Balalaika: the strings of Russian Folk
The Balalaika with origins in the XVI century (sometimes wrongly referred as "russian guitars") is one of the major Russian musical instruments, along with the Domra, the Accordion and the Guitar.The Balalaika most likely evolved from the Oriental Dombra, which is still played in present-day Kazakhstan. It is said that the Balalaika embodies the Russian people's character, with its ability to switch from happiness to sadness with ease. It was common for the peasant ballads, composed for the Balalaika, to irreverently poke fun at the authority of the times. For this reason there were times when the Balalaika was banned by both the Orthodox Church and the State. The instrument enjoyed its greatest folk popularity in the early 18th century. It was also carried by the common people when they fled Russia at times of war.
This instrument is characterized by the triangular body (a trait that it acquired in the XIX century) and three strings (or six, in three double courses).The Balalaika is a member of the Lute family and is made in a number of sizes; Piccolo, Soprano, Prima, Secunda, Alto, Bass, Contra-Bass and Sub-Contrabass. The lower pitched the bigger the instrument is.All have three-sided triangular bodies, spruce or fir tops and backs made of from three to nine wooden sections, and usually have three strings. The prima balalaika is played with the fingers, the sekunda and alto either with the fingers or a plectrum depending on the music being played, and the bass and contrabass (equipped with extension legs which rest on the floor) are played with leather plectrums. It was in the XIX when it started to be featured in orchestras aside from the folk music.
The Balalaika strings are tuned above middle C to: A, E, E (1st-3rd). The 1st string is the thinnest, and lays over more frets than the 2nd & 3rd strings.
You can find some deluxe nice looking Balalaikas from Ethnic Musical Instruments store.
If you're intending to buy a balalaika online we recommend you to read this review article "buying and selling balalaikas in ebay" with some tips and advice.
Beware because some balalaikas offered for cheap price are more a souvenir than a professional instrument. A professional balalaika can cost up to 1000 dollars, though you can find some decent working ones for around 300$. Anyway you can find balalaikas in ebay for reasonable price and quality out of different stores, some vintage and second hand but in good playing condition.
If you're based in Europe you can purchase rather affordable Balalaikas from the german hyperstore Thomann like the following.
Above: Balalaika listed in Thomann Music Store.
You can find also in FOLKFRIENDS store (based also in germany) this Alto Balalaika
If in the states you can also find balalaikas and strings in yourworldinstrument store or fromt he ethnical music instrument store. Both have cases, instructional material and several models of affordable balalaikas
To teach yourself to play balalaika we´ll spotlight Mel Bay's Balalaika book by author Bibs Ekkel as instructional material. It has 160 pages and features a CD. It features a nice section about the history of this traditional instrument.