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My Plan

Here I have writen a short description about what my project will include. Basically I am have to built the balalajka from scratch, I am made both the body and neck and when I get around to it I will spin my own pickups.

When I began this build I weren't sure if I should begin to work with the body or with the neck. The solution to this was that I tried to work with both simultaneously, one of the reasons to this was also that I didn't have access to the machines that I needed all the time. Perhaps it also would be more time-consuming to do them separately? At the very least you would need a very good plan, so that you don't miss any small detail.

My plan was also to make the pickups, but due to shortage of time I have had to postpone this into the future.

Here are the dimensions that I used:
For less blurry pictures, please take a look under "blueprints"

The size of an ordinary prima balalajka is according to John Flynn's "Building the Balalaika" about 26,5 to 27 inches. (This equals 67,31 to 68,58 centimeters). Where the body is between 10,75 and 11,50 inches. This information also coincides with the dimensions of my acoustic balalajkas.

The material I chose and used for the build was oak for the body, neck and head, birch for the pickguard and for the fretboard used ebony. At the start I planed on using beech for the pickguard, but since I could not get my hands on a piece small enough, I went with birch instead.

I choose oak since it is a beautiful material, which also is very dense and should stand high pressure good. In a sense it can increase the value of the instrument, even if it also increases the production cost. The reason to why people sometimes avoid oak is due to its weight (much heavier than maple). It is also harder to work with a dense material. Then you also have the detail about pore filling - if you isn't satisfied with oiling it and want a solid lacquer finish, you would need to fill in the pores/graines first, which complicates it a bit. Then there is always the debate on how different wood-types varies the sound, then again this is perhaps noticed less on a electric balalajka where the electronics takes care of the amplification. Since oak is relativly unusal as a material in musical instruments this makes my electric balalajka and its sound even more unique.

I found this quote on the internet, which is relevant: "The only thing wrong with oak instruments is that they look so much like furniture." - John Calkin. If you look at the homepage, you may find other tips about what kind of wood to use. One disadvantage with using oak as a material is of course the weight, but when building a balalaika, remember that the weight in reality isn't that kind of a big deal since the balalajka due to its size will weigh less than many electric guitars anyway.

There is not much to be said about the fretboard, which will be made out of ebony, the material is highly praised and the color of it makes it ideal. The pickguard, was lowered into the body itself, and fastened by a couple of screws. I wanted to go with a less dense material since I was thinking of carving a nice pattern in it, first I thought of beech but I ended up going with birch instead - later I decided not to carve a pattern into it. the lighter color of it makes a nice touch to the apperance and if you think about it you will see that it is the inverted relation compared to an acoustic balalajka, where the pickguard is darker than the rest of the body.


I used three screws to fasten the neck, I placed them in a triangular pattern. The neck socket is 2,8 centimeters deep, this is perhaps a little bit more than some guitars. I did not and will not glue the neck and the body together. In the beginning I were thinking of adding diodes to the neck, but I discarded the idea later on.

Truss rod:
Whether to use a truss rod or not is something I spent much time thinking on. A couple of weeks after having decided against it, I found out that the string pressure on a prima balalaika is only around 8.3 kilos, at least according to "Mel Bay's complete Balalaika Book". I believed (and still do) that these numbers would be higher since the strings on a balalajka is more tense. Anyway since the balalajka has fewer strings, the total pressure should be less, and therefore there should be no problem not using a truss rod. There are also many 6-stringed guitars, which don't use truss rods and they are often just fine. Another factor to think of is what type of wood you are using for the neck and fretboard, both ebony and oak are very dense so this is perhaps for my advantage. Now one year after the build there are still no problem with the neck, so I believe and hope that there never will be any.

The electric balalajka is flat in contrast to an acoustic balalajka - exactly as the difference between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. You could perhaps also make it rounded, but this would also add extra weight to the instrument, and if you are using oak like me you should not even think about it. But if you are using a less dense wood this might be worth considering, as the same form as an ordinary acoustic balalajka is might be more comfortable playing on, also you could fit more advanced electronics into the extra space.

Balalaika neck

My plan from the start was to have 24 frets on the fretboard, so that I will have acces to two whole octaves. In the begining I had planed to use a zero fret upon a nut made out of oak, but this idea was later scraped, due to several factors. I added inlays to the fretboard, just as on an ordinary, though I choose to make them out of oak instead, in the begining I was thinking on using diodes. The oak inlays were place on the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 17th fret intervals.

I am going to use either two or three pickups in the build, these will share four potentiometers. When you make your balalajka remember that it is possible to hide the electronics very well if you want to. You could for example place wood on top of both ordinary magnetic pickups and piezo pickups. A piezo pickup will give you a more acoustic sound, check YouTube for more details on this.


After a while I got the idea of makinig the knovs on the electric balalajka out of oak, and I can strongly recommend this! They aren't perfect, but they adds a charm to the instrument, The hole for the potentiometer is not in the exact middle, since I lacked better tools. This makes the knobs spin in a wonderful way.

Then there is the matter of decoration on the balalajka, as you surely have noticed balalajkas normaly have decoration in all three corners of the body. This is something that I have thought a bit about. The pickguard will be the "decoration" on the top, and it will be a bit higher than the rest of the body, I thought about carve a pattern into it, but decided against it later on.

The other two corners I decided on doing nothing with; since I thought it might look a bit clutered. I worked on two different ideas uptil my decision, one was to route an oak leaf into each corner - that idea wasn't so practical as it would have been much work and probably would have demanded more craftsmanship than what I have. The other idea can be observed on the picture below, it was to route a corner on the body and then to add much darker oak (which would have been oiled a couple of extra times) - at that time I also thought of doing the same with the pickguard, so had I gone through with it I probably would have made it out of birch and left it brighter instead. If you follow through with this idea, I believe that it can give a nice touch to the instrument, but be sure not to make them too big.


Please take a look at the budget category for more information about what I bought for the build. If you have any questions feel free to contact me!