The Cumbus is a relatively young instrument. It was developed in Istanbul in the early 1900’s. The inventor, Zeynel, was born in Salonika, now known as Thessaloníki, Greece. He eventually settled in Beyazit, Istanbul, opened a music shop, and became known as Zeynel Abidin Bey. He was also known as a local Oud performer. Eventually he began to design new instruments. It was on January 24th 1930 that Zeynel’s instrument received its name from a fellow native of Thessalonica, the famous Ataturk Mustafa Kemal. Ataturk began his service to Turkey as a soldier. Later as a national leader he founded the republic of Turkey, and became Turkey’s first president. Drawing on the sound of the instrument for inspiration, Ataturk dubbed it ‘Cumbus’. Pronounced "joombush", “Cumbus” is Turkish for ‘revelry’. Soon Zeynel was manufacturing and selling his Cumbus. In 1934 the Surname Act was passed, requiring all Turkish citizens to take a family name. Zeynel Abidin Bey now became Zeynel Abidin Cumbus. About 30 years ago, the Cumbus stepped off the classical stage. Today, it is still played by the people out of the cities, especially at weddings, and special ceremonies.
Originally this Turkish chordophone had a leather soundboard, much like an American Banjo. The narrow fretless neck was designed to easily disassemble from the aluminum body by loosening a large screw mechanism. It has been said that the body looks like a kitchen frying pan; the back and sides are solid. There are vent holes on the top surface around the soundboard. Today the Cumbus have Mylar soundboards held in place by a bolted tension ring. For its light weight, the Cumbus is very sturdy and remarkably loud.
As with all maniacal instruments common sense will go a long way in protecting its longevity. Do not store it in direct sunlight, or places with drafts. Avoid sudden changes in humidity and temperature. If you must ship your instruments remove some tension for the strings. With these Cumbus, do not use abrasives on the metal body. Be especially careful to keep sharp objects way from the soundboard.
The Standard Cumbus is tuned like the Turkish Oud and one step higher than the Arabic Oud. Almost any Oud tuning can be used. The two strings that make up a course are tuned to the same key.
From low to high you can tune:
- Standard A B E a d g; or D E A D G C;
- Egyptian/Arab: D G A D G C;
- New Turkish Classical: F# B E A D G;
- Turkish/Armenian: E A B E A D;
- Turkish/Armenian Variant: C# F# B E A D;
- Old Turkish Classical: A D E A D G.
- The Tambor Cumbus has 6 strings in 3 courses; tuned D A d.
- The Cura Cumbus can be tuned like a banjo or mandolin.