“…The buzuq is primarily a folk instrument that is very popular in the Near East (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan). It has a half-pear-shaped body with a long fretted neck…”

The buzuq is plucked with a plectrum that can be made of animal horn or plastic. Traditionally the buzuq had two courses of metal strings, a double (C4) and a triple (G3), although in the second half of the 20th century more strings were added in order to expand its range. The modern buzuq has three courses of double (or in some cases triple) strings, usually tuned as C3, G3, C4, although custom-made buzuq-s could have one more course of single or double strings in order to expand the lower range further. There is no standard tuning for a four-course buzuq, but one possible tuning is A2, D3, G3, C4. 

Modern buzuq-s use two strips of three metallic tuning pegs, similar to the guitar. The metal strings combined with the metal pegs give the instrument a bright tonal quality. The buzuq’s neck is fretted with frets made of wound nylon string. This is a technique used in other neighboring instruments, such as the Persian tar. The nylon string is usually wound three times and becomes thick enough to serve as a fret (between 1 mm and 2 mm in diameter). 

Frets fall on notes of the chromatic scale (a semitone apart) as well as on the most popular quartertones, such as the E, A, and B notes. The number of quartertone frets varies with the buzuq’s manufacturing, as some buzuq-s are richer in frets than others. 

The buzuq’s frets can be fine-tuned by the player in order to better match the correct tunings of the microtonal Arabic maqam scales used. Fine-tuning a fret by sliding it a few millimeters before the start of a song certainly allows the buzuq to make needed modifications, but is somewhat limited compared to having a fretless neck, because frets cannot be adjusted during a performance when some modulations or transpositions are required. 

Inside Arabic Music
Johnny Farraj and Sami Abu Shumays

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