A lot of people have asked me the same question: where to get a good quality inexpensive balalaika?
To me “a good quality inexpensive” is almost an oxymoron.
People do not mind buying cars. Fifteen grand on average for something that will be worth next to nothing in the next 5 years! But paying one or two thousand dollars for something that will only increase in value frightens them.
Go to any garage sale and you will see people almost giving away things for which they paid a lot of money just a few years earlier. Have you ever seen a good instrument there? Yes, we all heard stories, but have YOU actually ever seen anything of great value there? No, and I tell you why. No one wants to part with beauty.
I have only one material thing in life that I value and this is my instrument. When I bought it I paid my one year salary for it. What that Soviet money is worth now? Nothing, zero, zilch, nada!
Luthiers put a lot of their hearts in their instruments, their instruments have souls. Please be nice to them and buy their instruments, allow them to bring even more beauty to this world.
Having said that, you can try these links:
Andreas Gerth, a German luthier extraordinaire
Imperskaya.com a great place for balalaika goodies
The Balalaika and Domra Association of America, classifieds
This Post Has 5 Comments
While I agree with your assertion that one cannot find a “good quality cheap instrument” in regards to something like a balalaika, I think that a discussion of a “reasonable quality, reasonably priced” instrument is another thing altogether.
For myself, I am an amateur ukulele player, who is interested in possibly taking up the balalaika due to an interest in Slavic culture and music. However, I am not a professional musician, nor do I want to be. I simply want to play for my own enjoyment and my friends and family. For the purpose, it makes little sense for me to buy a professional level instrument, when one that simply keeps in tune and will not fall apart will suffice.
For example, one can buy a cheap ukulele for 20 dollars, but it will sound horrible. One can buy a reasonably priced and decent ukulele for around 120-160 dollars, and that will make any amateur player happy enough with having to spent the 500-800 dollars needed for a professional quality instrument.
Being that I live in Hawaii and there are no balalaikas in music stores here in Hawaii for me to try out and see if they sound decent, I think that discussion of makers of “reasonably priced, reasonable quality” balalaikas would be invaluable to many such as myself. I cannot afford an instrument worth 3,000 dollars. I wish I could, but I can not. It certainly seems like a worthwhile discussion for a balalaika expert such as yourself to give your opinions and knowledge on makers and pricing on “starter” balalaikas. Is a 300 dollar balalaika from Mid-East Instruments a decent starter, or should one look elsewhere? Discussions along those lines, if possible.
Thank you very much for the site and for your time.
Great point! I actually bought a $40 ukulele for my little daughter recently (couldn’t find a 20 dollar one) and I saw really good ones for a little over a few hundred. I guess, there are many more people playing ukuleles than balalaikas and that makes it cheaper in our world where cash is king. Also, it is easier to make a ukulele than a balalaika. Imperskaya.com used to offer decent quality inexpensive Chinese balalaikas but there was no enough demand and they discontinued.
But there is a solution! It is not very hard to sell 100 CDs at your shows and save $2,000 for a good instrument! Even $1,000 could get you a very decent one!
Where can one purchase a balalaika for 1-2,000?
I agree with you, and I have to say that I disagree a bit with the article a bit.
I can go along with the statement that it is far fetch to hope to find a good balalaika at a garage-sale. Finding a good guitar would be hard enough, and balalaikas are far from usual. Having said this there are a lot of better ways to find second hand items nowadays, I am of course talking about the Internet.
I do not know how it is in the U.S. but in Sweden you with ease get a real concert balalaika for about 1500 SEK, this equals about 225$. (At the moment there are two for sale, and both have probably been very expensive as new.) The reason to why they are so “cheap” are because there are not many balalaika players around. I am guessing that you could get a real good balalaika eBay for about the same amount, even if it is not good for an instrument to be shipped it should survive with no problem as long as the seller packages it well, and it is hard to avoid the shipping even if you are buying it from a luthier.
I am myself using a cheaper balalaika which I got for about $30, I find it that it sound decent, you may find a picture of it at my homepage.
Now if you do not have the money to spend for a new balalaika, you could always build one yourself. This is at least my solution to the “problem”, I reckon that the total cost will be about 2500 SEK (≈$350). Of course the project have taken much of my time, and it will continue to do so… (If you do not have access to all the tools needed, the cost will be higher.)
Here is a picture of the electric balalaika beside the cheap acoustic one.
My tip is for you to get a cheap balalaika, it will do just fine till you get the hang of it, and then if you fall in love with the instrument buy a better one:)
It would also be possible for you to improve a cheap balalaika, it is far from impossible to get it sound good…
My best wishes with getting yourself a balalajka and have a Happy New Year!!!
I think there have been some good points made on both sides of the issue. A “student” instrument would be a great find for a lot of us. It is unfortunate that the balalaika, like many traditional folk instruments, just does not have enough players to support such a market. Perhaps one would be well off to find an inexpensive instrument on eBay or elsewhere, but the quality might be questionable. From my own experience, even a beginner should have a good instrument. A poor instrument will discourage the student, and possibly (very likely, in my opinion) lead to them abandoning the effort. A well made instrument will cost more, but will retain it’s value. If the student decides the instrument does not interest them, a good instrument will bring close to what was paid for it on the used market (often more depending on the maker). I urge everyone to try and invest in the best instrument they can afford.
Wonderful site! Thank you so much Mr. Siniavski. Your playing and teaching are an inspiration to this balalaika beginner!