In the Lanna Kingdom (that is today’s Northern Thailand) one of the traditional musical instruments is a two-stringed bowed violin-like musical tool called a Sa-Lor that is usually played in an ensemble of other stringed instruments, flutes and drums. The resonator is made of coconut shell cut off on one side, off center and a small hole is drilled on the other side. The larger side of the half coconut is covered with a sound board. The strings are metal, giving a raspy sound and are tuned using two teak wood pegs on the side. A tiny bridge holds two fine metal strings off the sound board. The instrument has a free bow (many Lanna string instruments have the bow trapped on the inside of the strings).
The Sa-Lor is played by drawing the bow over one string at a time or the two strings together moving the bow from side to side. The person playing the Sa-Lor is in a sitting position with the base of the instrument on his leg. By itself, it sort of sounds what you imagine to be a mouse squeal if it were being strangled. The sound can vary from soft and fine to sharp and tinny. There is always a whiny quality about it that makes it perfectly suited for playing instrumental versions of Thai folk music.
With the rainy season pretty much behind us, my wife and I took some time last week to explore some of the more remote villages of Chiang Rai province. It is beautiful country and worth exploring. The area is very agricultural with rice fields and fruit farms everywhere, and many of the people are Hill Tribe people. These mountains are also where the great Thai coffee is grown. Accommodations are a little bit on the rustic side, but very inexpensive. For many villages, the only accommodations available are “home stay” places, which are usually a few rough cabins sprinkled out amongst the papaya trees. No wifi, electricity is on and off, often no hot water heater and a small thin mattress on the floor. The walls and floor are often bamboo. So not for everyone.
While visiting a Wat (Buddhist temple) on a hillside, we ran into a little Sa-Lor factory (or more accurately a shop, as there are only two older guys making the product). We watched them build their instruments — including other larger string instruments — with great skill. After a while the two craftsmen gave us a little string concert that actually sounded quite nice.
We bought one of the Sa-Lor instruments to mount on our wall of my little office at home at 120 Baht (a little less than $4 USD), which we probably could have bargained down about 25% if we had to save some money. Looking at ebay in the US, I see the instrument selling for around $45. (Incidentally, if anyone reading this would like for me to send them one of these things, I will easily beat that ebay price. Just email me.)