Stringed Instruments

Stringed Instruments

Presenting the stringed instruments that are available from Gandharva Loka: the world music store in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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Stringed Instruments


BalalaikaThe balalaika is a Russian fretted stringed instrument with a triangular body and three strings (E, E and A). Some versions of the balalaika have six strings in three courses.

The balalaika family of instruments includes, from the highest-pitched to the lowest, the prima balalaika (which is played with the fingers), sekunda balalaika and alto balalaika (both of which are played with either the fingers or a plectrum), bass balalaika and contrabass balalaika (equipped with extension legs which rest on the floor and played with leather plectrums).

Gandharva Loka stocks the most common size, the prima balalaika, which comes with a hard case.

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BerimbauThe berimbau is a single-string Brazilian percussion instrument, a musical bow made from the biriba tree. Its origin is generally accepted as being Africa as no indigenous Brazilian or European people use musical bows and very similar instruments are played in parts of southern Africa. The berimbau was eventually incorporated into the practice of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira, where it commands how the capoeiristas (capoeira practitioners) move in the roda (circle).

The berimbau consists of a wooden bow, about 4 to 5 feet long (1.2 to 1.5 metres), with a steel string tightly strung and secured from one end of the bow to the other. A gourd acts as a resonator. Playing the berimbau can be quite a handful at first. You need to hold the bow and a coin or stone in one hand and in the other hand you hold the striker. You also need to position the bow in a way so that you can use the gourd for reverberation. There as three main sounds; one with the stone against the wire, another with the stone partially against the wire, and a third with the stone completely off the wire. It has a wonderful sound that invokes a feeling of rhythm, trance and depth. An example of how the berimbau is played can be viewed here.

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Bowed Psaltery

Bowed PsalteryA bowed psaltery is simply a psaltery that is played with a bow. It is a relatively easy instrument to play. The bowed psaltery is an elongated triangular in shape which allows each string to extend a little farther than the one before it so that each string can be individually bowed. Chromatic bowed psalteries have the sharps and flats on one side and the diatonic notes on the opposite.

The modern bowed psaltery is a psaltery in the traditional sense of a wooden soundbox with unstopped strings over the soundboard and it differs from the Mediæval plucked psaltery only in that its strings are arranged to permit bowing. The soundboard has a sound-hole or rose in the center. It is normally played with a small bow that is often made in the earlier semicircular style rather than a modern concave violin bow. Forerunners of the bowed psaltery include bowed lyres as well as bowed members of the zither family. Today, the bowed psaltery is most often produced without chord accompaniment strings.

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CharangoThe charango is a small South American stringed instrument of the lute family, about 66 cm long, traditionally made with the shell of the back of an armadillo. Many contemporary charangos are now made with different types of wood. It typically has 10 strings in five courses of 2 strings each, although other variations exist.

The charango was invented in the early 18th century in the Viceroyalty of Peru, a South American entity that was controlled by Spain during the times of the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, specifically in the region of Cerro Rico in the city of Potosi in present day Bolivia. Gandharva Loka offers high quality charangos imported directly from Bolivia.

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EktaraThe ektara is a one or two stringed instrument that is most closely associated with the traditional music of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Middle East. It is closely related to the gopichand and is also known as iktar, ektar, yaktaro gopichand, toombi and dotara. Like the gopichand, the ektara is a favoured string instrument of the wandering bards and minstrels of India, particularly the Bauls of Bengal. The ektar is generally plucked with one finger although the instrument is also played using a bow. The ektara usually has a stretched single string, an animal skin over a head that is traditionally made of dried pumpkin/gourd or wood and a long fretless pole neck. The strings are tensioned and tuned using wooden pegs. The ektara ranges in size from saprano to tenor and bass, and it is the larger bass models that have two strings and are sometimes known as dotara. Examples of ektara being played can be viewed here (contemporary Western setting) and here (traditional Indian setting).

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ErhuThe erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument which originates from China and is often referred to as the 'Chinese violin'. It has six sided body, often made with rose wood and the resonating chamber is covered with python skin or a thin piece of wood. The notes are played by the moving the fingers on the strings. The bow rests in-between the two strings, usually tuned a fifth apart. The erhu is the most popular instrument in the huqin family of Chinese bowed string instruments and is used in both traditional and contemporary music – a versatile instrument renowned for its distinct, clear and haunting sounds.

The erhu can be traced back to instruments introduced into China more than a thousand years ago. It is believed to have evolved from the xiqin, which is described as a foreign, two-stringed lute in Yue Shu, an encyclopedic work on music written by music theorist Chen Yang in the Northern Song Dynasty. The xiqin is believed to have originated from the Xi people of Central Asia, and have come to China in the 10th century. Historic bowed zithers of China, including the xiqin, yazheng, and yaqin, and also the Korean ajaeng, were originally played by bowing with a rosined stick, which created friction against the strings until the horsehair bow came into use. A beautiful example of traditional Chinese erhu performance can be viewed here.


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Esraj (and Dilruba)

Esraj and DilrubaThe esraj is a stringed instrument with four main strings and twelve tarabs or sympathetic strings. It is a traditional instrument of the northern, eastern and central areas of India but is particularly associated with Bengal (Bangladesh). An instrument that is very similar to the esraj is the dilruba. At about 200 years old, both are quite young by Indian standards. The only real differences between the two is that the dilruba has a few more sympathetic strings and some differences in the shape of the body. It is considered that the esraj and dilruba are a combination of the sitar and the sarangi. Both the esraj and dilruba use a neck and frets very much like a sitar, but use a wooden body with a skin head and are played with a bow like a sarangi.

When the esraj is played, one is not supposed to use the frets on the finger board. The frets are simply to let one know where the notes are located. The fingers of the left hand are not pressed behind the frets to play as a sitar or guitar. The fingers press gently onto the string above the fret of the desired note. The player can then slide up and down to create the characteristic sound of Indian music. The dilruba is more commonly found in the north, where it is used in religious music and light classical songs in the urban areas. The esraj is used in a somewhat wider variety of musical styles than the dilruba and is traditionally used as an accompanying instrument. It is the accompanying instrument of choice for Rabindra Sangeet.

Both the esraj and the dilruba were declining in popularity for many decades and by the 1980s the instrument was nearly extinct. However with the rising influence of the Gurmat Sangeet movement, these instruments are once again attracting considerable attention. One musician who had a great fondness for the esraj was the spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy. A native of Bengal, Sri Chinmoy favoured and regularly used the esraj to perform his soulful compositions.


Performer: Sri Chinmoy at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2003.

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GopichandThe gopichand is a one-string instrument used in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – the favoured stringed instrument of wandering bards, minstrels and holy men. Very closely related to the ektara, the gopichand has a stretched single string that protrudes through and is attached to an animal skin that is stretched over a resonating chamber made of dried pumpkin/gourd, wood or coconut. The string is tensioned by a split bamboo cane pole with a peg through the top of it and some versions of the gopichand have a rattle devise built into the head of the pole. By pressing or releasing the two halves of the neck, the player loosens and tightens the string, which is plucked, thus lowering or raising its pitch. The modulation of the tone with each slight flexing of the neck gives the gopichand a distinctive sound. There are no markings or measurements to indicate what pressure will produce a given note, so the pressure is adjusted purely by ear. The various sizes of gopichand are soprano, tenor, and bass.

The gopichand is commonly used in Kirtan chanting, which is a Hindu devotional practice of singing the divine names and mantras in an ecstatic call and response format. Thus it is used by Sadhus, or wandering holy men. The gopichand is also used for Sufi chanting as well as by the Bauls of Bengal. The gopichand is the most ancient form of stringed instrument found in the Eastern parts of India, the instrument family being scattered all over the country. Though it has a humble tribal beginnings, it has been associated with and popularised by the ascetic and minstrel tradition of songs in Bengal. Examples of the gopichand being played can be viewed here and, in a more traditional Bengali setting where the baul sings while playing the gopichand with one hand and a small drum with the other, here.

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Guitar Cases

Turtle 3/4 Guitar CasesGandharva Loka stocks Turtle Bag 3/4 size soft guitar cases.

These are quality padded guitar cases with carry handles, back straps and a zippered pocket for music, spare strings and accessories.

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The Guzheng is a traditional Chinese instrument – a plucked zither with movable bridges that typically has 21 strings. Guzheng are commonly about 1.6 metres in length. The guzheng is the modern westernised descendant of an ancient traditional Chinese musical instrument which was the ancestor of the Japanese koto, the Mongolian yatga, the Korean gayageum, and the Vietnamese đàn tranh. The parent instrument of the guzheng was known as the se. The guzheng should not to be confused with the guqin (another ancient Chinese zither but a fewer number of strings and without bridges).


The modern-day guzheng is a plucked half-tube zither with movable bridges and 21 strings. However, the number of strings may range anywhere from 15 to 25 or more. The strings were formerly made of twisted silk, but from the turn of the 20th century most players have used metal strings. The guzheng has a large resonant cavity made from wutong wood. Other components may be made from other woods, usually for structural and decorative purposes. The guzheng is tuned to a pentatonic scale.


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Hammered Dulcimer

The hammered dulcimer is a stringed musical instrument with the strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board. Typically the hammered dulcimer is set on a stand and at an angle before the musician who strikes the strings with small mallets to produce sound. It is an enchanting instrument that is at once melodious and rhythmic. The dulcimer's origin seems to be uncertain, but tradition holds it was invented in Persia, where it was known as santur, some 2000 years ago. There is also the Indian version called the Santoor, the Chinese version called Yangqin and the Thai version called the Khim.

Hammered Dulcimer

Various types of hammered dulcimers are traditionally played throughout China, Asia, Europe and Scandinavian and the instrument has enjoyed increased use in the west due to the interest in folk and world music that began in the mid 20th century. The hammered dulcimer was extensively used during the Middle Ages in England, France, Italy, Germany, Holland and Spain. Although it had a distinctive name in each country, it was everywhere regarded as a kind of psalterium. It is from the hammered dulcimer that the pianoforte came into being. There are nice demonstrations of the hammered ducimer being played here and here.

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HarpsThe harp is a stringed instrument that is defined by the fact that the plane of its strings are positioned perpendicular to its soundboard. All harps have a neck, resonator, and strings but some, known as frame harps, also have a forepillar; those lacking the forepillar are referred to as open harps. The oldest depictions of harps without a forepillar are from 4000 BC in Egypt and 3000 BC in Persia. Depending on its size (which varies considerably), a harp may be played while held in the lap or while standing on the floor. Harp strings are made of nylon, gut, wire, or silk on certain instruments.

Various types of harps are found in Africa, Europe, North, and South America, and in Asia. In antiquity, harps and the closely related lyres were very prominent in nearly all cultures. The oldest harps found thus far have been uncovered in ruins from ancient Sumer. The harp also predominant in the hands of medieval bards, troubadors and minnesingers, as well as throughout the Spanish Empire. Harps continued to grow in popularity through improvements in their design and construction through the beginning of the twentieth century.

Gandharva Loka offers lovely 26 string celtic harps handmade by local luthier Merv Woodham. We also have affordable celtic harps from India; small decorative harps, lap harps and free standing harps – some of which are lever harps. There is a nice demonstration of the harp being played here.

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KinnorGandharva Loka also stock kinnors. A kinnor is not really a harp but belongs to the lyre family. It is a small ten string instrument that is often associated with King David and is often known as 'The Harp of David'. Kinnor is the hebrew name for an ancient Israelite lyre mentioned in the Bible and commonly translated as 'harp'. Although uncertain, historians of musical instruments say it is similar to the Greek cithara, which was in use among the Semitic peoples. A symbolic representation of the kinnor appears on ancient Hebrew coins. The kinnor has been called the national instrument of Israel and in modern Hebrew, the word kinnor refers to a violin.

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KotamoThe kotamo is a combination of three overtone instruments: the Japanese koto, the Indian tanpura and the modern monochord. It is a specially developed type of monochord therapy instrument and it unifies the qualities of all three instruments.

The strings of the monochord are all tuned to exactly the same note, and the four strings of the tambura are tuned in fourth, fifth and octave. The koto has movable frets and allows various scales. Usually it is tuned in the pentatonic scale. The koto and kambura are both placed on one side of the instrument. When the kotamo is standing upright it is possible to play on both sides simultanously. One hand passes over the monochord, the other one improvises on the strings of koto and tambura. In the horizontal position both hands play continuously on one side. The kotamo can also be spun around.

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KotoThe koto is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument which shares a common ancestor with the modern Chinese guzheng. It is the national instrument of Japan and typically about 1.8 metres in length.

Koto are commonly made from kiri wood and decorated with fine Japanese fabric. They have 13 strings that are individually strung over movable bridges along the width of the instrument. Players can adjust the string pitches by moving these bridges before playing, and use three finger picks (thumb, index finger, and middle finger) to pluck the strings. It is said that the koto can have the lightness of a butterfly and the power of thunder.

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LyreThe lyre is a stringed musical instrument well known for its use in classical antiquity and later. The earliest picture of a lyre with seven strings appears in the famous sarcophagus of Hagia Triada – a Minoan settlement in Crete. The sarcophagus was used during the Mycenaean occupation of Crete around 1400 BC.

The recitations of the ancient Greeks were accompanied by lyre playing. The lyre of Classical Antiquity was ordinarily played by being strummed with a plectrum, like a guitar or a zither, rather than being plucked, like a harp. The fingers of the free hand silenced the unwanted strings in the chord. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp, but with certain distinct differences. In the present day, the lyre is limited almost exclusively to parts of Africa and Siberia.

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MandolinsThe mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family that may be plucked, or strummed. It descends from the mandore, a soprano member of the lute family. The mandolin soundboard comes in many shapes, but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. A mandolin may have f-holes or a single round or oval sound hole which are often bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling.

Early mandolins had six double courses of gut strings, tuned similarly to lutes, and plucked with the fingertips. Modern mandolins, which originated in Naples, Italy in the 3rd quarter of the 18th century, commonly have four double courses (four pairs) of metal strings, which are plucked with a plectrum. Many variants of the mandolin have existed.

Gandharva Loka offers several brands of mandolins; Blue Moon, Ashbury and Kentucky, and handmade mandolins from Flyde, Buchanan and Breedlove.

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Morin Khuur

Morin KhuurThe morin khuur (also known as ikil in western Mongolia, shoor in eastern Mongolia, the horse head fillde and Mongolian cello or fiddle in the West) is a bowed stringed instrument and the national musical instrument of Mongolia. It is a two-stringed instrument that is held in the lap or between the legs of the player. It has a trapezoidal body and a long, slender fretless neck with a horse's head typically carved into the top of the pegbox. The sound box of the morin khuur was traditionally covered with covered with camel, goat, or sheep skin, in which case a small opening would be left in back of the sound box. Since the 1970s wooden covers with f holes cut into them have been in common usage.

Traditionally both the strings of the morin khuur, and the bow used to play it, are made from horse tail hair. The strands of the larger string (masculine) are from the tail of a stallion and the strands of the smaller string (feminine) are from the tail of a mare. In modern times nylon is also used. When played, the bow is held from underneath in the right hand which enables the fingers to tighten the loose hair of the bow allowing very fine control of the instrument's timbre. The morin khuur produces a sound which is poetically described as expansive and unrestrained. In 2003 a documentary entitled The Tale of the Weeping Camel was made which features the use of the morin khuur in a very traditional setting. A traditional sample of the morin khuur being played can be viewed here.

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Mountain Dulcimer

Mountain DulcimerThe mountain dulcimer (also known as the Appalachian dulcimer or lap dulcimer) is a fretted stringed instrument of the zither family that typically has three or four strings. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic. It is native to the Appalachian region of the United States. Although this mountain dulcimer appeared in regions dominated by Irish and Scottish settlement, the instrument has no known precedent in Ireland or Scotland. However, several diatonic fretted zithers exist in Continental Europe, which bear a strong similarity to the mountain dulcimer.

A traditional way to play the instrument is to lay it flat on the lap and pluck or strum the strings with one hand, while fretting with the other. The dulcimer may also be placed in a similar position on a piece of furniture such as a table or chest of drawers, to enhance the sound. There are two predominant methods of fretting. First, the strings may be depressed with the fingertips of the fretting hand. Using this technique, all the strings may be fretted allowing the player to produce chords. Second, the melody string, the string closest to the player, may be depressed with a noter, typically a short length of dowel or bamboo. Using this method, only the melody string is fretted and the other strings act as drone strings (the melody string may be doubled so that the melody can be better heard over the drones). In this second style of playing, the combination of the drone strings and the buzz of the noter on the melody strings produces a unique sound. Examples of the mountain dulcimer being played in different styles can be viewed here and here.

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OudThe Oud is an ancient pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Greek, Byzantine, North African and Middle Eastern music. Construction of the oud is similar to that of the lute. The modern oud and the European lute both descend from a common ancestor via diverging paths but is readily distinguished by its lack of frets and smaller neck. The Oud is considered an ancestor of the guitar. (Source)

Gandharva Loka stocks beautifully decorated ouds from Egypt and Turkey. An nice example of an Oud being played ( accompanied by darbuka) can be viewed here.

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RababThe rebab is a type of string instrument so named no later than the 8th century and spread via Islamic trading routes over much of North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Europe, and the Far East although it is particularly synonymous with Afganistan.

The bowed rabab often has a spike at the bottom to rest on the ground, and is thus called a spike fiddle in certain areas, but there exists plucked versions like the kabuli rebab. The rebab, though valued for its voice-like tone, has a very limited range of little over an octave.

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SarodThe sarod is a stringed musical instrument used mainly in Indian classical music. Along with the sitar, it is the most popular and prominent instrument particularly in (northern Indian) classical music. The sarod is known for a deep, weighty, introspective sound (contrast with the sweet, overtone-rich texture of the sitar) with sympathetic strings that give it a resonant, reverberant quality. It is a fretless instrument able to produce the continuous slides between notes known as meend (glissandi), which are very important form of expression in Indian music.

The sarod is believed by some to have descended from the Afghan rabab, a similar instrument originating in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The name Sarod roughly translates to "beautiful sound" or "melody" in Persian (which is one of the many languages spoken in Afghanistan). Although the sarod has been referred to as a "bass rabab" its pitch range is only slightly lower than that of the rabab.

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SemsemiaThe Semsemia (also spelt Simsimiyya) is a plucked lyre from the Middle Eastern countries of Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. Traditionaliy played by the Bedouin people as a social instrument, in Egypt the Semsemia is used to accompany song and dance and is known to be particularly synonymous with the cities of Port Said and Ismaïlia. Varying in size and tuned to suit the vocal range of the player, Semsemia have steel strings, a movable bridge and are adorned with decorative inlay.
More info: La Simsimiyya de Port-Said »
View a rustic Semsemia being played in a traditional Bedouin setting here »


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SitarThe sitar is a plucked stringed instrument predominantly used in Hindustani classical music, where it has been ubiquitous since the Middle Ages. It derives its resonance from sympathetic strings, a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber. Used throughout the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the sitar became known in the western world through the music of Pandit Ravi Shankar and particularly after The Beatles started using the instrument. It is now played all over the world.

The sitars development has been traced from the tritantri veena through the nibaddh and anibaddh tanpuras and later the jantra. Construction of the similar tanpura was described by Tansen. During the time of Moghul rule Persian lutes were played at court and may have provided a basis of the sitar. However, there is no physical evidence of the sitar until the time of the collapse of the Mughal Empire.

Sitars and Accessories

Gandharva Loka offers quality beginners to professional model sitars imported from India and we also have sets of sitar strings available.

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SwarmandalThe swarmandal or Indian harp is an Indian zither that is today most commonly used as an accompanying instrument for the vocal Hindustani classical music of North India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The name combines swara (notes) and mandal (group), representing its ability to produce a large number of notes; it is also known popularly as Sur-mandal. It is similar to an instrument from Iran and has been used for many generations dating back to the Mughal era. The swarmandal is similar to the autoharp or zither in many respects and, like the sitar, was used by The Beatles in a number of their songs.

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Tanpura / Tambura

TanpuraThe tanpura is an instrument that has many names and versions, which reflects the diversity of the country it hails from – India. It is known as tanpura in northern India, tambura in southern India, tamburo in Gujarati and tambora in Marathi.

The tanpura is a long necked plucked lute, a stringed instrument that somewhat resembles the sitar, but without the frets. The open strings are played as a harmonic accompaniment to the other musicians and singers. It has four or five (rarely, six) wire strings that are plucked one after another in a regular pattern to create a harmonic resonance on the basic note.

Tanpuras come in different sizes and pitches: bigger 'males' and smaller 'females' for vocalists and yet a smaller version that is used for accompanying sitar or sarod, called tamburi or tanpuri. There are various tuning which can be used the most common example being PA, SA, SA, SA (G, C, C, C with the last C one octave lower). It is often used in the west as an aid to hatha yoga or meditation.

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UkuleleThe ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian interpretation of the cavaquinho, a small guitar-like instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. The ukulele is commonly associated with music from Hawaii where the name roughly translates as 'jumping flea', due to the action of one's fingers playing the ukulele resembling a jumping flea. According to Queen Lili'uokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, the name means "the gift that came here", from the Hawaiian words uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come). It gained great popularity in the United States during the early 20th century and from there spread internationally.

The ukulele, sometimes abbreviated to 'uke', is a chordophone classified as a plucked lute; it is a subset of the guitar family of instruments, generally with four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings. Tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. Subject to waves of popularity, the ukulele is currently making a comeback! The first wave of popularity was in 1915, the next in 1950, the ukulele is now in its third wave of popularity. The ukulele is appealing to all ages but is a particularly inexpensive and fun option for beginners or children who are interested in learning a stringed instrument. Gandharva Loka stocks highly acclaimed Makala brand ukuleles from beginners to professional models.


Ukulele Accessories

Kala Electronic Tuner

Kala Ukulele TunerGandharva Loka stocks the Kala KC02 Clip On Electronic Tuner which is especially made for ukuleles but also has a chromatic mode and can be used for other instruments. Simply clip the compact Kala electronic tuner to your instrument's headstock and choose one of the three mode available: chromatic, ukulele C tuning or ukulele D tuning. The large backlit display makes it easy to see what you are doing in any environment. The Kala electronic tuner comes with a battery which is easy to replace if it flattens.

Ukulele Instruction / Tuition Book

  • Kiwi Ukulele – The New Zealand Ukulele Companion – by Mike Dickison.
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VeenaThe Veena is a plucked stringed instrument used mostly in Carnatic Indian classical music. There are several variations of the veena, which in its South Indian form is a member of the lute family. The veena has a recorded history that dates back to the Vedic period (approximately 1500 BCE) In ancient times, the tone vibrating from the hunter's bow string when he shot an arrow was known as the Vil Yazh. The Jya ghosha (musical sound of the bow string) is referred to in the ancient Atharvaveda. Eventually, the archer's bow paved the way for the musical bow. Twisted bark, strands of grass and grass root, vegetable fibre and animal gut were used to create the first strings.

Over the veena's evolution and modifications, more particular names were used to help distinguish the instruments that followed. The word veena in India was a term originally used to generally denote 'stringed instrument' and included many variations that would be either plucked, bowed or struck for sound.

Veenas ranged from one string to one hundred, and were composed of many different materials like eagle bone, bamboo, wood and coconut shells. A particular type of veena, the Saraswati veena, is synonymous with the Hindu goddess Saraswati (pictured below), the deity of knowledge, music and the arts, who is usually depicted holding or playing the instrument.