do it Farrell's way, it will only be for the excellent exercise it would offer. Kata, as we say in the dojo.

The two players I study most right now are himself and Eamon Doorley.

Now to your question: Why? I've always especially loved the sound of a well-played long scale zouk; its more ready availability plays only a negligible part in my decision. I simply wanted to take the plunge into less-familiar waters with an instrument I've always loved from afar, and have a chance at. It'll be a while before I'm confident with it. Getting rid of the octave courses will go a long way in getting me there; can't stand those. :)
"If you take music out of this world, you will have nothing but a ball of fire." - Deedar Khoso, Balochi musician
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Re: Zouks

Post by Peter Duggan »

Nanohedron wrote: Mon Aug 21, 2023 11:56 am I found out in Mandolin Cafe that TC is made in East Asia somewhere - Japan, Korea and China have all reportedly been manufacturing bases at some time or another - but it's owned by Saga which is owned by an experienced American bluegrass player on a mission to provide affordable good-quality instruments for those of us who for whatever reason can't go with boutique options. All parts are of solid wood, not laminates - spruce top, maple sides and back, mahogany neck and pau santo fretboard and bridge - and nut and saddle are of bone, just the way a serious player would want it at the very least. You can tell it's built to last and give good service to the discerning player. So TC isn't merely an intrusion into the market by a questionably-informed outlier, but I would consider it a legitimate part of our market. YMMV.
Strong parallels with the ukulele world here. I've recently got seriously into uke (favouring fingerpicking and chord melody over simple strumming), and most of the affordable quality instruments (including my Millar tenor from Taiwan) are coming from the East. A far cry from the lousy Chinese classical guitar I had briefly some 35+ years ago!
Last edited by Peter Duggan on Tue Aug 22, 2023 5:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Location: Lefse country

Re: Zouks

Post by Nanohedron »

Yeah, I don't have much problem with where it's made so long as the product and vision behind it are well in harness with the community's needs. I honestly think you get that with TC. At first I had my doubts, but it's been a pleasant surprise. My cittern was a Foley, so yes, I'm kinda fussy.
"If you take music out of this world, you will have nothing but a ball of fire." - Deedar Khoso, Balochi musician
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Location: Lefse country

Re: Zouks

Post by Nanohedron »

Bit of an update: I've come to the conclusion that good long-scale zouk players are monsters. Long scale + light gauge = tremendous tension (it's amazing that such a delicate-looking instrument doesn't explode), so pressing the strings requires a most firm and steady touch; there's no slacking off with this instrument. And that's fine with me. Yet it's responsive rather than clunky, and melodic progression begs to be toyed with. My pinky's being brought into the fold like never before, so it's getting the workout it never used to have. Also, in using a strap (banjo-fashion for the moment), my grip is naturally changing to resting the neck against the thumb, rather than in its crook as I used to do exclusively, playing strapless. I now find room for both, although I'm favoring the against-the-thumb position. All rather refreshing. :)
"If you take music out of this world, you will have nothing but a ball of fire." - Deedar Khoso, Balochi musician
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