instrument of Finland, the Jouhikko is a bowed lyre / psaltery.
There is academic arguement that it belongs in the family with Kantele
and Gusli, and there is reasonable justification for that placement
rather than placement in the lyre family. But regardless of what
word you use to describe it, it is an unusual instrument and quite a
refreshing change to build.
Jouhikko had between 2 and 4 strings, and their existence has been
traced at least as far back as the early 1500s, although many consider
the instrument to have it's origin much farther back than that.
The jouhikko is a drone instrument, with the center string set to a
base tone (usually A in modern tuning) and the first (top) string set a
4th above. The chanter string (3rd string) is set a fifth above
the center. Thus your playable scale is (in the case of an A
drone tuning), d (open 1st string), e (open 3rd string), f (3rd string
stopped with index finger), g (3rd string stopped with middle finger),
a (3rd string stopped with ring finger), and b (3rd string stopped with
The instrument is held between the knees, and supported by the thumb
and heel of the left hand, holding on to the thin bar on the outside of
the handhole. The fingers are inserted through the handhole from
behind, and the notes are played by stopping the strings with the
knuckles of the left hand while bowing.
I apologise for the lack of detail construction pictures, but I built
this instrument in primitive conditions at a week-long SCA event in a
campground north of Kansas City, and while some folks did take some
pictures of the work in progress, I have not rounded them up yet.
This instrument was built with chisels and knives and planes and
scrapers and sandpaper and handsaws and without the aid of modern power
equipemnt. It was a neat exercise, and I plan to have one
'primitive' construction instrument going from now on at all times,
that I can take to events or just work on in my shop. Keeps the
hand skills sharp, causes you to keep an edge on tools you normally
might ignore, and makes you appreciate what the early builders went
through to make an instrument
The traditional construction of the jouhikko calls for horsehair
strings, and thus this instrument is strung with twisted
horsehair. When plucked, it has a sound like an African
thumb-organ, with a mellow attack and little sustane and very fast
decay. When bowed it is sweet and mellow, but not loud.
Top view os the finished instrument. 3 horsehair strings, maple bridge,
spruce soundboard, ash pegs, maple tailbar, body is blue mahoe. I
like this wood, it works very much like a walnut, finishes nicely with
a natural dry satin feel and look, and has a beautiful color
reminiscent of english walnut, with brown and grey base and blue and
red and purple toned streaking. Really nice wood to work.
The bottom view - the grain of the blue mahoe is clear and straight,
with speckled striations and a wide visual spectrum of color and
tone. It is medium weight, string, and the tone of the hollow
corpus was wonderful.
The pegs are ash, set in from the bottom to facilitate holding
(although the horsehair tension is really not enough to cause great
problems). They are slotted with big slots, so they are a bit
bigger than most of my pegs which makes them strong, but also makes
tuning a little more difficult, because small movement in the pegs
moves the string a fair bit.
The tailpiece is like that used in kantele and gusli - a bar of
wood. On this instrument the tailbar is suspended on a gut cord
fed through the solid tail end of the instrument. The strings are
parted in half, and draped over the bar, then twisted and pulled over
the bridge and into the pegs. I am still experimenting on the
string diameters, but I am using raw siberian mare hair (unbleached)
for the string material - I got it from a violin repairman. The
rosette is a tudor rose, I was talked into this rather than my usual
Cross Calatrava because some members of my group wanted me to enter
this instrument into a 'Rose in any medium" competition held at the
event it was built at. It was the hardest part of the project,
and still needs some cleaning up.
You can see the single chanter string through the handhole, and the
hand carved tuning peg heads in this shot.
The tailgut goes through the end of the body - the front couple inches
are solid, and there is no worry about stress. It is a very
secure method of attaching tailgut.
An idea of the size of the instrument, and the proper playing position
as far as I can tell. I am using my rebec bow on it but am trying
to find a proper bent wood stick to make a jouhikko bow out of - it is
a fun instrument and I find it is easier to get music out of than my
other fiddle-like instrument.
Next might just be an electric jouhikko - I found the
electrossingen to be a big plus when playing for a moderately sized
tent in a medium rain the amp really let the instrument be heard over
nature and the conversations taking place at the perimeter. This
will not be my last bowed lyre, I am looking at Estonian instruments
and a strakkaharpa for the next ones, and my littlest daughter is so
entranced with this one she wants to build one herself.