Balalaika is a Russian, guitar like, chordophone, which has a triangular like body and three strings. Just like the gusli, the exact origins of the balalaika are unknown but we approximate that it might of came from the Dorma, a stringed instrument from Caucasus. The earliest mentions of balalaika though, are found in a 1688 Russian document.
There are seven main types of balalaika in their family, each one would have their own tone colour, pitch, volume and even size! If you were to put them in oder of highest pitch to lowest, then it would be the piccolo balalaika first, then prima balalaika, secunda balalaika, alto balalaika, tenor balalaika, bass balalaika and contrabass balalaika. They also very in size, the lower the pitch the bigger the balalaika, the contrabass and the bass balalaikas (two biggest ones) are so big that they even have support/extension legs to help hold some of the weight while the player is playing.
The contrabass and the bass balalaikas are usually played with leather because the strings are so tightly tied that it would be painfully hard to play them with your fingers.
The tone colour of the balalaika all depends of the version. For example, a piccolo balalaika would have a high frequency and a bright, thin and clear tone colour. While a contrabass will have a low frequency and a muted, resonant and sombre tone colour.
Somebody playing a contrabass balalaika. Notice they are using leather.
Domra, the believed ancestor of the Balalaika.
From left to right; contrabass, bass, alto, secunda, prima and piccolo balalaikas.