Type: Box Zither > Chordophone.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Region: Scandinavia & Northern Europe.
Description: The Langspil, [in Icelandic: ˈlauŋ̊spɪl’] is a plucked zither. The oldest written sources describing the langspil are from the 18th century. In those times langspils are described as a long thin box, wider at the bottom end and with one to six strings. In the early 19th century a version with a curved soundbox emerged which has improved sound qualities.
In 1855 the book Leiðarvísir til að spila á langspil (A guide on playing the langspil) was published. It also included information on how to make langspils, although with a slight printing error in the fretting. This book increased the popularity of the Langspil quite a lot. However by the middle of the 20th century the instrument had become rare and few played it any more.
By the 1960s the singer, Anna Þórhallsdóttir, realized that the langspil was slowly disappearing from Icelandic musical traditions and as a response she spearheaded its revival, which is still ongoing. Today a number of bands and performers include the langspil in their repertoire, including Spilmenn ríkinís, Sigurður Rúnar Jónsson aka Diddi fiðla, Bára Grímsdóttir, Chris Foster and Þórður Tómasson á Skógum. The langspil also has an important place on the yearly folk-song festival on Siglufjörður.
Norway has several areas of culture, amplified due to its many mountains, valleys and fjords; some areas have their own versions of springdans. Valdres and Vardal are the only areas where the langeleik has a living (and thus more developed) tradition, with more melodies available, especially of the more recent, more complex kind, made for arguably better instruments. The picture above is of a Valdres langeleik.
It is also home of the valdres springar dance. Telemark is another distinct area of Norway, home of the Telemark springar. The Telemark langeleik is distinct from the Valdres kind in that the sound-box is thin and straight-walled whereas the Valdres-langeleik curves to a broader lower part, and it does not have a board at the bottom and thus is more dependent on a good table for amplification. Also the head looks all different.
The langeleik has had a renaissance, and while there are players in most part of Norway, there are not so many places -at least not well known- where the instrument is being played officially. This is perhaps mostly due to that it is a solo instrument.
Gjøvik Spelemannslag the folk musician guild of Gjøvik has a steady group of langeleik-players which meets every Wednesday. They also build langeleiks and a lot of other kinds of instruments.
Playing Techniques: The langspil can be played by plucking the strings by hand, with a bow or by hammering.
Tuning: And since it only has 1 melody string with 1 to 5 drone strings, usually 2 it is easy to learn to play it compared with more complicated instruments.
Construction: Langspils exist in two basic versions, straight and curved and are generally around the length of 80 cm, but can be as long as 104 cm or as short as 73 cm. Many different types of wood have traditionally been used, including pine, fir, beechwood, birch, oak and walnut, since they were generally constructed from driftwood.
Citations: David G. Woods, “Íslenska langspilið”. Árbók hins íslenzka fornleifafélags. 1993. p. 109-128. Ari Sæmundssen, Leiðarvísir til að spila á langspil. Akureyri. 1855. David G. Woods, “Íslenska langspilið”. Árbók hins íslenzka fornleifafélags. 1993. p. 109-128. Anna Þórhallsdóttir, “Langspil”. Tíminn. 19. August. 1961. p.11. Þjóðlagahátíðin á Siglufirði.