Song on the Times

January 23, 2014

Turkmen Banjo Adventures

So the bridge on my homemade banjo broke in transit on the way to Turkmenistan. It’s not that surprising, and now my dad can say I told you so on my choice of wood. I guess that’s what you get for making bridges out of random scraps lying around the shop.

So, of course we had to come up with a solution (I did propose finding a piece of wood and a knife and carving a new bridge). So Meylis, our local embassy staff guy, translator, and all-around crazy guy took us to a shopping center. The bottom floor was basically just a grocery store, but under the stairs up to the clothing stores, there was a little glass-walled closet filled with Dutars, Gidzhaks, drums, and guitars. When we walked up to it, it was filled with three men all looking at a guitar. When they cleared out, I showed the shopkeeper the broken bridge, and he told me he could glue it back together, but there were no guarantees. He had violin bridges in his glass case, and I thought to myself, what if we just cut one of those flat? Meylis was an incredibly good translator for all this, because he’s a musician, so he knows how to talk about music and instruments.

The shopkeeper measured and marked and we had several debates about how tall it should be, and rounds of “no, don’t cut there, the strings will break through” (all of this through translation, of course), before he just pulled out a pair of clippers and snipped the top off the bridge. A bunch of work with a file, and we had a working banjo bridge for 10 manat (about $3.50)!

The new bridge with the old re-glued bridge next to it.

After that, the shopkeeper was eager to show us his electric Dutar. There was a little door in the side of the instrument, and he tried every nine-volt battery in the place until it finally worked. Meylis proved himself to be a pretty good Dutar player, and I ended up buying three little jaw-harps.

Well, that’s about all I can get online with the internet here. I promise we’ll get you some actual pictures of Turkmenistan soon (maybe once we’re in Bishkek).


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