The standard cümbüş with 12 strings and no fretboard, configured as an oud.

Related instruments

The cümbüş (/mˈbʃ/; Turkish pronunciation: [dʒymˈbyʃ]) is a Turkish stringed instrument of relatively modern origin. It was developed in 1930 by Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş (1881–1947) as an oud-like instrument that could be heard as part of a larger ensemble.[1]

The cümbüş is shaped like an American banjo, with a spun-aluminum resonator bowl and skin soundboard. Although originally configured as an oud, the instrument has been converted to other instruments by attaching a different set of neck and strings.[2] The standard cümbüş is fretless, but guitar, mandolin and ukulele versions have fretboards. The neck is adjustable, allowing the musician to change the angle of the neck to its strings by turning a screw.[3] One model is made with a wooden resonator bowl, with the effect of a less tinny, softer sound.[4]

Origin of the maker and the name

Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş holding one of the instruments he invented, from a newspaper clipping.

The word cümbüş is derived from the Turkish for "revelry" or "fun", as the instrument was marketed as a popular alternative to the more costly classical oud.[1] Unlike inventors who name their inventions after themselves, Zeynel Avidin Cümbüş took his last name from his instrument. He was born Zeynel Abidin in Skopje, Macedonia and immigrated to Beyazit, Istanbul, Turkey.[1] His name is often written Zeynel Abidin Bey online in Turkey, where Bey is an honorific, such as mister.[5] Early instruments show his name as he wrote it Zeynelabidin (a single name, not two). When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk decreed that families take surnames in 1934, Zeynel Abidin adopted the name of his famous instrument.[1]

Rising and falling with social tides

After the Turkish War of Independence Zeynel Abidin Cümbüş wanted to create a new instrument to embody the ideals of peace, an instrument for the masses. He switched his company from dealing with arms to manufacturing musical instruments for "the support of peace through music." In a meeting with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, he showed one of his new inventions. It was "an inexpensive instrument easy to transport and hard to break, capable of playing both Eastern alaturka music and, with a quick change of removable necks, Western alafranga music as well." A modern instrument for a modern country.[1]

The cümbüş was inexpensive and was bought by people who couldn't afford a more expensive instrument; as a result, his dream the masses accepting it was marginalized. The instrument became a folk instrument of the poor and of ethnic minorities in Turkey, including Rûm, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, and Romani, "playing indigenous folk music or repertoires shared with ethnic Turks." It was excluded specifically by classical musicians of the era, being seen as lower-class or ethnic. A perception grew of it being "other" or ethnic or different or lower-class, and Turkish society did not adopt the instrument widely. By the 1960s, use of the cümbüş declined among these minorities, except for Román professional musicians. They adopted the instrument because of its ability to be heard alongside the other instruments they played at weddings and parties.


Beginning in the mid-1990s, more people started to take up the instrument again at Armenian and Jewish folk music revivals and in Kurdish and Romani folk music recordings. It has been since taken up by modern Turkish-rock and Techno musicians, some making statements with the way the music sounds, and others apolitical or humanistic or spiritual.[1][6]

Cümbüş today

Cümbüş Music is still an active company in Istanbul and manufactures a wide range of traditional Turkish instruments.[7] The instruments are hand made in the family's workshop in Istanbul, by three members of the Cümbüş family, Naci Abidin Cümbüş and his two sons Fethi and Alizeynel. While they still make approximately 3000 cümbüşes a year (as of 2002), those are only part of the instruments the family makes. They also manufacture about 5000 darbukas per year (middle-eastern drums) and sell guitars as well. They export approximately half the cümbüşes to the United States, France and Greece.[6]


Mando-cümbüş, a Turkish banjo in the style of a mandolin. On this instrument the name is spelled Cünbüş instead of Cümbüş.
Tanbur Cümbüş of Dr. Ozan Yarman photographed in his residence at Istanbul on January 2013.

The Cümbüş Company in Istanbul, Turkey manufactures several different models. They include:


Standard cümbüş

The cümbüş has its own tuning, but can be tuned the same as an oud.[1]

Use in Western popular music

Turkish area musicians

See also


External links

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