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*SYLLABICATION: tam.bu.rit.za
PRONUNCIATION: tam-boor-eet-za
NOUN: A Balkan stringed instrument similar to a mandolin/lute/balalaika/bazouki in sound. Etymology-Serbo-Croatian tamburica derived from tambura, stringed instrument, from the Turkish tambura, from Persian tambura.

* From the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

The Tamburitza family consists of the following instruments:



Prim (PREEM) Bisernica (bee-ser-nee-tsa)"The Little Pearl" The smallest or soprano of the tamburitza family used solely for lead and harmony. The typical playing technique is trememlo "trzanje" or picking. The instrument may be played with a flat pick or the Eastern European elongated rectangular style pick made of plastic or bone. The prim shown in this photo has had one owner (TBL) and is made by Charles Valentich. The prim was given to me as a gift from my kum Stevo Baich and has been featured on the Kumovi album and "Messiahs Rhapsody".It was made in 1980 and is approximately 25 years in age.


Brac (Brach) or Bas-Prim. The Brac is a little larger than a prim/bisernica and is about the size of a small guitar. It is used generally for lead 2nd and 3rd harmonies and countermelodies. Two instruments are in these photos both owned by TBL. The first is an instrument made by Steve Blozen-it has had three owners-was originally made for Vlad Popovich in the mid 60s and is about 40 years old. It was used on all four LPs made by The Balkan Serenaders formed by Tamburitza Hall Of FameTamburash Nick "Tillie" Klaich. The second brac featured was made by Charles Valentich for me in 1986 and was featured on the "Messiahs Rhapsody" recording. It is approximately 18 years in age.


Celo/Cello/Celovic (Cheh-low) (Cheh-low-vich) The Celo/Cello/Celovich are about the size of a small guitar. It is about 50% larger than the brac. It is utilized for harmony, selected solo lines and countermelodies. The photo featured in this photo is currently owned by Hall Of Fame Tamburash Vlad Popovich. It was purchased from Sanda Pavlovich and was made by Jim Kovacevich around 1948. It is approximately 56 years in age.


Bugarija (Boo-gah-ree-ya)-Begleit (Beg-light)-Kontra/Contra (Kon-trah/Con-trah) The bugarija is identical in size to the celo/cello/celovic and provides the accompaniment by playing 3 or 4 tone chords also called counterblasts (Kontra/Contra) to the bass/berda generally on the afterbeat. The bugarija featured in this photo is owned currently by TBL and was purchased from Nick " Tillie" Klaich. It originally was a Blozen bugarija. This instrument has been recently re-done by Bob "Bozhi" Ranic. He put a new face on this tambur, re-glued the back and refinished the entire instrument. The neck has been re-done and re-fretted. The craftsmanship is outstanding adding a new life and dimension to this fine tambura. It is approximately 40 years in age.


Bass or Berda (Behr-dah)- The original Berda configuration was stand up guitar shape, strung with steel strings over a low bridge and played with a large pick. The bass sets the tempo of the tamburitza group. Some bass players today use a stand up fretted bass played with a pick-other tamburitza groups may use a stand up bass wound with either gut or steel strings played by hand without the use of a pick. The bass featured in this photo was played and owned by Nick "Tillie" Klaich and was purchased from a Buffalo Philharmonic Player. It is a Kay Bass currently used by Chuck Vukovic of Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders. It was used on all four LPs made by The Balkan Serenaders and was made more than 50 years ago.


Additional Commentary

In the early years of Veselo Srce formed by Tillie Klaich the instruments used during the 30s 40s and 50s were made by Ivan Hlad, John Bencic, Jim Kovacevich (TAA Hall Of Fame)and Charles Valentich. Other tamburitza craftsman over the years from the 60s to the present time (including instrument craftsman of the 50s whose instruments made their way to St. Stephens Tamburitzans) were Nick Hayden, Steve Blozen, John Shaban, Frank Valentich and Matt Orehovich. Additional craftsman whose instruments have made their way into the tamburitza community are Milan Opacich (TAA Hall Of Fame)Steve Groeshle, and Paul Perman.

Joseph Valentich for decades from the 50s to the present time (possibly earlier-if I have the correct date information as of 2004) has been a leading distributor of strings and picks to the tamburitza community. His fine work has provided thousands of satisfied customers with the materials they needed from strings, picks, tailpieces, and bridges, to keep instruments in good working order.
Steve Mraz of Cleveland Ohio is a fine tamburitza craftsman who also has an excellent selection of strings, picks and tamburitza accessories supplying the tamburitza community with quality workmanship and materials.

There are other instrument makers and this section just begins to bring to the surface the contributions of American tamburitza craftsman. To be more specific-instruments made in the United States.

At one point in American history there were no more than 6 American craftsman making tamburitza instruments. In New York state there are no instrument makers on a large scale. Bob "Bozhi" Ranic of Western New York has done an excellent job on instrument repair over the last 15 years and was able to secure forms and materials from Nick Hayden. Bob has done instrument repairs on tamburas, violins, mandolins, guitars and bass instruments. In short-there are very few instrument makers and repairmen on the scene The tamburitza community needs and requires the services of fine craftsman to pursue the "torch of the luthiers" and continue to carry on this much needed skill for the tamburitza community.

The instrument makers listed have made their instruments by hand. Not in manufacturing centers or assembly scale work. Each instrument is hand crafted and some makers may make their instruments "to order" as required by specific tamburitzans. The skill of these craftsman is priceless and each maker has their own "signature" of sorts that makes their instruments known and unique within the tamburitza community.

Of note are the fine full size auditorium bugarijas made by Jim Kovacevich originating in the late 40s and one of those first full size bugarijas made their way into the Western New York area via Charles C Vukovic-well known bass player for Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders who started his early years with the Slav Serenaders on bugarija. Kovacevich also developed a technique for putting a curve into the face on those bugarijas and cellos making them a distinct trademark of his. The pioneering efforts of Jim Kovacevich as an instrument maker and more earned him a spot in the TAA Hall Of Fame and deservedly so. His instruments are coveted by tamburitza players and collectors.

Dusan Brankov a tamburitza craftsman born in Gradista Bac in 1932 (now residing in Kikinda) wrote a book on tamburitza instruments titled "TAMBURA" "Definition of the shape, dimensions and technology of crafting Vovodina system Tambure". Mark Forry earned a "Presidents Award" from the TAA for his translation work on this book originally written in 1996. Dusan has added an extra dimension of education for all tamburitza craftsman with his expertise and knowledge-all captured in writing for the posterity of present and future tamburitza craftsman. An extraordinary task well done by the combined efforts of both men. Special thanks to Alex Machaskee publisher of The Plain Dealer for making the publishing of this written work possible and its preservation for the tamburitza community.

I wish to take a moment as I walk down "memory lane" to discuss the instruments used by The Balkan Serenaders in the making of their first album" A Continental Toast." Charlie Smilinich owned and used a Kovacevich bugarija featured on this album. Smilinichs mastery of technique and talent gave the Serenaders a smooth and professional sound-a testimony to both the master craftsman and master musician.

The instrument has since made its way to a younger tamburitzan who will hopefully in time-continue playing and give the instrument a sound of its own.
On that same album "A Continental Toast" Vlad Popovich used a brac made by Steve Blozen. The brac is about a half inch wider in diameter than most bracs and is one of the finest sounding and unique tamburitzan instrumnents ever crafted. Its professional sound by both the master technician of Popovich and craftsmanship of Blozen gave The Balkan Serenaders a distinctive trademark sound which continues to this day.

In 1989 after the death of Tillie Klaich the instrument was sold and out of the "Serenader tamburitza family" for 15 years. In December of 2004 the instrument made its way back into the family of The Balkan Serenaders where it is currently owned by none other than yours truly "TBL" and web site host"Ray "Rajko" Ranic. This story falls into the "miraculous" category as far as Im concerned and delightfully-I will save it for another occasion!)

Steve Vranjes used a cello on that same album with The Balkan Serenaders with work on it done by both Jim Kovacevich and Charles Valentich. Steves technique was similar in those early years to the Dave Zupkovich Orchestra which had a fine cello player by the name of Pete Radakovich who performed for many years and had his own orchestra years later performing in the Ohio area. Steve's cello style is carried on by Bob "Bozhi" Ranic who has done fine cello work with Orchestra Sokoli and in the past with Kumovi Tamburitzans.

The Bass used by Tillie Klaich on "A Continental Toast" is a Kay bass once owned and used by a member of The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Tillies powerful and unique style of bass playing endeared him to fans wherever he performed. Tillie was a natural at playing bass and singing-and he could sing various parts while playing-a difficult task for any musician to accomplish.

The combination of Tillie Klaich and Charlie Smilinich in their mastery of playing-singing and technique was rich-powerful and full of life. The one natural ingredient that The Balkan Serenaders also had which made them even better was a mastery of the languge. The Balkan Serenaders bi-lingual talent gave the orchestra that much more depth and character in its evolution of Balkan tamburitzan music. Add to that the dimension of music theory skills of Klaich, Popovich and Vranjes as well as Vlads superb orchestration , leadership and song selection and you understand the groups foundation and basis for popularity .They made themselves the best at what they did because they brought their best skills to the tamburitza profession.

Looking at some of the groups and individuals giving fine performances over the years on the tamburitza scene such as Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders, The Popovich Brothers, Joe Grcevic and Sloboda, Dave Zupkovich and The Balkan Recording Co with Marty Kapugi, Sar Planina, Dunav Tamburitzans featuing Tony Markulin and Mel Dokich) and todays Dunav tamburitzans of Chicago Fred and Rose Husnick with Ron Rendulic, Becari of St Louis, (past and present).

Additional groups are The Continental Strings Orchestra of Cleveland Ohio, Orchestra Lira with Billy Topolski, Sanda and Pero Pavlovich, The many Duquesne University Tamburitzans over the decades from the late 1930's to present, Mel Evanovich and The Balkan Serenaders Of Youngstown Ohio, Kumovi Tamburitza Orchestra, Plavi Mjesec, The Pete Radakovich Orchestra, Serbez, Jedinstvo , Janika Balaz and his orchestra from Novi Sad, Jerry Grcevic, Orkestar Momci, Otrov, Tom Yeseta and his orchestra, Sarena, Radost, Sinovi, Joe Marmilich, George Skirbina, and Orchestra Sokoli-are just a few of the orchestras past and present that have made the world of tamburitza music enjoyable and entertaining.

Many more orchestras have-I just don’t have a list of them all here-the TAA has an encyclopedic list of over 185+ orchestras totalling more than 600 members (present tense) that perform and as for music critics-have at it-we all have our favorite tamburitza orchestras and performers.

Celebrity names of singers past and present like Vinka-Angelina-Tosho Erdel-Nada Milosevich and Darleen Licina have delighted many with their fine renditions of folk songs over the years. Strong voices like Tillie Klaich, Charlie Smilinich, Billy Topolski, Teddy Popovich, Rose Husnick.,Steve Zegar ,Steve Vesolich, Marty Kapugi, Vlad Popovich, Dave Zupkovich, Milan Panayatovich, Tony Markulin and Steve Paulich have touched our nation with their vocal talents and as a result many songs are carried on from generation to generation.

Within these last two paragraphs I’ve named many groups past and present that have provided a core of some of the nations finest tamburitza music. Truthfully, I only scratch the surface as I look at the contributions some of the above listed names and groups have made to tamburitza music and they ALL have one thing in common- a need for tamburitza instruments!

It is time for me to give a special and long overdue thanks to the efforts of The Brothers Valentich-Charles, Frank and Joe for their outstanding contributions to decades of tamburitza crafstmanship. Charles and Frank-Tamburitza makers and repair and Joe (who I mentioned earlier has done a wonderful job providing strings, picks and tamburitza accessories servicing the tamburitza community.) These men have made their mark indelibly upon the world of tamburitza music and it is my honor to thank and compliment them for a career well done.

Charles Valentich crafted a special made brac for me in the early 80s which I used for many years and on my recordings of "Messiahs Rhapsody" in 1997. I also have a prim given to me as a gift (another story for another time) made by Charles Valentich used on the Kumovi Album back in 1980. It was first used in 1980 at the Chicago TAA Extravaganza ("If our INSTRUMENTS could only talk")! Both instruments have excellent sound. A good instrument in the hands of a good musicians is "music to any listeners ears!"

To the Valentich brothers you have served the tamburitza community throughout the United States well!.Furthermore-you deserve the accolades and the respect of the tamburitza community for outstanding contributions to the tamburitza community. The work of all THREE BROTHERS VALENTICH has been exemplary and of the highest quality.

I have noted that Jim Kovacevich and Milan Opacich are both TAA Hall Of Fame members who have made outstanding contributions to the world of tamburitza music. Milan Opacich-TAA 2003 inductee is currently a member of orchestra Drina and for several decades made many instruments for the tamburitza community throughout the United States. Our tamburitza crafstman are "too few and far in-between."

It is an excellent moment for me to talk about a young man I first met in 2003 at the Chicago TAA tamburitza extravaganza by the name of John Miksich . John is the son of Mr and Mrs John Miksich of Schererville Indiana. John received a grant through the Indiana University Master Artist program as an apprentice to Milan Opacich as a "luthier in training":
www.indiana.edu/~tradarts/programs/masterartist_opacich.html John Miksich Sr. is the bass player for Dunav tamburitza orchestra of Chicago and I had the opportunity to accompany Dunav while I was there for the 2003 event. The rest of the Dunav tamburitzans consists of Mike Hairlich on brac, John Gorman on cello, Walter Pravica on violin and Frank Jovanovich on bugarija.

As we were performing John came and introduced himself to me and brought his cello with him for me to look at. I was stunned. How could a 15 yr old make an instrument with this quality?

John then explained about the grant program and the efforts of Milan Opacich to help him with his grant study. I couldnt get over the crafstmanship of the instrument that this young man had accomplished (along with Milans supervision of course)! It was the importance of this event that made me come back and upon finishing this website (September 2004) its importance is to be conveyed within these tamburitza historical pages.

As I held Johns Cello in my hands and admired the excellent craftsmanship from its body-fretboard, finish-tuning machines-wood and sound- I was struck by the need for visionaries like Milan Opacich to help this young man and the vision of a young John Miksich and wondered-where he will pursue his education and in what direction will he go.

I wondered-if he will ever come back to the world of tamburitza music as a performer-or luthier craftsman-or both. That Sunday a young John Miksich joined us (Dunav Tamburitzans with me as a humble guest) on stage for the TAA "survivors picnic". Nick Skertich also came and joined us standing next to me playing prim and singing . For a moment in time-a precious moment-I was admiring the youth and inspiration of John Miksich a "PIONEER" at 16 and Nick Skertich-TAA Hall of Fame Tamburash-who had received his 75 year award and a PIONEER of tamburitza music in the days of his youth.

It made me think-does my pen-have the power to capture the memories and history of tamburitza music as I know it -and as it is passed down to me through stories-or as in this case-the reality of a moment in time. I made those notes mental & in research not to let the moment pass by-without speaking of its meaning & impact.

There comes a time-when we all slow down-the fingers ache-and suddenly were a step slower-a step closer to "The Tamburitza Orchestra In The Sky" or the next "Open Chair" left behind by a tamburash. I don’t want it to be too soon because Im not ready for that "Open Chair."

The furture is here and its in the present time of our youth and John Miksich is its messenger. He is for this time in tamburitza history a "pioneer and a leader" inspiring others to reach out. Maybe some of those future seeds will teach-some will perform-others will organize and administrate. Maybe one of those will write- like me-who want to be a voice and a personality-to capture moments past and present in time-some historical-some humorous-always peaceful and preserving the growth of tamburitza music through its many ways and possibilities.

A closing thought which deeply touched me perhaps says it best from the Three Slavs captured in 591 by Byzantine King Mauricius. When asked what they have in their hands they said "We play Cithara (Tambura) because in our country there is no iron and we live in peace. We do not know the meaning of war bugles."
We can become musicians, teachers, artists, composers, arrangers, communicators and ambassadors of music and the arts and peace-by crossing boundaries of race, nationality and belief systems sand much more. The tamburitza instrument is perhaps the largest and most well known instrument transplanted from a foreign land. Within its music lies a plan of salvation if you will-in its beautiful notes of melody, harmony and rhythm. While all the sounds are different-together-they all please their performers and audiences wherever the wonderful sounds of tamburitza music are heard.

As for John Miksich-this world and the tamburitzan world needs you-your pioneering-your drive and your vision. This portion of TBL website has noted your critically important efforts in planting seeds for the preservation of tamburitza music. Milan Opacich opened the door-what you do as you step through this moment in time and continue your life-is your choice.

You have made an impact with your fine efforts and it is a GLOBAL one. You are a fine young man-and I wonder-Who will be the next of the visionaries to step forward-or the "now generation" that will reach out to the future-capture a moment in time and plant its seeds among-the present!

Thanks for stopping by! If you have tamburitza history and comments you would like to share be sure they make their way to me and I will in time-get it posted here!


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