Perhaps the terms “folk” or “folklore” seem a bit dusty or vague to you and what comes to mind are traditional outfits that peasants wore in your country 200 years ago or the medieval market from last summer. But what is hidden under the collective “folk instrument” is anything but antiquated, even if various instruments can refer to centuries-old tradition. In the past, many of these instruments remained locked up at home and only used for certain celebrations or rituals. These can include the Hurdy-gurdy, the Dulcimer, the Psaltery or the Rebec, a forerunner of today’s violin, if one thinks of stringed folk instruments.
Other folk instruments are strictly tied to a particular genre of music, a certain style or origin and almost exclusively heard there. But that does not necessarily have to be an exclusion criterion, because what’s more exciting than incorporating unusual instruments and sounds into your own creations. Folk instruments form a wide spectrum, from the Algerian Mondol to the Zither and from the Baglamas to the Musical Saw. That’s why we chose five of the most popular and well-known folk instruments on this blog, which you may find in non-genre environments.
This includes the banjos, whose predecessors were originally brought to North America by African slaves. Although lutes, with bodies made from gourds, are often mentioned as the origin, other instruments of the African continent may have been the godfather. The first modern-style banjo was mentioned in 1678 in any case and, over time, various versions of this instrument were formed. The most outstanding feature of a banjo is its body, which usually consists of a round, animal (or synthetic) skin-covered frame, similar to a drumhead.
5-string banjos such as the Harley Benton BJ-55Pro are at home in bluegrass, country and traditional Irish music and are mostly plucked. A special feature here is a high string, tuned usually to G and is the first string before the lowest bass string. The price range for 5-string banjos ranges from the Harley Benton BJO-35 Pro 5 String Banjo OB, a very popular beginner’s instrument for just over 100 euros, to the professional, handcrafted instrument like the Deering Tony Trischka Silver Clipper for almost 4000 Euros.
4-string, or tenor, banjos arrived at the beginning of the last century with the advent of jazz. They have their place especially in Dixieland bands, where they are played with a plectrum as a chord instrument, but are also often responsible for the melody in Irish folklore. The Deering Goodtime Openback Tenor is an example of a four-string tenor banjo.
If you already play the guitar and you need that banjo sound but you do not want to learn a completely new instrument, you can try the 6-string banjo. The main difference is the banjo body – tuning, scale and neck remain as usual. The Harley Benton HBJ-26 offers the desired banjo twang for an affordable price. For those who like the exotic, there is the banjo ukulele, a banjo-style ukulele, like the European-made Thomann Ukulele Banjo.
Mandolins are undoubtedly among the most widely used folk instruments. Especially in plucked ensembles these traditional stringed instruments with four double strings are indispensable. While the classic roundback mandolin is the traditional instrument in our latitudes, the flat back variant belongs in the folk environment. The classic mandolin has a drop-shaped body without frames such as the Gewa Roundback Mandolin Flathead, the Flachmandoline is equipped with a flat or slightly curved top and a flat bottom, as is the case with the Harley Benton HBMA-50. These instruments are often found in country and bluegrass, with the so-called F-style prevailing there, a flat shape with cutaway and F-holes like the Harley Benton HBMA-100E- VS which has a pickup system and is ready for big stages.
One of the oldest instruments in our shortlist is the lute, which was played two millennia before Christ. It is available in different versions, as a 7-courses Renaissance lute with six double strings and a single string like the Thomann Pro Renaissance Lute 7 Courses, the Thomann Renaissance Lute 8/15 with seven double strings and a single treble string or the Thomann Lute Guitar Standard Walnut, which is equipped and tuned like a guitar with six strings. If you are looking for a high-quality lute, because you want to be part of an ensemble or if you want to play original scores authentically, you will find a fine selection of lutes, in different price ranges, on our website.
Even the most important Russian folk instrument, the Balalaika, is in our webshop. It comes in different designs and price ranges but is always an exotic eye-catcher. Depending on the application, you have a choice between the classic 3-string Balalaika like the Thomann Prim Balalaika M1080, and 6-string variant like the Gewa Prim Balalaika 6-strings.
Just like the lute, the harp is one of the absolute classics. This indispensable orchestra instrument can also be found in folk music in certain variants. If you are toying with the idea of purchasing a harp, check out our wide range and choose the model that is right for you. From the small 7-string Auris Children’s Harp to the 22-string Thomann Celtic Harp Ashwood to the Lyon & Healy Silhouette Electric Harp JB, a 33-string electric harp for almost 6000 euros.
And last, but not least, there’s the secret shooting star among folk instruments: the ukulele. It is the good-mood instrument par excellence that even beginners can find their way around quickly and easily. The Thomann collection of ukuleles, mainly produced in Europe, covers the entire spectrum in terms of design and price. It starts with the Thomann Concert Ukulele De Luxe, made almost entirely of beautiful Australian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) with a solid top. The reasonably priced Thomann Tenor Ukulele Acacia and the Thomann Baritone Ukulele add different registers to your ensemble. The latter even comes with a built-in pickup system with volume and tone control. The Thomann Bass Ukulele Side Hole is not only found in folk circles, but it also often lays down low frequencies in jazz sessions.
We once listed 10 good reasons to play the ukulele, have another look!
Although many people have associated the image of the double bass to an orchestral instrument, it is an instrument that can be found in many genres within the folk field such as country, bluegrass or country blues. It also has the particularity that it is not played with a bow, as it is done in classicalmusic, but it is played with the fingers directly, with techniques such as pizzicato or “slap“. All our acoustic basses are adapted and adjusted in our workshop individually according to the musical style desired by the client. We can find double basses more focused on the pizzicato, such as the Thomann 111BR 3/4, or slap, like the Thomann Rockabilly Slap Flames Bass BK.
As with the double bass, most people relate the violin to classical music but in reality it has a very important role in folk music. The folk violin (also called the fiddle), does not differ in anything from the classical violin, it is the same instrument, only played in another style. Some models of the Thomann violin collection are the Thomann Classic Violinset 4/4 or the Black Fiber.
Although it may seem a truism and an instrument which is omnipresent, the guitar has a fundamental role in folk music. From country to blues, to neo-folk, the guitar is the soul in a multitude of songs. The most successful guitars for these styles are the folk guitars, the jumbo and the dreadnought, as well as resonator guitars (also knowns as dobro guitars) which scream only the purest blues (prepare your slide!).
Which of these instruments do you like the most? Maybe it’s not on the list?