View Full Version : New acquisition -- Russian balalaika

Randi Gormley
Feb-28-2017, 11:06am
A woman I play music with asked me last night if I would be interested in this instrument since her husband and she weren't interested in keeping it longer. She's a flute player, her husband is a guitarist who occasionally dabbles in other stringed instruments. The alternative was, apparently, throwing it away. So I took it. She said her husband used to travel extensively in Russian in the early '90s and that this instrument was made for him (or at least given to him by one of his Russian contacts). From what I can make out in the label (which so far I haven't been able to photograph) is the number 91 ... or 16, depending ... and some scribbled Cyrillic. I haven't read any Russian since college lo, these many years ago, so all I can say is the label is hand-written and does, indeed, appear to be in Russian.

The balalaika has three strings, two in nylon (classical guitar strings), one in metal. The metal one has what appears to be a plastic tube between the bridge and the end pins as a damper. The face has what appears to be a crack, probably from drying out while hiding out in the basement/attic or where it's been. I messed around with the tuners -- they're a little slack, but appear to hold -- and got it set at some chord to strum just to see what it sounds like. Very mellow and a bit fuzzy. It might improve if I tuned it to what it's supposed to be set at, but it's entertaining as it is.

Sorry about the quality of the photos. I was using my phone.

Randi Gormley
Feb-28-2017, 11:14am
And more:

John Kelly
Feb-28-2017, 11:57am
Interesting, Randi. I too was given one a while back by a musician friend for whom I repaired a mandolin. I must admit I have done nothing with it let and do not even know what the three strings are tuned to! I know, I can look it up easily enough but just have not done so yet. It has three metal strings, but I don't know if they are original or not; they look old enough anyway.
You have me thinking now - what would it sound like playing some good Scottish tunes?

BJ O'Day
Feb-28-2017, 8:10pm
If you need a reference for tuning:
Looks like a cool instrument. Check out this link for someone who plays a great big balalaika:

Jim Garber
Mar-02-2017, 10:38pm
I will bet you that it is supposed to be strung with all of one kind of string, possibly the nylon but not with mixed set. The back looks quite nice.

Randi Gormley
Mar-03-2017, 10:26am
Jim, you're probably right. I may have to buy some classical guitar strings -- the only thing we have around here are folk strings for guitar, mandolin and banjo. and the occasional fiddle string. I'll have to figure out which strings I'll need and order them separately, probably.

I used one of the tunings on the Wikipedia page BJ pointed me to -- it wouldn't hold the EEA "standard" tuning but seems to be happy with CEG "folk" tuning. I can pick out "Dark Eyes" but really need to find a Mel Bay Learn to Play the Balalaika book somewhere. Oddly enough, the biggest challenge is strumming. I don't understand strumming past the idea of playing all the strings at one time once. Add to that you don't play the balalaika with a pick but with your hands (apparently) and I begin to see a crying need for a teacher. Anybody know a balalaika teacher?

Mar-03-2017, 8:38pm
There seem to be quite a few balalaika orchestras around the country. You might look fo one in your part of the country. One played at the library where I work in Virginia. Some of the members came from central VA and Washington DC where there is a big balalaika orchestra. The group I saw included only a few actual balalaikas. Many of the younger players played a domra which comes in three and four string versions. The latter uses conventional mando tuning.

Mar-04-2017, 8:22am
Enjoy the balalaika, it looks like a decent player.

It even has a tube over the A string end where you vibrato the string.


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