Bulgari is an instrument originating from the ancient greek pandura, from the tambura family, that took that shape in Crete and stands out for its distinct sound, as well as the way it is built and played. According to testimonies from old bulgari players, the name might be based on the burganes, which some call bulgares (wrapped cords). Nevertheless, no one really knows the true origin of the name.
Bulgari is a carved instrument with a large hole on the body, and it also has three smaller holes on the top. The body is usually made out of black mulberry tree. The neck is made from a softer wood and the top is made from lebanese cedar or fir. It has three pairs of double cords, where the top two pairs use burganes (wrapped cords) with a tuning (A, D, G-G, D, G, etc). The spaces on the neck are made with fets and it is played with a feather. Various carved instruments that use fets have been called by the same name from time to time. However, the original cretan bulgari is a very special instrument. It is difficult to build a bulgari the right way, so that it does not look like a sazi, tzoura, three-stringed bouzouki, or a tampura of a different kind.
The main criteria for building the cretan bulgari is mainly its distinct sound. The standards that exist today for the production of the bulgari is the bulgari of Foustalieris which is over 150 years old, as well as a second bulgari, potentially even older. For years we are in a great struggle to preserve this almost extinct musical instrument.
Instruments of the tampura family, with a long neck and a small soundhole, where placed in the hellenic lands since the ancient times, using the name “pandura” or “three-corded”. […] Since then, the course of tambura and its variations through byzantine and post-byzantine times, up to modern times, has been recorder by many literary and illustrative sources – after all, its modern name of “tampuras” comes from the ancient greek name of “pandura”: φανδούρα, θαμπούρα, θαμπούριν, ταμπούριν, ταμπούραν, ταμπουράς. […] The instruments of the tempura family (γιογκάρι, ικίτελι, bulgari, baglamas, tzivouri, bouzouki) were played by the warriors of the Hellenic Revolution of 1821.
Excerpt from the book of Phoebos Anogeianakis “Hellenic Folk Musical Instruments”, published by the National Bank of Greece, 1976.
The greek lute combines elements from the tampuras (long neck and fets) and the arabic outi (pear-shaped soundhole). It has four pairs of double chords, tuned in fifths, and it is the primary instrument that accompanies harmonically and rhythmically instruments from the inlands of Greece, as well as the islands, along with the violin or the lyre.
In older times, the lute was used as a melodic, standalone instrument, a tradition that is still preserved in Crete from solo lute players. The greek lute exists in many forms; one of them is the urban lute, called “Lafta”. The inland and island lutes are larger in size, and the largest is the cretan lute, and therefore the one with the deepest sound.
The bouzouki instrument has a greek origin, while it is considered as an evolution of the ancient greek pandura, same as all the lutes. As a descendant of the ancient greek music, the origin of the bouzouki dates back to ancient Greece, where one could find the respective ancient greek instrument known as "Pandouridion" or "three-cord" since it had three cords.
The cretan lyre is a three-stringed, arched, pear-shaped musical instrument that holds a central place in the traditional music of Crete and other island of the Aegean and the Dodecanese (dodecanese lyre). It is now considered the most popular variation of the byzantine lyre that is used today.