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Twelfth-century crusaders brought this family of bowed instruments back to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. The ancestor of our modern violin and cello family, the rebec (pronounced "reb-beck") was originally an Arabic instrument - still made today - called the "rabab". Unusually, its sound box was made from a gourd (a leathery skinned vegetable). The body of the European rebec had to be made from wood, since the northern European climate is too cold and wet for gourds to be grown.

Photoghraph of alto & bass rebecs

Rebec Sound Clips


play clip: 86 kb


play clip: 94 kb

Large printable image of the rebecs

Large detail image of the rebec

  Unlike the lute, whose distinctive bowl-shaped back is made from strips of wood steamed and glued together, the round body of the rebec is formed from a solid piece of sycamore, painstakingly chiselled out to produce a hollow sound box, with three gut strings and a flat spruce soundboard. It is played with a simple horsehair bow and makes a distinctive rasping sound. The two examples shown above are the alto and bass rebecs, made by Bernard Ellis from Herefordshire, England.

Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000