In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: January 19, 2023
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Imagine your bouzouki skills earning you a regular performance slot at your local club. Far-fetched? No. A bouzouki enables you to expand the possibilities of the type of music you can play by allowing you to add a folk or Celtic or bluegrass sound to your music. So, what defines the best bouzouki and how do you identify it? Are there bouzoukis designed for beginner players? Let’s find out below.
For this review, we compared important features like the bouzouki type, dimensions, weight, top wood, and scale length and looked at how they impacted each bouzouki. We then ranked the instruments based on how they sound, how much resonance they have, how playable they are, and the quality of materials and build. We show you how to evaluate each feature to determine whether it’s made to acceptable standards for its role in the bouzouki or whether it falls short. The comparison table shows you how they fared.
The Special MSB-304 is made in an all-solid flat body design for a traditional bouzouki look. The top is made from durable solid spruce, and the back and sides are made from maple. The slim mahogany neck allows you to move your hand swiftly and smoothly and gives the buzuki sustained stability. The button tuners feature sealed gear and sturdy construction that not only won’t break but also produces bright tones.
This bouzouki comes fully shop-adjusted for enhanced ease of use. Note that it has octave strings on the 2 lower-pitched courses, which limits you to playing Greek-style octaves, but you can modify the nut and bridge to enjoy greater sound variety.
When looking for a musical instrument, sound quality is usually the most important factor that most people consider. But even if you’re not overly concerned with the outward appearance of your bouzouki, you’ll pleasantly note that this model comes in soft natural wood tones that are easy on the eye, with the abalone inlay on the headstock and snowflake dot markers on the fretboard adding to its beauty.
Instead of a metal pin, this bouzouki comes with a plastic pin at the bottom. You can get this replaced by a luthier or at a music store, but it would have been better if they used a better quality pin, to begin with.
It comes with a hard-shelled case for easy transportation and storage.
An instrument that sounds as good as it looks, the Gold Tone BZ-500 is a perfect choice for anyone looking for that special bouzouki with a rich sound. Its deep sound is in part attributed to the heavy solid spruce top and mahogany back, which ensures there is an abundance of resonance. The neck and sides are also made from mahogany for an all-natural wood look. The fretboard is made from rosewood for enhanced playability. The scale measures 26.25 inches, which is standard for a bouzouki.
The overall quality of this buzuci is above average, and the medium gauge strings are of extremely good quality. The manufacturer indicates they’re made of phosphor bronze; you may want to take note of this in case you need to replace them with strings of similar quality in the future. Likewise, the intonated bridge, brass cast tailpiece, and tuners are all of good quality.
It comes in a high gloss satin finish that is easy to clean and maintain; a simple wipe down will have the bouzouki looking as clean and pristine as new. Included is a hard case for easy storage and transportation.
It comes tuned, so you can begin playing right from when you unpack it from the box. It does not have strap buttons, though, so you’ll need to install them yourself. There’s one button on the bottom end, but you still need to add a second one at the head if you wish to put a strap on the instrument.
The Greek Roosebeck Bouzouki features beautiful, custom lacewood inlays on the headstock, soundboard, and fretboard. The top is made from European spruce, while the neck is made from mahogany and the fretboard from sheesham. Material options for the back are lacewood, sheesham, and a variegated lacewood and sheesham mix. Simply specify your preferred choice back wood material when placing your order.
It has a scale length of 26.25 inches, and the entire instrument measures 37.5 x 7 x 11.5 inches. It’s also one of the lightest bouzoukis available, with a weight of 2.65 lbs. A truss rod maintains stability and sustains tension in the neck for enhanced performance. The high gauge strings it comes with, while having passed extreme tests for tension, tuning, and other parameters, have less than desirable playability. The manufacturer has used them to test the bouzouki’s performance in different extreme conditions, but they may not be suitable for regular, everyday playing. Replace them (the manufacturer recommends it) so you can get better sound and tuning, and improved playability. The good thing is that compatible strings specifically made for the Roosebeck Bouzouki are available at an affordable price, also from the manufacturer.
The tuning pegs are of a lower quality than what you’d get in a professional bouzouki, but they get the job done, especially when you consider that you’re paying less than half the price of a professional buzuki for it.
It comes with a padded gig bag for storage and portability.
Exquisitely crafted and finished, the Hora M1089 has a noticeable beauty about it. The solid spruce top complements the maple neck, sides, and back well, and the acacia fretboard ties it all together neatly, with the darker toned tailpiece cover contrasting the light brown spruce top beautifully. Smooth finishing completes the elegant look.
The scale is 26 inches long, the standard length for easy navigation. The strings are of good quality and are tuned in unison to GDAD – they are not set as octave strings – and they can also be tuned to CDA. It has low action, and in turn, great playability, which a player who is new to the buzuki will appreciate. It measures 12.3 x 37.4 x 3 inches, weighs only 3.3 lbs. and is light enough for easy handling.
The fretboard has visible dot markers on the front-facing side, but these are not replicated at the top. So when playing the instrument, you won’t be able to see the strings. This can be especially challenging for a new player who needs the markers to guide their fingering. You can have the top markers added at a local luthier’s because this is a good bouzouki, and it would be a shame to return it for something fixable. And given its attractive price point, this certainly seems like a small price to pay.
The Roosebeck Standard Irish Bouzouki has a solid spruce top, a sheesham back and fretboard, and a lacewood with sheesham neck. The gold with black plastic blends well with the bouzouki’s wood undertones. The tuning pegs, bone nut, and sheesham strings all point to the uncompromising quality of the bouzouki and the amount of thought that went into putting it together. And it’s not just its looks; it has a crisp, nice-sounding tone and low action that enhances playability.
At 37 x 14.25 x 3.25 inches, its smallish size is a beginner player’s dream. Throw in the fact that it only weighs 3 lbs. and you can see why a novice player will not struggle when playing this bouzouki. A shorter, 25.5-inch scale makes navigation and handling easy.
It’s a 4 course, 8-string instrument with 011 steel D4 strings, 018 steel A3 strings, 034 nickelwound D3 strings, and 028 nickelwound G2 strings. It’s tuned to DADG, but the strings it comes with need to be replaced as they have low playability. If you are an intermediate or experienced player, you may be able to play them for a while, but ultimately, you’ll need to replace them. And if you’re a beginner player, playing the buzuci with the strings as they are will leave you frustrated because they are a little rigid.
It doesn’t have strap buttons. For players who may wish to balance the instrument on a strap, this is disappointing, but you can fix it by installing strap buttons.
Why did it make our list?
Includes Allen wrench
Padded gig bag
What is not ideal about it?
No strap buttons
Things to Consider
From the reviews above, it’s clear that different bouzoukis produce different tones. You can also see that, based on design and ease of playing, some are better suited for beginners than others, and some are good enough for a gig performance. In this next section, we’ll look at the various features you need to consider when buying a bouzouki and show you how to choose a bouzouki based on these.
Greek or Irish – which bouzouki to choose
Design-wise, Irish bouzoukis have a shorter scale length than Greek bouzoukis, and consequently, are easier to hold and play. If you’re a beginner, this can make a big difference in your learning experience, so an Irish bouzouki may be a better choice when you’re learning how to play. The other main difference in design is that Greek bouzoukis have a round back while Irish bouzoukis, which were developed later as an adaptation of the Greek bouzoukis, are flat at the back.
Tone-wise, Irish bouzoukis have a bright, more open sound while Greek bouzoukis have a deeper tone. Also remember, Irish bouzoukis are tuned to GDAD or GDAE, while Greek bouzoukis are tuned to CFAD.
How to tune a bouzouki
You can tune your Irish bouzouki to either GDAD or GDAE. GDAD is the most common tuning for Irish bouzoukis, owing to the fact that a lot of Irish music for which the bouzouki is used is in keys G and D, and both have an open D string.
Tune your Greek bouzouki to CFAD, ensuring that the two upper courses (C and F) are in octave while the two lower strings are in unison. This means the upper (thicker) string in C and F should be an octave lower than the thinner one, but both strings in A and D should sound the same. This video shows you how the bouzouki should sound:
High-end bouzoukis can cost as much as $10,000, as do custom ones, but the median price for a good quality 6-string model is about $1,000. An 8-string model will cost a couple of hundred dollars more. Beginner level bouzoukis are more affordable and you’ll easily get good ones for less than $500. When starting out, it’s advisable to buy a low-priced bouzouki and upgrade to a more expensive one later if need be.
Features to consider while buying the best bouzouki
Below are the features you should pay attention to when choosing a bouzouki.
The type of wood used for the top portion of the bouzouki determines its tonal quality. If a dense wood is used, it boosts high to mid-range frequencies, and the bouzouki will have a full, bright sound. Lighter woods like walnut boost the lower frequencies and produce warm tones, which explains why bouzouki makers spend more time designing and fine-tuning the top. They also pay attention to the weight of the wood to match it to the desired tone, guided by the principle that the lighter the bouzouki, the clearer the sound, a clear explanation for why most bouzoukis have spruce for the top wood, a tonewood chosen for its warm, balanced tone, and the way it complements most back tonewoods.
The type of wood used to make the back of the bouzouki determines the instrument’s resonance and volume. The best tonewoods are those that offer plenty of projection, which you’ll get from dense woods like mahogany. An equally popular choice is maple, chosen for its unmatched projection and well-defined tones. Other top choices are walnut for its tonal balance and rosewood for its projection, bright tones, and warmth.
The average bouzouki has 27 frets, which is the standard number of frets for bouzoukis. These are made from metal and are fixed on the fretboard in such a way that they provide a 12-tone chromatic scale. The fretboard is usually made from rosewood, a wood type known to enhance playability. Some bouzoukis have a truss rod added under the fretboard to boost rigidity and make it easy to adjust tension in the neck should the need arise. The fretboard has dot markers strategically added along the entire length of the board to guide the player on finger placement. The best bouzoukis have additional markers placed at the top of the fretboard where the player can clearly see them since they can’t see the front part of the fretboard while playing.
Modern bouzoukis have 8 strings or 4 courses (pairs of strings), also known as tetrachordo. Bouzouki strings can either be set up in unison or in octave. In unison, the strings have the same thickness, sound the same, and tend to produce a full sound. In octave, the two lower-pitched courses (3rd and 4th) are an octave apart, meaning one string is thicker than the other and is set to an octave lower. This setup produces bright tones.
The bouzouki neck is typically made of soft wood. Mahogany is a popular choice and can be seen in models like the Roosebeck Bouzouki. Maple, too, is commonly used to make the neck, as seen in the Hora M1089. Stepping away from the traditional neck wood choices like mahogany and maple, some luthiers are using unconventional woods like lacewood and sheesham for the neck when making modern bouzoukis, an example being Roosebeck Standard Irish Bouzouki. A truss rod may be added to improve the stability of the bouzouki and keep the neck and fretboard from warping. Where it’s added, the truss rod is fitted under the fretboard and runs across the entire length of the neck.
The traditional Greek bouzouki has a round back, which is distinctly different from the back shape of the Irish bouzouki, which is flat and resembles an octave mandolin. Traditionally, the curved back of the Greek bouzouki was shaped from a single piece of wood. Modern bouzoukis, however, are shaped using wood molds.
This involves attaching a cone-shaped piece of soft wood to the mold, and then placing a strip of wood in the middle. Additional strips are added alternately to the left and right of the initial strip until the entire model is covered. Luthiers then use a hot iron to bend the strips into shape before gluing them on. As many as 30 to 60 strips can be used on a single bouzouki.
To reinforce the strips, the back and sides where the strips join are glued then dried, and the shell is then removed from the mold. For extra support, a thin strip of soft wood is added to the interior rim, followed by strips of glue cloth or metallic paper, which help give a brighter tone while also strengthening the sound box. A supportive hill is added at the back end to reinforce the tailpiece, and the box can now be sanded and finished.
The bouzouki produces a sharp but low-pitched sound that is very similar to what you get from the octave mandolin. The tone can be bright or deep depending on the type of tonewood used to make the sound board. You can also alter the brightness of the tone or get a fuller sound by adjusting the strings, the bridge, or the nut. The dynamic notes of the bouzouki allow you to play a wide range of music, from traditional to popular and jazz, and make it a great instrument for accompaniment.
The mandolin differs from the bouzouki in two ways: size and pitch. The mandolin is smaller than the bouzouki, with its scale length being about 14 inches compared to the bouzouki’s 24- to 26-inch scale. Again, the mandolin is tuned an octave higher than the bouzouki. So, the two instruments are played the exact same way, and they produce the same sound, only that the bouzouki will have a higher pitch than the mandolin. Otherwise, the two are similar in every other aspect; that is shape, manner of playing, and use.
Begin by winding the tension off the string. Loosen the string enough to unhook it from the tailpiece, and then detach it from the headstock. Take your new string, hook the loop end of the string to the respective hook on the tailpiece, and then stretch it all the way to the headstock. Measure the right amount of slack before winding the string on the pegs. If installing a treble string, you’ll need to wind the string 4-5 times. If it’s a bass string, you’ll need to wind it 2-3 times. Press your index finger on the string to hold it down and maintain tension. Then measure about 3 frets from the nut to get the appropriate amount of slack to wind a treble string on the peg. For a bass string, a string length of about 2 frets from the nut will provide enough slack for 2-3 windings. Begin to wind the string, taking care to ensure that the windings go down in a neat stack and that the tail stays on top. Check the tension to ensure that the string is tight enough, and then clip off the tail, leaving 1-2mm of string, which you then tuck against the peg to get it out of the way.
Use a lint-free microfiber cloth to wipe the dust off the wooden parts of your bouzouki. For hard-to-reach areas, use a soft bristle brush. Occasionally, use silicone and wax-free furniture polish to preserve the wood. To keep the fretboard in top condition, polish it occasionally using almond oil. If the fretboard is finished, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on care and maintenance. Use a soft cloth to clean your strings and get rid of any oil that may have been transferred on to the string from your fingers. Oil the strings regularly using string oil (available in music stores) or furniture polish.
Our top choice is the Special MSB-304. We like its clear and bright tones, the stability-boosting neck design, and the carefully designed dot markers. Enhanced resonance and playability are other winning points. We also like the unique, flat traditional look that makes it stand out.
In second place is the Gold Tone BZ-500, which stands out for its rich sound, high resonance, and playability. Quality strings and tuners add to its appeal. We like that it comes tuned and ready to play. We also like the hard-shell storage case and the glossy finish that makes it easy to clean.
Our third best bouzouki is Roosebeck Bouzouki, an aesthetically adorned Greek bouzouki with good resonance and a balanced sound. The lacewood inlays and bits of spruce, mahogany, and sheesham define its look. We like the truss rod and the padded gig bag it comes with. We also like that there are 3 materials for the back.