Cumbus = Cümbüs = Cümbüsh = Jumbush
Pronounced “jumbush” in English
The inventor of the cümbüs was Zeynel Abidin Bey, who was born in Salonika, current day Thessalonica, Greece in 1881. In 1915 he took part in the Canakkali battle during WWI, where Turks and Germans fought side by side against Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. When Zeynel returned to Izmir, he said,
This war made me very, very sad. I will not maintain a family tradition of producing or trading weapons any more.
After several failed attempts at running their first two music stores, he and his family settled in Istanbul to run their third music store. Here he started inventing instruments: like variations of the Arabic ud and violins that could be expanded as the owner grew. His first real success came on 24 January 1930, when Zeynel played his cümbüs for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, president of the Turkish Republic. As he listened to Zeynel Abidin Bey play his new instrument, he became inspired by its jubilant sound, he dubbed it cümbüs, a word meaning “revelry”. With new found confidence Zeynel applied for a patent, which was issued after inspection by the Presidential Orchestra Office. It was registered number 868 as Cümbüº – metallic automatic lute. It was called "automatic" because of the mechanical tuners, which were unusual in Turkey during that time.
Zeynel’s cümbüs was fretless and had the narrow neck. The tuning was similar to that of the Arabic lute (ud) and Turkish oud. However, it had several key differences: The most noticeable was the cümbüs’s sleek and slender shape. Zenyel had designed the neck sleek so that it could be easily disassembled from the aluminum body by the loosening of a large screw mechanism. It possessed 12 strings (6 courses of 2 each) instead of 11 strings, a leather soundboard, and a round corpus made constructed out of aluminum. The vent holes are located on the top surface around the soundboard (today, the cümbüs has a Mylar soundboard) which is held in place by a bolted tension ring. The popularity cümbüs soon soared because of its lightweight, ease at disassembly and storage, and the remarkably loud sound for its size. It became a popular instrument for nomadic peoples.
The cümbüs has often been described, mainly by westerners, as the Middle Eastern equivalent of the banjo because of its drum like head, narrow neck, and metal corpus.
The cümbüs today:
The majority of cümbüses sold are from the Cümbüs Family Shop (the family shop of Zeynel Abidin Bey) on Ataturk Bulvar, Istanbul. The cümbüs comes in Standard, Cura, Tambor, and the Banjo. They all have the traditional spun aluminum body and detachable neck
”C - g’ - d’ - A - e – d ". Compared with the Turkish oud, the first string is C instead of A. The four strings in the middle are tuned like a violin or a mandolin. 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 pitch to high pitch 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
Tambor Cumbus has 6 strings in 3 courses; tuned D A d
Cura Cumbus can be tuned like a mandolin or banjo.
Most players prefer to strum the cümbüs with their a feather plectrum, pick it with their fingers (similar to banjo picking), or even people have played it using a bow and playing the cümbüs like a cello or sanxian. The picking and strumming styles vary from person to person and from region to region. Usually the cümbüs is played just like the oud/ud, at a fast pentatonic tempo.