Also:       ch’uniri      

Title: Voyage en URSS--Satchidao; B. Melikichvili, chuniri, E. Agniachvili, chuniri. Label: Le Chant du Monde. Format: CD. Catalogue#: LDX 274 921. Track: 23.

Title: chuniri demonstration by Shmagi Pirtskhelani; 28 December 2010. Format: DVC.

Contextual Associations

The chuniri is a bowed spike-fiddle chordophone of Georgia, which is located in western Asia between the Black and Caspian Seas. It is associated primarily with the Svan ethnic group, who live in the mountains of western Georgia. Traditionally the instrument is used to accompany dance songs and three-part polyphonic choral singing. During much of the 20th century when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, the chuniri and other regional folk instruments were modernized and became tools of social engineering in the hands of state-run folkloric ensemble musicians. In post-Soviet times, while still part of living village culture of now independent Georgia, the chuniri is also found in national folkloric groups based in the capital and other cities.


The cylindrical resonator of the chuniri (see detail image) is made from a rectangular length of thin, 3-ply laminated wood the ends of which are brought into contact with one another and secured with a patch of similar plywood glued to the inside surface of the ring. The rims of the cylinder are further reinforced with long, narrow strips of plywood glued around their inside circumferences. A thin membrane of clarified animal hide, which will serve as the instrument’s soundboard, is stretched over one of the cylinder openings and glued to its outside wall. A length of solid wood is shaped in such a way that sections of it serve as the instrument’s pegblock, neck, spike, and tail button. Two square holes, one slightly larger than the other, are cut just below the membrane into the wall of the resonator directly across from one another. The spike section of the neck, which has been given a tapering squared shape, passes through and fits snugly into these holes with only a short stub protruding from the bottom side of the resonator that will serve as the tail button for the strings. The upward facing surface of the neck is planed flat, and a wooden nut (a raised ridge) located in a groove at its top end marks the boundary between the neck and the slotted pegblock with its three side-mounted friction pegs. Three strings each of multiple strands of horsehair are given nooses at one end that loop around the tail button. After bending over the rim of the resonator they pass through slots in the low wooden pressure bridge on the membrane soundboard. They then run in a parallel plane over the rest of the sound table and the neck until the pass through slots in the nut, after which they are threaded through and wound around the capstans of the tuning pegs. All three strings have the same vibrating length of 20.6 inches as measured from the bridge to the nut. The bow is made from a bent stick with multiple strands of horsehair tightly knotted to its ends.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The chuniri is played by a seated performer and held vertically with its pegblock resting on the left side of the player’s chest and the resonator held between the knees, the soundboard facing outwards. The player bows the strings in both directions with right hand, free stopping the strings (without depressing them all the way to the fingerboard) with the fingertips of the left hand. The bridge is flat, which makes it difficult for the performer not to sound all three strings simultaneously. The standard tuning for the chuniri is: G3 - A3 - C4 (interval pattern of M2 - m3).


It is unclear just how far back in history the chuniri goes. The chuniri pictured here is most likely based on the design of the instrument used in villages in pre-Soviet times. Beginning in the 1930s (during the Soviet period) makers started producing chuniri for concert performance by state-sponsored folkloric troupes. These instruments were produced in a variety of sizes--soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and double bass. (NGDMI: 368) 

Bibliographic Citations

Chkhikvadze, Grigol , and Joseph Jordania. “Georgia.” In Grove Music Online, accessed October 7, 2014:

n.a. 1984. “Chuniri.” NGDMI v.1: 368.

Shilakadze, Manana. 2010. “Polyphony and Folk Musical Instruments.” In Echoes from Georgia: Seventeen Arguments on Georgian Polyphony. Rusudan Tsurtsumia and Joseph Jordania, eds. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., pp. 215-228.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: West Asia

Nation: Georgia

Formation: Svan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.312 chordophone--spike box lute or spike guitar: the resonator is built up from wood, the body of the instrument is in the form of a box through which the handle/neck passes

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - spike

Resonator design, chordophone: ring with membrane soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: bowing (direct)

Pitches per string course: one and multiple (by direct free stopping)


28.6 in. length 10.5 in. width 4.6 in. depth of resonator 18.3 in. length of bow

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin

Entry Author

Roger Vetter