Balalaika is a Russian folk guitar with triangular body shape. The back of balalaika is slightly bowed. Three strings run from the tuning pins over the metal frets on the neck across the soundboard and secured on the base of the instrument. Sometimes one can find six string balalaika, usually it is tuned exactly like regular three strings instrument.
History Early representations of the balalaika show it with anywhere from two to six strings, which resembles certain Central Asian instruments. Similarly, fre ts on earlier balalaikas were made of animal gut and tied to the neck so that they could be moved around by the player at will (as is the case with the modern saz, which allows for the microtona l playing distinctive to Turkish and Central Asian music). The term first appeared in the Ukrainian documents in the 18th century in documents from 1717-1732. It is thought that the term was borrowed into Russian where it first appeared a poem by V. Maikov "Elysei" in 1771. In the 19th century the balalaika evolved into a triangular instrument with a neck substantially shorter than its Asian counterparts. It was popular as a village instrument for centuries, particularly with the skomorokhs, sort of free-lance musical jesters whose tunes ridiculed the Tsar, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Russian society in general. .
A popular notion is that the three sides and the strings of the balalaika are supposed to represent the Holy Trinity. This idea, while whimsical, is quite difficult to reconcile when one is confronted with the fact that at various times in Russian history, the playing of the balalaika was banned because of its use by the skomorokhi, who were generally highly irritating to both Church and State. Musical instruments are not allowed in Russian Orthodox liturgy.
Legends <ul><li>A likelier reason for the triangular shape is given by the writer and historian Nikolay Gogol in his unfinished novel Dead Souls. He states that a balalaika was made by peasants out of a pumpkin. If you quarter a pumpkin, you are left with a balalaika shape. Another theory is: Before Tsar Peter I instruments were not allowed in Russia. When Peter allowed them, only the boat builders knew how to work with wood. The balalaika looks a little like the front of a boat, if held horizontally. Another theory comes from a Russian tale: during the Mongol invasion a Russian man was captured by Mongols, but the Mongol Khan liked him because of his musical talent, released him and gave him a guitar. When the Russian man returned home, he took 3 of the strings out of the guitar, so that he would be able to repair his guitar if he breaks one of the strings, and that way he was left with a 3-string guitar. </li></ul>