The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres


One of the problems with having a guitar is it sometimes seems that everyone and his dog plays one. There is very little room for individuality.

There is also a great deal of rivalry between guitar players (especially, though not exclusively, men), who are constantly trying to out-play any other guitarists within earshot.

When I moved from playing the guitar to the mandolin as my primary instrument, it removed me from this testosterone driven chest thumping and allowed me to play in folk-sessions at pubs without having to fight for dominance. I could simply enjoy joining in and playing the music.

Unfortunately, mandolins are a bit more popular in this region of Scotland and not long after moving here I found myself back in the heat of competition. At one point I was in a pub where there were no less than 5 other mandolin players.

However, shortly after this incident, I got talking to a guy who fixed guitars in his spare time and he agreed to look at a bouzouki Maggie had bought me many years before. I had never really used it because of problems with the bridge, which meant it went out of tune as I went further up the neck. He created a new bridge for it and lo and behold, it became playable.

Soon I was taking the bouzouki along to folk sessions and was once again allowed to just get on with playing without having to worry about needing to turn it up to 11.

But it’s not been without its difficulties – the biggest by far being the fact my bouzouki was a Greek-style one, which meant it had a round back.

A round back does create a rich sound, but unless you have a concave stomach with velcro attachments, it has habit of sliding round and ending up flat on your lap – which is a much harder position to play from. Over the years I have devised near-yoga positions with my legs to find ways of clamping it to my body in order to avoid this problem.

Additionally, I never did sort out a way to fix the new bridge firmly, so it only stayed in place because of the pressure of the strings running over it. This meant if I strummed a bit too hard for a bit too long, it had a habit of suddenly swivelling round, which would instantly change the tuning and make it impossible to play.

Last year, on a brief and rare weekend away Maggie and I managed to get, we called in en-route to Omega Music in Brampton, where I had a go on an Irish-style, flat back bouzouki. Flat backs I’ve tried before have tended to sound a bit, well, flat; lacking the deeper resonance the round back usually gives. However, I was rather impressed with this one, although at the time a new bouzouki was so far down the priority list I didn’t hesitate to hang it back on the wall and leave the shop.

But since then it’s been calling me.

Each time the bridge has unexpectedly swivelled round, or the bouzouki slid off my belly to end up on my lap, staring up at me with a resigned sigh, I found myself thinking about the rich-sounding flat back bouzouki I’d seen last year.

Then, in January, I decided to look at the Google Ads account I have attached to my blogs. Those ads attached to my posts (not seen if you are reading this via your RSS feed, or imported into Facebook) earn me a penny, sometimes 2, when they are clicked on. Although put in place well over 5 years ago, I rarely ever check the account as it’s always been a bit depressing when I do. If I was really lucky, I might have earned $2 in a month, but it was usually less.

What I had forgotten was about 18 months ago, my sudden appearance in Blogs of Note sent a phenomenal amount of traffic to this blog for a few weeks, and a percentage of them clicked on the ads.

Anyway, the upshot of this is, when I did decide to check my Google Ads account I found over £250 sitting in there. I spent the next 2 days trying to figure out how to transfer this money to my bank account.

Although it didn’t cover the complete amount, Maggie was quite certain it should be put towards a new bouzouki for me. So this weekend, when we managed to get another rare and brief weekend away on our own, we called in at Omega Music and bought it.

I’m over the moon.


Jayne Martin said...

What a great story! Don't you just love it when the Universe surprises you like that? Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow. Congrats, my friend.

Now you'll have to come up with a name for her. Him?

debra said...

We have a guitar, a mandolin, a ukulele, a dulcimer, a penny whistle and a piano in this house, but no bouzoukis. I even like it's name. And now you have one. Sweet. I've not paid too much attention to the ads; perhaps now I will. You never know what you'll need next.

mapstew said...

Wow! And Map is over the moon for a pal!

I love stringed instruments, and have tried to master a few of them, and though I can play a tune on, and make some music on some of them, my talent seems to lie within the wind instrument section. Not great for a singer to accompany himself with! That doesnt stop me having fun at home though.

I wish you lots of fun and craic with your new toy pal! :¬)

savannah said...

i love "found money" being use for something you really, really, really want, sugar! good for you! xoxoxox

angryparsnip said...

I too love found money and how exciting that you had a great way to use it already in mind. Fabulous !

cheers, parsnip

Sandy's witterings said...

I've always thought that adverts probably wouldn't pay for the clutter they make on the page. I think I'll stay minimalist - having said that your adverts are quite backseat, infact I didn't realise they were there until you mentioned them.
Look forward to hearing the new bouzouki - I've often eyed up other members of the string family and have a tenor guitar at home but the guitar and mandolin is where I'm likely to stick at.

Pat said...

I'm over the moon too - for you. Good things DO happen and no-one deserves it more. What a lovely wife you have. Why not play us a tune. If you can get your voice on a post it must be possible?

Synergy Gallery said...

So cool! Yay for you. :)

Katie Roberts said...

above comment is actually me, apologies, I keep doing that (forgetting i'm logged in as the gallery I run!) Hope you are merrily making music. Katie x

V said...

Hurrah! Bouzoukis are wonderful Rich, wonderful, resonant, delicious things! As violas are to fiddles, they just add something quite different than a mandolin can. And even lovlier that yours is an unexpected surprise. Enjoy!
PS Does it smell lovely too?

Carole said...

Very cool. I have never even heard of that instrument, except on your blog. Would you mind recording a bit of your playing, posting te recording on your blog, so I can listen to it? I know you have nothing else to do with your time but help the musically chanllenged.

TalesNTypos said...

So aesthetically appealing. I'd love a sitar.

hope said...

If anyone deserves a good surprise it's you! And what a beautiful instrument!

I never became part of the guitar playing world as my fingers were too short. So all the kids learned how to play piano...except everyone played by ear but ME! Which is why, as the only note reading child, Dad left the piano to me.

Now, could you record a little for those of us here who've never heard the sound? Pretty please? With Thank Yous on top. ;)

Kim Ayres said...

Jayne - I have to say I've never been one for naming instruments, cars or other things. I struggled enough to come up with names for my kids - and I had help from my wife with them :)

Debra - if google get a whiff of suspicious activity about ad-clicking then they will ban my account, so only click on anything that actually grabs your interest.

I do have a rather lovely mandolin, by the way - made from reclaimed wood from the Talisker Whiskey Distillery on the Isle of Skye - I wrote about it here: Mandolin Heaven

Mapstew - it's true, you don't get many people who sing and play the flute at the same time :)

Savannah - thank you :)

Parsnip - thank you :)

Sandy - the fact they subtly blend into the page probably contributes to why more people haven't clicked on them :)

Pat - I do indeed have a lovely wife, and I tell her frequently. :) I will have a think about an audio post.

Katie - I am :)

V - at some point we'll have to meet up at a session, then I can experience your playing too :)

Carole - I will have a think about it :)

Adila - ah, yes, a sitar. Would love to have a go, but don't know anyone with one.

Kim Ayres said...

Hope - sorry - seemed to have crossed over in the ether somehow.

I have small hands and fingers too, but that makes them better suited to mandolin playing. The bouzouki is a bit of a stretch though.

And you're now the 3rd to ask for a recording. I promise I will consider it

Anonymous said...

Both are lovely happy you were able to get one that doesn't "swivel" though. If you ever record anything, I'd like to know too!

debra said...

I love your mandolin story, too, Kim. I'll share it with my mandolin-ukulele-fiddle-guitar playing youngest daughter.

Kim Ayres said...

Theanne & Baron - I'm just in the process of making a short YouTube video...

Debra - :)

expat@large said...

So someone has actually made some money from Google Ads? Fantastic!

Sorry to be so obvious, but here is first time I saw bouzouki on TV - The Cheese Shop sketch

Also the alternative script is here, where Cleese actually says "SHUT THAT BLOODY BOUZOUKI UP!" That is how I remember it anyway. Maybe it was the version I used to listen to vinyl as a kid/teenager.

(sorry for the multiple deletes!)

Kim Ayres said...

Do bear in mind it has taken well over 5 years to raise that amount, so it will take at least another 20 before I can get that camera lens i ave my eye on...

Guyana-Gyal said...

I love stringed instruments...yours makes me think of the sitar. Have you ever heard the sitar being played? I think the Beatles experimented with it, I think Ravi Shankar taught one of them. He once played with Yehudi Menuhim.

And there's the kora from famous chap, Toumani Diabate played with Ali Farka Toure.

Stop me, stop me, as soon as somebody talks about music, I get going.

The Broken Down Barman said...

i still think you look Austrialian! you sure your not an Auzzie?

Kim Ayres said...

Guyana Gal - I would love to have a go on a sitar, but don't know anyone with one. What instrument(s) do you play?

BDB - what does an Australian look like? All the white ones are from European stock, so I don't quite know how you would tell the difference...

Guyana-Gyal said...

I have a guitar. I plunk on it, on and off, trying to teach myself classical music.

I usually play a pot and spoon in the kitchen, haha.

Kim Ayres said...

Pot and spoon? Well, we're looking for a percussionist in our fledgling band. Don't suppose you'll be in Scotland any time soon? :)

Guyana-Gyal said...

Not yet, I'm still trying to tune up the pot, it gets a bit wayward sometimes, bent here and there as it is.

Kim Ayres said...


Anonymous said...

They look gorgeous. I might have to check out this instrument, should I ever bump into it; it looks more interesting than a plain acoustic guitar. :)

Kim Ayres said...

The problem with guitars is that everyone seems to play one, so you're always bumping into people who want to show off the fact they are better than you. At least with the bouzouki, you don't have to suffer from that :)

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