Current role in Irish music
The role of the Irish Bouzouki is often a mixture of melodic play and interwoven accompaniment. Its main purpose in accompaniment is to use open-string drones and two note intervals.
Except for a few cases, instrumentalists who play the bouzouki in Irish music use it less for virtuoso melody work and more for the contrapuntal accompaniment to melodies being played with other instruments like the flute or fiddle.
Original Greek Bouzouki was a three-course /six-string instrument ( Trichordo). A Greece version with a four-course / eight-string ( Tetrachordo), was created in the 1950s. Irish musicians discovered the modern tetrachordo Bouzouki. They adapted it to be used in Irish folk music.
Johnny Moynihan is the one who brought the first tetrachordo Greek Bouzouki to Ireland. He also retuned it to G2-D3–A3–D4 (intervals that he first used on his mandolin). Leagues O’Toole says that Johnny Moynihan purchased his first bouzouki, a tetrachordo Greek bouzouki, from Tony Ffrench. He had brought it from Greece to Ireland, but decided to retune it to G2-D3-A3-D4 (intervals he used on the mandolin).
Moynihan, a popular Irish folk trio, established a place for the bouzouki in Irish music in the mid-1960s. Andy Irvine played Moynihan’s bouzouki during the 1968 recording of Sweeney’s Men.
(p. 81) Shortly after his return from Eastern Europe in late 1970, Irvine met Donal Lunny, who was left-handed and gave him a Greek Bouzouki.
One year later, Lunny went with Irvine to Peter Abnett’s workshop . There, he ordered a partially-staved-back instrument that matched his specifications. Thus was born the Irish bouzouki. The modified bouzouki was integrated into Irish folk music after it was popularized by Irvine and Lunny with the introduction in 1972.
Irvine credits Moynihan for having “brought bouzoukis to Ireland” in his lyric “O’Donoghue’s”, which is his account of his early folk revival days in Dublin during the 1960s. Parallel to this later joined the Galway-based traditional band and obtained a Greek trichordo Bouzouki.
New designs were created almost immediately after the Greek Bouzouki was introduced. The body was increased and a flat-back with straight sides replaced the stave-built Greek bouzouki. Peter Abnett, – an English builder – was the first to create an “Irish-specific” bouzouki for Donal Lunny, in 1972 . He created a hybrid design that included a 3-piece, partially-staved back and straight sides.
The scale length for the Irish bouzouki is usually between 24 and 25 inches (60-65 cm). Some instruments can have scales that are 26 inches or longer (66 to 68cm) and higher-quality instruments with longer scales are prized for their greater volume, sustain, as well as tonal richness.