Last update: December 5, 2023
Tro ou with its coconut soundbox.
The generic term tro ទ្រ refers to a two-stringed fiddle of Chinese origin. We meet her in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. In the latter country, it comes in four types: tro ou ទ្រអ៊ូ, tro sau thom ទ្រសោធំ, tro sau touch ទ្រសោតូច and tro che / tro chhe ទ្រឆេ. We can add to this list the tro ou chamhieng ទ្រអ៊ូចំហៀង played by the Chams.
To play, the musician usually holds the instrument with the left hand and the bow with the right.
The tro ou (tro u) ទ្រអ៊ូ as the lowest range. Its soundbox is made of a coconut shell shaped like an elephant's head, one end of which, previously sectioned at a quarter of the total length, is covered with a snake or calf skin or a very thin board of roluoh wood រលួស or spung. Coconut is often decorated with engraved patterns on the back.
The neck is made of a hard wood such as kranhung ក្រញុង or neang nuon នាងនួន, for the ruler. But nowadays, due to new regulations and the rarity of these woods, letter carriers use other species. The neck measures 900 mm. The upper end, often inlaid with pieces of bone (formerly ivory), is thicker and the end that joins the soundboard more slender. The neck is fitted with two wooden pegs. The tro ou has two strings of different diameters (formerly of twisted silk), now of metal, tuned to the fifth. The lower string is called ko and the higher string is called ek (aek). A small bridge, made of bamboo or wood, is placed in the center of the skin and supports the two strings. At 135 mm below the pegs, a cotton or Nylon cord stretches the two strings towards the neck to facilitate the movement of the fingers on the strings and to keep the strings at the same upper level. The bow is also made of hardwood and is 850 mm long. Its wick is made of sugar palm fiber, horsehair or, more commonly today, synthetic fiber (Nylon). The wick passes between the two strings; to "hang" the strings, it is coated with resin collected from certain trees.
The tro or is played in the mahori and aayaye ensembles and can be used in the orchestra of the bassac theater.
The tro sau thom ទ្រសោធំ is larger (and more serious) than the tro sau touch. In the past, its soundbox was made from a section of bamboo, elephant tusk or turtle shell. Today, wood species such as kranhung ក្រញុង or neang nuon នាងនួន are preferred. Ivory is sometimes replaced by an ivory-colored resin casting with a very nice effect. There is no standard size for the tro sau thom, but the sounding board is about 12 cm long and 9 cm in diameter. The soundboard is made of snakeskin.
The neck is made of kranhung type hardwood or neang nuon, for the ruler. But nowadays, due to new regulations and the rarity of these woods, the makers use other species. The neck measures 80 cm. The upper end is thicker and the end that joins the soundboard more slender. The upper end, often inlaid with pieces of bone (formerly ivory), is thicker and the end that joins the sound box is slender.
Like all tro fiddles, the tro sau thom has two tuning pegs, one 190 mm long and the other 180 mm long, usually in the same essence as the neck. The pegs are inlaid with bone (formerly ivory).
The bow, 750 mm long, is also made of hardwood. The shaft is made of sugar palm fiber, horsehair or, more commonly today, synthetic fiber (Nylon). The wick passes between the two strings; to "hang" the strings, it is coated with resin collected from certain trees.
The strings, once made of twisted silk, are now made of metal, such as motorcycle brake cables. An easel, made of bamboo, hardwood, bone (formerly ivory), supports the two strings.
The tro sau touch ទ្រសោតូច is smaller and sharper than the tro sau thom. It has the same general characteristics as the tro sau thom and is made of the same wood species. The soundbox is about 115 mm long and 80 mm in diameter. The neck is 760 mm long and the pegs are 185 mm and 178 mm respectively.
The tro sau touch is used in the modern wedding orchestra phleng kar, in the aayaye orchestra, in the mahori orchestra, but also in the phleng arak orchestra. It sometimes joins the phleng chaiyam orchestra.
The tro che (tro chhe) ទ្រឆេ is the smallest of all the tro. It has the same general characteristics as the tro sau thom and is made from the same wood species. The soundbox is about 105 mm cm long and 65-70 mm in diameter. The neck is 700 mm long and the pegs are 175 mm and 165 mm respectively.
The tro che has been played by the Khmers in the orchestra of the baasac theater since 1930.
The tro ou chamhieng ទ្រអ៊ូចំហៀង is played "exclusively" by the Cham in Cambodia and has a soundbox made from a turtle shell. From 1930, it was played in the bassac theater orchestra and the yike ensemble but today, nobody plays it in these ensembles anymore.
The pin peat ensemble and the tro in particular are a source of inspiration for painters for the decoration of Buddhist monastery buildings. We offer here some examples.
At Bakong temple (Roluos group), every day a group of musicians play traditional Khmer instruments; here, from left to right: skor daey drum, tro ou, tro sau thom, chhing cymbals. These musicians are victims of anti-personnel mines.