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Briefly, this is a Ukrainian 'folk' instrument with a long history. The one you see here was made for me by Bill Vetzal of Whitby, Ontario, Canada. Quite a remarkable craftsman. It is based on an instrument designed by Simon Lastovych-Chulivsky for the famous bandurist Zenovij Shtokalko. It has 36 open strings, 14 of which are bass strings. Its range is from A to A, a total of 5 octaves. The row of levers near the bridge is a set of half tone changers (think of them as capos for each individual string). They allow the bandura to be tuned on the fly to various diatonic modes and scales. Contrary to the current trend in banduras, this one is tuned strictly diatonically rather than chromatically. The body is carved out of a single block of very nice cherry wood. The top is a very tight grained engleman spruce. The sound is more strident than a harp due to the metal strings, and yet the sound rings on longer than a guitar because the strings are open rather than fretted. Because it is a 'Kharkiv' style instrument, it is possible to play with both hands over the entire range of the instrument, allowing for some very interesting arrangements. On this instrument, the middle octaves are extremely rich, supported by a strong bass and bright upper octaves. The instrument is still settling in some (adapting to the tension of the strings) so the tone is still changing, but with banduras, the tone only gets better with age so this one is destined to be a real beauty.
The inlay around the soundhole. Bill managed to salvage some elephant ivory from an old piano keyboard for the inlay of the rays around the flower.
The instrument from the side. The strap is destined for a leather replacement of my own manufacture.
This picture should give a feel for the size of the instrument and how it is held and played.
My bandura is not the first bandura Bill has made on this design. There might be as many as three others out there (I guess I'll have to check with Bill to know for sure). Anyway, if mine is the fourth, then the third is owned by Natalia Antonina Lebedin. Natalia says she was inspired to play this type of bandura after having the opportunity to play Laurie Semmes' bandura at camp in 1999. According to legend, the other bandura of this type is owned by Ihor Trypniak of Ohio. Laurie or Ihor, if you happen to visit this page, please drop me a line. I'd love to hear about your experiences with all of this.
We both acquired our banduras within about a month of each other. Her instrument differs a bit from mine in that the strings are fanned...as were Shtokalko's on his instrument. I like the dark wood of the body on her instrument a lot. I'm told the cherry-wood body on mine will darken in time. We'll see. Natalia is working on some tunes with her new bandura, namely; the Duma pro Marusia Bohuslavka, and Turkish Etude. Both pieces arranged by Shtokalko. Thank you, Natalia, for sharing the pics.