Numerous musical instruments have been made from gourds by instrument makers in Asia since ancient times. The bow and arrow, a weapon used in hunting and in war, is the ancestor of musical instruments in Asian culture. The sounds produced by the taut string of this weapon were in time regulated and magnified by the addition of a sound box, producing such primitive string instruments of the pre-Islamic period as the oklug or iklig and rebap. The iklig is known to have originated in the 7th century with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, particularly the Uighurs , and the kemane is thought by scholars to have derived in turn from this instrument.
Today the kemane is played mainly as an accompaniment to folk songs in Turkey's central and southwestern regions. The gourd forms the soundbox, over the mouth of which a skin is stretched. The tuning pegs are located at the top of the neck. Below the body is a small foot that rests on the knee of the players.
The bow is approximately the same length as the instrument itself. Symmetrically proportioned gourds with a diameter not exceeding 15 centimeters are selected for making kemanes. The skin which is stretched over the soundbox to form the sounding board is either the membrane from the heart of a bull or the skin of the sturgeon. A circular soundhole is cut at the back of the body, and this is skillfully decorated with motifs cut from bone or horn using a bow saw. The next stage is fitting the neck, whose length varies according to the size of the gourd rim. For a rim diameter of 11 centimeters, the strings must be 30 centimeters in length, for example. The neck is made of Tartar maple, juniper, or mahogany. The dryness of the wood and veining affect the quality of the sound, and for the finest results, the timber must be allowed to dry out naturally. Having marked the measurements on the wood, the neck is cut out and polished before fitting to the body.
The polish must be perfectly smooth or else the sound will be scratchy. The gourd is also sanded smooth before being polished. The kemane has two bridges, the lower one resting on the skin and the upper one on the neck. The space between the two bridges must be proportionate to the shape of the gourd. The wire chock used to stretch the strings lies beneath the bridge, and to it are fixed tiny iron pins known as fixers which are used for sensitive tuning. The strings are attached behind these. The pegbox to which the upper ends of the strings are attached is carved preferably from ebony, rosewood, or eastern hornbeam (Carpinus Orientalis), and four wooden pegs attached. The bow averages 63 centimeters in length, consisting of a rod with horsehair attached loosely at either end. The horsehair is rubbed with resin, and the musician stretches the bow with his fingers as he plays.
The finest sound is produced by the hair of Mongolian horses. In the mid-1970s instrument makers began to produce kemanes with wooden bodies, either by carving solid lumps of wood into the desired shape or by gluing numerous narrow strips together. In this way, it became possible to standardize the instrument. This type of kemane is produced in full, three-quarter, and half sizes. At the same time, this made it possible to make kemanes with soprano, alto, tenor, and bass tones. For those made of strips, at least 24 in number, it is necessary to shape these on a lathe so that they fit precisely, for which accurately drawn templates are used. Whether made from a gourd by the traditional method, or from wood, the kemane represents one of the oldest forms of Turkish string instruments, carrying the sounds of the steppes into 21st-century music.
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