Buzzing strings and flat bridges

Buzzing strings

There is a fascinating category of stringed instruments, with a strange and bewitching sound, in which Indian lutes, Ethiopian zithers and badly tuned cheap guitars can be found, the “buzzing” strings.

These instruments use a flat bridge, the lower part of the string slightly beats against the flat part, causing this so characteristic “buzz”.

Indian instruments

The masters in the subtle art of buzzing strings are undoubtedly indian instruments. Sitar, surbahar, rudra vina, vichitra vina, saagar vina… everyone use a flat bridge.

The inclined part, called jawari, allows the buzzing sound, the vibrating string touching the bridge.

the sitar for example uses two flat bridges, the upper bridge for melodic strings, the lower bridge for the sympathetic strings (strings resonating through the effect of the melodic strings vibration, by “sympathy”).

The tampura, a 4-stringed lute played to create a drone, the fine tuning uses cotton rope passed under the strings, which the musician moves to get the desired sound.


Other flat bridges

One of my favorite buzzers, the ethiopian begena lyre, played with one hand, is usually played to support the voice.


the system is the same as on the indian tempura, the pieces of leather raise the rope to allow it to buzz on the flat bridge.

The koto player Scott Jordan is playing one of his creations, called sawari koto, a piece added on the japanese zither allowing him to give a buzzing effect to the strings, called sawari in japanese.

Mobile bridges

The tromba marina and the hurdy-gurdy use another system to get a buzzing sound, it is not the string that comes into contact with the bridge, but the bridge vibrated with the string and hit the sound box. This bridge has one of its legs attached to the body, the other is free to hit the box, and add a “noise”, which is strongly similar to the saturated trumpet sound.


The tromba marina is a big zither with a bowed string and mobile bridge, which is played free or with the natural harmonics of the string, a strange instrument from the seventeenth century.

The hurdy-gurdy, in addition to its melodic strings and drone strings, has another string passing over a moving bridge, called “the dog“.

This mobile bridge is at the origin of this saturated sound allowing a rhythmic playing based on the move with the wheel.

Do not hesitate to complete the list in comments, I will include my own prototypes when they are ready,

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About Nicolas Bras 16 Articles
Homemade Instrument maker, rare and strange instrument seeker / Bricoleur d'instruments, chercheur d'instruments rares


  1. The tromba marina seems to be bowed using a notched stick rather than a bow? I’m very tempted to build an Appalatian Dulcimer ( Epinette de Vosges) with a sitar style bridge..

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