I have a Russian-made (read “Soviet”) balalaika, which was originally built in Moscow in 1981 at the Moscow Experimental Musical Instrument Factory – Moskovskaya Eksperimental’naya Fabrika Muzikalnykh Instrumentov. This balalaika was a gift from a close friend who studied in Moscow in the early 1980’s and naturally has great sentimental value to me. As a budding amateur luthier I decided that I wanted to try to make some improvements to the instrument.
So I decided to start by stripping it down and refinishing it completely. This process would entail performing a number of upgrades to the instrument not only to improve the acoustics, but especially to improve the appearance. The instrument was in desperate need of a new fretboard, the original was of such poor quality, with a stained, uneven surface, and soft brass frets. The top was split in two along the joint (seam), and the tuners were pretty bad.
Luckily it was built of reasonably good quality materials, including a spruce soundboard (which was split in several places), mahogany back/ribs, a maple neck, bindings and purflings, etc. But unfortunately the quality of the workmanship was generally quite poor. This was especially true in the finishing of the instrument. Luckily the sound was reasonably good and the neck was straight enough to remedy without much effort.
The label inside the instrument translates as follows:
MMP RSFSR Main location for the manufacture of musical instruments Moscow Experimental Musical Instrument Factory Prima Balalaika Article 203 Price 15r. Production Date 1981
Imagine, only 15 rubles (approximately $20 in 1981) for an instrument made of spruce, maple and mahogany! So, aside from it’s sentimental value, it was certainly worth the time and effort to restore and it turned out to be a very satisfying project, and a great sounding instrument. This reconstruction project is ‘fully’ documented at my “Perestroika Balalaiki” site (see link in side bar).