minstrel: rebec

nickolas kaugon ollaimh at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 13 12:19:16 PDT 2005

in addition to my many other obsessions, i have a
rebec. it was made my edward r turner. he is more
famous as a harpsichord maker, but he has made just
about everything you cab imagine.
 he traded it to me for my fire damaged lute with the
deal that i get first dibs on the lute when it's
repaired--which may never happen. he made it for expo
86 in vancouver --there was a dispaly of early
instruments there and they wanted one of everything.

i wanted to point out that there are actually two
techniques of playing. the affore stated fiddle style
but also in greece and the balkans and even as far as
slovakia, there is a style of playing using your nails
as frets on tyhe strings. it's obviuos which style  a
rebec is for as the nail style ones have very high
action. the technique is to hold the rebec in the
crotch of your arm near the body  and a bit sideways.
you grow your nails long and cut them blunt or
evenconcave and use them as frets on the strings. i
actually saw this for the first time about thrinty
yeasr ago while hitchhiking across slovakia--then
czechoslovakia. i went to a folk music event and there
were traditional rebec palyers. i was told they are
still made there as well. since then i have seen greek
muscians paly in this style. they call this instrument
the lyra and it is the island national instrument of
crete. the technique takes some time to master but it
is very loud for such a small instrument and is
usually palyed in ensemble groups. in ctrer they have
flutes bouzouki's and lauta's to play with the lyra.
in slovakia they were palying an accordian a fiddle a
bass and a mandolin.

incidently when i was in slovakia i also saw a five
string folk fiddle . the fifth string was a drone,
often percussed with the bow rather than bowed, and
the accompanyment was from a cello sized bass which
was percussed with a stich rather than bowed. the
cello had two drone strings that were never fingered
and hence had no fingerboard under them and the other
two were fingered and had a finger board. this was
very very rootsy music but quite magical. a duet like
this came to the vancouver folk fe3stival a decade ago
and i went like a rocket when o heard of them--a rare
thing to see now a days.

nayway that's my rebec report. as to quality. the
greek lyras are of very high workman ship and
materials but can be expensive. the ones i've seen on
line seem cheap, but there are sometimes turkish
ones--they call it a rebab--that can be good quality
and are very cheap compared to the others--a good
place to start.

be aware some of the turkish--and other middle eastern
versions have odd qualities like the bow is slack abd
you have to tighten it with your thumb--it takes some
practice . and some have moveable finger board. a
ssort of early wammy bar so you need a good ear to be
sure you are playing in the right position. howevr
some are made exactly like the greek lyras's, although
with different woods. you just have to lower the
action and you have a rebec for a hundred bucks.

the ones from the early music shop don't have good
reputation for the sound but they aren;t very
expensive and perhaps they would sound fine played in
the fingernail style--something to try if that's your thing

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