I didn't know at the time I traded what it was. I just thought it was cool. My friend Carlton sent photos, but the only thing he told me was that it need some help. But, there was really nothing that was too far out of the ordinary. The skin covering the bowl need to be stretched back to its original position, and the temporary wood pegs holding the skin in place had to be replaced with button-head tacks. The tuning peg was something from a cello (I think), but I know it wasn't the original. And the string was a piece of fishing line . . . it worked, but not what I thought should be the real deal. And, there was no bow with which to play the 'thing'. It needed a good overhaul and cleaning, so off I went to get my 'thing' in order.
I still think it's cool, and now I know what it is. A Google search led me around the Internet, and I finally landed on a Wikipedia explanation. It's a Gusle.
It's a southeastern European, most likely Serbia, primitive single-stringed musical instrument traditionally used in the Dinarides region of the Balkans.
The Gusle consists of a wooden sound box, maple being considered as the best material, covered with an animal skin, and a neck with an intricately carved head. A wood bow (made of horsetail -- thirty horse hairs) is pulled over the string, creating a dramatic and sharp sound, expressive and difficult to master. Often, the instruments were constructed by the singers and players themselves, shepherds, or even by specialized Gusle builders from urban areas.
The instrument is always accompanied by singing musical folklore, specifically epic poetry. The player (Guslar) holds the instrument (Gusle) vertically between his knees, resting the long neck on one thigh, with the left hand fingers on the strings. The strings are never pressed to the neck, giving a harmonic and unique sound. Most lyrics center around historical figures who played an important role in history (often folk heroes who died tragic deaths), or significant historical events (mostly battles against invaders or occupying powers).
The finished Gusle
I created the bow from a maple board and old violin horsehair. To add a little distinction,
I carved a head similar to that on the headstock.
As you can see in this photo, the button head nails have all been replaced to replicate the original design, and the bridge is a specially created piece following a design I saw in Wikipedia illustrations. The single string is a 'gut' string from a standup bass . . . a fella cannot just bolt for the corner music store to acquire parts for a Gusle.
Again, following a design from an illustration, I managed to create a tuning peg from a piece of maple and a wood dowel, which replicates the real thing.
And the hand carved bowl is really cool.
I doubt like hell that I will ever learn to play this thing, but I couldn't resist the offer to trade. If for no other reason than to have it for a conversation piece.
And, I made a great new friend in Carlton Gill-Blyth. Thanks Carl!