Central Asia ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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Central Asia

For this website I regard "Central Asia" as the area around the mountains of North Afghanistan and India (the Pamirs, Karakoram and Himalayas) - as all the instruments in that region look remarkably similar. But although most of them are long-neck lutes - they differ quite enough to make this a very interesting region.

Remember that in this area all instruments are locally made, so there is a wide variety between makers and you may encounter quite some differences from the descriptions given here. Also the spelling of names is often slightly different. As the different peoples (tribes) in this area are living in mixed groups, do also not take the official borders very sharply. For lots of background information about this area see : Stylusmagazine .

Click here to hop straight to : Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, West China (Uyghurs), Afghanistan, Pakistan (NWFP and Baluchistan), Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.

For more similar long-neck lutes (from Iran, Turkey and the Caucasian countries), see the Middle East.


 

top Uzbekistan
(Uzbek) dutar
example : bought in Tashkent, Uzbekistan 1985
L=1160 B=200 H=180mm
scale 945mm
You Tube
large Uzbekistan dutar

(Uzbek) dutar

The dutar (dutor or dotar) is the main plucked instrument all over Central Asia. It can be found in many different shapes and styles. Dutars are usually made from a single block of wood (see Afghanistan and Iran, and also in Karakalpakstan in the west of Uzbekistan - see under). However the two largest ones (from the Uzbeks and the Uyghurs - the largest - see under) are made of staves.

The body of the Uzbek dutar is made from separate ribs (usually mulberry wood), glued together with often a narrow half round strip on the outside of the joins. The flat front is also made of thin mulberry wood. The soundholes are a few drilled holes in a geometrical design.

The long thin neck (mulberry or apricot) includes the (straight) pegbox. The frets are made of silk strings and tied-on in half diatonic scale. At the left side is a groove in the neck to ease making the knots in the frets. There are two flat T-shaped friction pegs, one on the front, one on the left. The two silk strings run over a small loose bridge to a bit of wood at the edge of the body.

The neck is often highly decorated with inlay bone (or black/white plastic nowadays) in squares, triangles, lines. The top of the ribs have triangle inlays, together forming a kind of windrose. The entire instrument is varnished.

Left : the back of the dutar body, with the windrose decoration in red and black plastic strips

Left hand playing is with two fingers for the first string and the thumb for the second string. The right hand plays often in a rhythmic fashion with a different finger for each beat. But also normal strumming with the index finger is done. Although some players play solos on the dutar, it is mainly used to accompany songs.

See for more information dotar.

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(Uzbek) dutar
example : bought via eBay, from Uzbekistan, 2011
L=1150 B=210 H=160mm
scale 905mm
You Tube

(Uzbek) dutar [2]

Besides the traditional dutar, they make in Uzbekistan also a slightly different instrument version. The main difference is the fretting, which is in western scale. During the USSR period the Sovjet musicians wanted to incorparate folk instruments in the general music, but that could only be done if all the instruments had a normal (western) scale. The instruments were usually factory made, and also different sizes were introduced, like primo, alto, etc.

The body of this dutar is made from separate ribs, glued together with often a narrow half round plastic strip on the outside of the joins. The flat front is made of thin mulberry wood. Sometimes the top half has a extra layer of thin wood (only fixed at the sides), which is flat with the fretboard. It may have only one small soundhole, or several small ones.

The long thin neck (mulberry or apricot) includes the (straight) pegbox. The frets are made of hardwood and inlayed in the fretboard. The tuning head has two tuning machines, one on each side of the open head. Two nylon strings run over a small loose bridge to a pin at the edge of the body.
The neck is not decorated, and the entire instrument is varnished.

Left hand playing is like the traditional dutar, with two fingers for the first string and the thumb for the second string. The right hand plays often in a rhythmic fashion with a different finger for each beat. But also normal strumming with the index finger is done. Although some players play solos on the dutar, it is mainly used to accompany songs.

 

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dutar Karakalpakstan
example : bought via internet from friend in Uzbekistan 2011
L=980 B=180 H=170mm
scale 745mm
You Tube
Karakalpakstan dutar

Karakalpakstan dutar

The area in the West of Uzbekistan is called Karakalpakstan. Here a different type of Uzbek dutar (dutor or dotar) is used : the Karakalpakstan dutar. It is smaller than the normal large size Uzbek dutar.

The body of the Karakalpakstan dutar is made from a single block of (usually mulberry) wood. The flat front is made of thin mulberry wood. The edge of the body around the front is left a bit thicker. The soundholes are a few drilled holes in a geometrical design.

The long thin neck (made of mulberry or apricot) includes the (straight) pegbox. There is no fretboard. The frets are made of nylon strings and tied-on in half diatonic scale (depends on the player). At the right side of the neck is a groove to ease making the knots in the frets. There are two flat T-shaped friction pegs, one on the front, one on the left. The two metal strings run over a small loose bridge to a bit of wood at the end of the body.

The neck and the body is often highly decorated with inlay bone, with black etchings of lines and circles, and glued and nailed to the instrument. The top of the body also has inlays, together forming a kind of circle. The entire instrument is left unvarnished.

Left hand playing is with two fingers for the first string and the thumb for the second string. The right hand plays normally strumming with the index finger.
Although some players play solos on the dutar, it is mainly used to accompany songs.

Right : a small dutar from Karakalpakstan
(picture from website Sanat Orexca)

See for more information Sanat.

 top
 
tanbur
example : bought via internet from Tashkent, 2003
L=1190 B=130 H=120mm
scale 925mm
You Tube

tanbur

The tanbur is another long-neck lute from Central Asia that exist in different shapes, and is the wire-strung companion of the dutar.

The body of the tanbur is made from a hollowed out piece of mulberry wood, and often smaller than the dutar. The front is made from mulberry.
The long neck (mulberry or apricot) is also the pegbox. The frets made of thick gut string are tied-on (3 windings) in some diatonic scale. At the left side of the neck is a groove to ease making the knots in the frets. There are 4 flat T-shaped friction pegs, two on the front, and two on the left. The 4 metal strings run over a small loose bridge to a bit of wood at the edge of the body. The first two strings are tuned the same, but they are so far apart that only the first one is fingered.

The neck is often highly decorated with inlay bone (or white plastic nowadays) in squares, triangles, lines. The top of the back has triangle inlays, together forming a kind of windrose. The soundholes are a few drilled holes in a geometrical design. The entire instrument is varnished.

The tanbur is always played with a wire plectrum on the index-finger, similar to the Indian sitar plectrum (mizrab), so you can pick forwards and backwards. The left hand plays mainly on the first course - the others are used as drones.

The music is usually instrumental, but the tanbur is also used to accompany singing.

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sato
example :
bought via eBay, from Uzbekistan, 2011

L=1260 B=150 H=110mm
scale 1010 mm
You Tube
plucked
You Tube
bowed

sato

The sato is a long-neck lute from Central Asia that looks a bit like a tanbur. Although it is mostly used as a bowed instrument - which is quite rare for a long-neck lute - sometimes it is also plucked. So (besides the nice body-shape) a reason to include it anyway. The sato is used in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The body of the sato is made from a hollowed out piece of mulberry wood, in a different shape than most other long neck lutes, with two sharp points at both sides. The sides are straight, but the back is rounded. The front (made of mulberry) is on most satos quite complicated. First there is a narrow edge of a mulberry front, with on top a small ridge of different wood. On top of this comes the real (narrower) front. Some satos lack this second layer. The soundholes are a few drilled holes in a geometrical design.

The long neck is joined with a dovel to the body, and the pegbox is again separate, ending in a decorated curl. The frets, made of thick gut (or nylon) string, are tied-on in some diatonic scale - they have a small strip of wood underneath, to raise the fret edge. The fingerboard is flush with the front.
There are 4 (or sometimes 5) round T-shaped friction pegs, two on both sides. The 4 brass strings run over a small loose bridge to a wooden stringholder at the end of the body. The bridge has a raised edge for the first string.
The neck and parts of the body are often highly decorated with inlay bone or mother-of-pearl (or white plastic nowadays) in squares, circles, triangles, lines. The entire instrument is varnished in a dark brown colour, except the back of the neck (as with other Uzbek instruments)

The sato is played vertical, resting on the knee, with a western style bow. Sometimes it is plucked like a tanbur, with a wire fingerplectrum.

The music is usually instrumental, but the sato is also used to accompany singing.

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(Uzbek) rabab
example : bought via internet from Safi Bag,
Iran 2008
L=850 B=180 H=190mm
scale 640mm
You Tube

(Uzbek) rabab

In Uzbekistan they use a special version of the Afghan rabab (see under). The Uzbek rabab has only 3 courses and has no resonance strings. It is less popular than the kashgar rabab or the tar.

The body of the Uzbek rabab is not made by carving a solid block of mulberry wood, but by building it from separate pieces of wood : some curved pieces for the sides, one for the join under the neck and two for the side ridges, plus a flat top and a flat back.

The lower half of the body has a (quite thick) piece of skin glued to it, the top half is covered with part of the fingerboard. The neck is joined to the body and the top of the neck is carved as tuning head, with the back in a flat backwards curl. There are 5 tuning pegs (violin style), 2 on the right, 3 on the left side of the open tuning head. Sometimes there are (guitar-like) tuning machines.

The thin fingerboard has about 20 thick wooden inlayed frets, slightly curved, in a western scale.

The 5 nylon strings are in 3 courses : first and second double, third single.
Tuning is probably : c gg c'c'.
The strings run over a loose wooden bridge on the lower skin, to 5 pegs fixed to the bottom of the body.

There is no decoration, like on the Afghan rabab. The complete instrument is varnished, with the neck in a lighter, clear varnish.

Playing the Uzbek rabab will be similar to playing the Afghan rabab, with a plectrum, accompanying songs and dance music.

 



at right : picture taken during USSR trip in 1984

The example instrument was found in Iran and probably repaired by a Tar maker : it has a tar bridge, and one tar tuning knob. Also the black tape around the skin is probably not original.
The back curl of the tuning head is missing.

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Uzbek kashgar rabab
example :
bought via eBay 2011

L=920 B=170 H=110mm
scale 720mm
You Tube
You Tube

Uzbek kashgar rabab

The Kashgar rabab which is mainly used in West China (by the Uyghurs) has a factory-made relation in Uzbekistan. During the Soviet period many folk instruments were changed to a more Western style instrument (so they could be used to play "proper", written music), by adding fixed frets, and machine tuners. The instruments usually were made in different sizes, like primo, soprano, alto, tenor, etc.

The body of an Uzbek kashgar rabab is made from (8-10) separate strips glued together, with on the front a thick hide (probably fish skin), glued around the edge with a strip of black leather. The neck and peghead are carved from one piece of wood, with two "wings" carved on the lower end, and a small backward curve under the tuninghead.

The neck has a raised fretboard, with metal (copper) strips as frets. The peghead is slotted with guitar-style tuners, on both sides. The metal strings run over a large loose wooden bridge on the skin front, to separate pins on the edge of the body.

The instrument is not as much decorated as the rabab of the Uyghurs. It is varnished, with the neck in a lighter colour (typical for Uzbek instruments).

Tuning could be E bb e'e' : and of a primo : g d' a' e''.

The instrument is played with a plectrum.

Uzbek kashgar rabab (primo)
example :
bought via eBay 2008


L=570 B=170 H=120mm
scale 360mm

   
 top
Kyrgyzstan
komuz
example : bought in Istanbul 1998
L=890 B=200 H=40mm
scale 600mm
You Tube
komuz

The komuz is one of the few fretless lutes of Central Asia. It is mainly used in Kyrgyzstan, but can also be found in neighboring countries.

The body, neck and pegbox of the komuz are carved from one single piece of hollowed out wood. The back is quite flat. The front is covered with some thin piece of pine wood, the neck (flush with the front) with a thin piece of different wood as fingerboard, which also covers the front of the pegbox. Another thin layer of wood is covering only the front of the pegbox. Everything, except the front and the fingerboard, is painted dark brown.

There are 3 rounded T-shaped friction pegs on the left side of the (open from the back) pegbox. The 3 nylon strings run over a metal zero-fret through little holes to the back. They go over a small loose wooden bridge and are tied to a small piece of leather which is fixed to the edge of the body. There is one very small soundhole in the front. The tuning is usually a e a.

The komuz is played mainly by strumming with the index finger; the two lower strings are mainly used as drones. Music includes (virtuoso) instrumental pieces and accompanying epic singing.

In the 1950s the Soviets designed a factory made komuz, with a body built like a guitar, a fretted fingerboard and machine tuners.
These instruments were made in different sizes like soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
seen during concert in
Holland in 2009
For more information see kyrgyzmusic.
   
top Kazakhstan
dombra
example :
bought in Istanbul 1998
L=970 B=240 H=150mm
scale 730mm
You Tube
traditional style
You Tube
western Mongolia
You Tube
modern style
dombra

The dombra (or dombyra or dombira or dombora) is an instrument that looks quite similar to the dutar. However it is made of staves, and it has a flat peghead instead of a neck extension. In West-China it is often called dongbula.

The body of the dombra is made from 7-10 ribs, glued together, with a spruce front. Usually the top and bottom of the front is decorated with figures : either painted on, or made from different coloured pieces of wood. Around the edge of the body is a narrow strip of veneer. It has a small round soundhole.

The neck is separate, with also the flat tuning head joined on, slightly backwards. The two violin type friction pegs are inserted from the back. The neck has a fingerboard, flush with the front. The frets are tied-on nylon (single binding), joined to each other from one long piece of string. The back of the body and the neck and peghead are painted dark brown.

The two nylon strings run over a loose small wooden bridge to one pin at the bottom of the body. Tuning could be : b e'.

Playing the dombra is mainly by strumming with the index finger. The left hand only fingers the first string, with the thumb occasionally the second string. Music is sometimes instrumental but mainly to accompany singing.

dombra
example : bought via internet from Kazakhstan 2009

L=920 B=200 H=65
scale 690mm

There is a second type of dombra, used in South Kazakhstan (called Abai dombyra), which has a different body, with an almost flat back (slightly rounded with the top halfway the neck and the bottom) and with a flat end (like the panduri in Georgia - see Middle East). The sides are slightly tapering : the back is smaller than the front.

There is also a triangular shaped version with metal frets (see Kalmykia dombra under Middle East), which is used to accompany throat singing.

   
top Turkmenistan
turkmen dutar
example : bought from Turkmenistan, via eBay 2004
L=900 B=155 H=170mm
scale 645mm
You Tube

(Turkmen) dutar

The Turkmen dutar looks in shape very much like the Iranian tanboor (see Middle East), but it has only 2 strings.

The body of the Turkmen dutar is carved from one piece of mulberry wood. The thin top is also made of mulberry wood, and slightly rounded. There are several small soundholes drilled in the front in some pattern, and one small hole on the back. The entire instrument is left unvarnished.
The neck is quite short (for a dutar) and oval round. It includes the pegbox, which is in a slight angle to the back.

The frets are made from round metal hoops, welded together - in a chromatic scale. There is a groove on the left side of the neck.

The two thin metal strings go over a small metal nut, under a fret-like hoop to two Y-shaped brass (!) tuning pegs on the front of the pegbox.

The strings run over an extremely tiny bridge (half a matchstick thick !) to some plastic device on the edge of the body.

Playing is mainly strumming with the index finger; the left hand fingers both strings. Music can be instrumental, or to accompany singing.

   
 top
Afghanistan
afghan rabab
example : bought in Peshawar, Pakistan 1992
L=800 B=150 H=190mm
scale 610mm
You Tube
You Tube
Kashmiri group

afghan rabab

The afghan rabab is the main plucked lute of Afghanistan and one of the few short neck lutes of Central Asia. Quite similar instruments are also used in neighbouring countries like Iran, Tajikistan, Kashmir,and North Pakistan. More to the North, in Uzbekistan, factory-made rababs are used, with guitar-style frets (see under).
The afghan rabab (or rabob or rubab) is the predecessor of the Indian sarod (see India). In Iran recently a different type of rabab is made (see Middle East).

The body and neck of the afghan rabab are carved from one big piece of mulberry wood. It is rather narrow but deep (like a boat). It is hollowed out and the bottom half is covered with some glued-on (goat) skin and the top half (including the hollow neck) with a thin piece of wood. The body has (between the skin and wood top) on both sides a deep ridge which would suggest a bowed origin. The intricate carved pegbox is a separate piece of wood, joined to the neck.

The rabab has 4 frets, made from tied-on gut or nylon. The strings run to friction pegs on both sides of the open, decorated pegbox, which bends back. All pegs are flowershaped, with bone inlay on both sides. The 3 main strings are made from twisted (coloured) nylon and are fixed to the pegs on the right side; the 2 metal drone strings (next to them) are fixed to pegs on the left side of the pegbox.

From pegs in the side of the body run 9 (to 12) thin metal strings, tuned to the notes of the particular scale of the music piece. These strings are fixed invisibly (inside) to these pegs, through small holes and over a tiny individually bone pole bridge.

The main strings and drones run over the loose wooden bridge (low on the skin), to a big pin at the bottom of the body.
The resonance strings go on a lower level through holes in the same bridge.
Tuning could be : ff G c f.

The instruments are often decorated. Usually there is bone inlay (mainly in slanting black-and-white strips) around the edge of the soundboard and the neck, at the edges of the pegbox, and at the back of the body. On expensive instruments the fingerboard is completely inlayed. The body usually also has some wood-carvings. Often the entire instrument is painted dark brown or black, but not varnished. As with many folk instruments there are some colourfull tussles hanging from the top.

Playing is with a heavy plectrum, in a kind of mandolin/banjo style. Only the first 3 strings are fingered, and occasionally the drones are plucked for certain rhythmic accents. Chords are never played.
The sound is quite strong, with lots of echo from the resonance strings. The music is instrumental in ensemble for dancing, but also classical ghazal (kind a raga's) music is popular. In Kashmir it is also used in an ensemble that plays songs.

at left :
a rabab I saw being played in Herat (Afghanistan), 1975

at right :
a rabab being played in Srinagar (Kashmir), 1975.

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herati dutar
example :
bought via internet from Safi Bag, Iran 2007
L=1300 B=200 H=200mm scale 970mm

1 melody string, 3 drones and 10 resonance strings
You Tube
herati dutar

In Afghanistan a dutar is used, in size similar to the one from Uzbekistan. As it is mainly used in the town of Herat (West Afghanistan) it is often called herati dutar. Is has no silk strings, but metal strings, and most of them have extra drones and resonance strings, so in sound it resembles more an Indian sitar than a dutar.

The body of the herati dutar is not made from staves, but carved from one block of mulberry wood (like other dotars from Iran and Afghanistan), to a very thin shell (less than 2 mm !!).
Around the body and straight over it are black-and-white bone strips for decoration. Inside the body is under the soundboard, a wooden cross for strengthening.

The body of my example instrument was split during transport, so I could see the inside, and measure the thickness of the shell in mm - the crack is now repaired

The soundboard is also made of mulberry, and has many small soundholes in a pattern.
The neck is separate, and wider than the Uzbek dutar, as it has 14 strings on it.
Often the front and back of the neck are inlayed with black and white (horn) decoration with typical Afghan motifs.
The body and the neck are left unvarnished.

The frets are tied-on nylon strings (in red and some in black) in quadruple windings, in a full western scale.
The two main silk strings of the normal dutar are replaced by 4 metal strings (one melody string and 3 drone strings) and at the left side of the neck extra pegs are fitted to accommodate (usually 10) thin metal resonance strings, which run parallel to the main strings.
The strings can be tuned with T-shaped friction tuners, two on the front, two on the side of the neck extension.
All strings run over a small loose bone bridge to 2 bone pegs at the end of the body. The bridge has a small raised edge on the left side, so the resonance string on the left can be plucked separately for rhythm effects (like on the afghan rabab).

Playing the herati dutar is with a wire finger plectrum, with similar music as played on the afghan rabab.


top : from LP Afghanistan

left : the herati dutar and afghan rabab played during concert by Gada Mohammad, 2004

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afghan tanbur
example :
bought from OrientShop Germany, 2009
L= 1250 B=210 H=150mm
scale 1030mm
afghan tanbur
example :
bought via eBay
Germany, 2009
L= 1130 B=200 H=150mm
scale 950mm
You Tube
old style
You Tube
modern style


 

afghan tanbur

In Afghanistan the tanbur (or tambur) is different from the tanbur that is in use in Uzbekistan. It is mainly played in the North, in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul.
The Afghan tanbur used to look a bit like Indian sitars (wide hollow neck and gourd-like body), but nowadays they seem to resemble more the Herati dutar. Although these two instruments look quite similar, the body contour of the tanbur is rounder, and the neck is hollow. It is similar to the Tajik setor.

The body of an Afghan tanbur is usually carved from one piece of (mulberry) wood, with a thin wooden soundboard. The neck is separate, and also hollowed out. A thin piece of wood is glued on top of it (like a fingerboard, or inlayed in the neck), flush with the soundboard. The frets are tied-on gut (several windings), in a scale that differs between makers and/or players.
There is often some decoration like inlay on the neck and some woodcarvings, but no large soundholes - just small holes in a pattern in the front. The instrument is left unvarnished (but with a colour coating).

It has 3 courses (either single or double) of metal strings (all the same gauche), which run over a bone or horn bridge to two pegs at the end of the body. The bridge is either flat with all strings over it, or with the main strings separate over it, and the resonance strings running through holes with a slightly higher end for the rhythm strings, like on the Afghan rabab.

At the left side of the neck are 7 to 12 extra pegs for the extra resonance strings. These strings are tied inside the neck to the pegs, and each runs over its own a metal pin bridge. On other tanburs they are just fixed to the side of the pegs.
The Afghan tanbur is played in the same style as the normal tanbur and sitar, with a wire finger plectrum. The music can be accompanying singing and dancing, or (more rarely) playing classical ghazals.


tanbur and dutar

picture from book by Jenkins
(tanbur and dambura)

 

detail of the inlay on the small example instrument

small scale display instrument

bought via eBay 2005
L=700 B=115 H=90
scale 555mm
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dambura
example : bought via internet from Kabul Art Galerie, Germany 2009
L=1150 B=300 H=180mm
scale 710mm
You Tube
dambura (Turkestan)

The dambura is mainly played in the North of Afghanistan. In fact two slightly different kinds exist : the Turkestani and the Badachstan one.

The body of the Turkestani dambura is carved out of a single block of mulberry wood and covered with a thick wooden soundboard. There is one small sound hole on the back, and several tiny ones drilled in a pattern on both sides of the front. The neck is made of mulberry, apricot or something, and joined to the body.

The dambura is fretless, and has two gut or nylon strings fixed to T-shaped flat pegs, both at the front. The strings run over a small wooden bridge to a pin at the end of the body. As with all Afghan instrument there is usually some decoration. The instrument is usually left unfinished - just filed, not sandpapered or varnished.

The dambura is played with lots of banging and scraping on the soundboard, to give some rhythmic and percussion effect.







Tthe example has been varnished in some dark antique colour.

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dambura
example :
bought from group Samo, 2009
L=900 B=150 H=120mm
scale 570mm
You Tube
dambura (Badachstan)

The dambura is mainly played in the North of Afghanistan. In fact two slightly different kinds exist : the Turkestani and the Badachstan one.

The Badachstan dambura is similar to the Turkestani dambura, but it is a bit smaller, and the neck and body are carved from one single piece of mulberry wood (expensive ones are made from apricot, walnut or something). Only the front is separate and made of some softer wood. There is a small soundhole in the back, and several tiny ones drilled in the centre of the front. The neck widens a bit at the end of the pegbox. The entire instrument is left unvarnished.

The dambura is fretless, and has two gut or nylon strings fixed to T-shaped round pegs, both at the front. There is only one length of string which runs from one peg over a small loose wooden bridge to a slit at the end of the body and then goes back to the second peg, to serve as second string. On the pegs some extra length is tied as spare.

This same instrument is also played on the northern side of the border, by the Tadjik mountain people, where it is called dumbrak.

The dambura is played with the left hand fingering both strings and with the right hand with lots of banging and scraping on the soundboard, to give some rhythmic and percussion effect.



(from website JanvanBelle)
The example instrument comes from Tajikistan : the neck is made separate, and it has no soundhole in the back.
   
top  West China (Uyghurs)
kashgar rabab
example :
bought in Kashgar,
China 1984
L=880 B=130 H=130mm
scale 760mm
You Tube
kashgar rabab / rawap

In South West China (called Xinjiang) - at the end of the Taklaman desert, near the Pamir mountains - live the people of the Uyghurs (related to the Turks). They have some special instruments, which can also be found (in slightly different shapes) at the other side of the mountains, in the Sovjet Union.
This rabab, which is called after the main town where it is found (Kashgar or Kashi), is a long-neck lute - unlike the afghan rabab, which is a short-neck lute. It is also known as Uyghur rawap (or rawapu or rawafu).

The body and the beginning of the neck is carved from one piece of mulberry wood, in a kind of half coconut shape, with two bended horn-like extensions at both sides at the beginning of the neck. The front is covered with a thick skin, often made of python skin. The long half round neck is joined by a V-join to the horns. The frets are tied-on nylon in 3-double windings in an almost chromatic scale. At the left side of the neck is a groove.

The pegbox is glued to the neck, and turns quite sharply backwards in a curve. There are 2 pegs on the right and 3 pegs on the left side of the open pegbox. The pegs are T-shape, but rounded. There are 5 metal strings, with only the first one fingered and a bit separate from the others which serve as drones and resonance strings. The strings run over a small loose wooden bridge on the skin to two pins at the end of the body. There is lots of inlay decoration of black and white horn in fishbone, triangles, stripes, etc. Also the back of the body has inlayed lines.

Playing is with a plectrum, and mainly a kinds of "riffs" to accompany singing. The sound is extremely echoing due to the resonance strings via the skin. The left hand is held quite low under the body, similar to playing the tar.

In Uzbekistan (in towns like Buchara or Tashkent) this rabab is also used. Here they are factory made, and the frets are inlayed metal, like on a guitar. It is often used to play classical maqam music on it. See Uzbekistan.

Left :
The Uyghur maker of the example on the square in Kashgar, 1984




Right :
An Uzbek player in Tashkent, 1985

top  
tembor
example :
bought via internet from The Camels Back,
Kashgar 2003
L=1410 B=180 H=180mm
scale 1200mm
You Tube
tembor

The Uyghurs also use an instrument similar to the tanbur of the Uzbeks; however here it is much longer, and it is slightly different.

The Uyghur tembor is made like the dutar, with about 15 separate ribs of mulberry wood, glued together. The soundboard is some softwood. At the lower left edge is a special piece of wood fitted to protect the softwood while playing. The very long neck is joined to the body (sometimes it can be unscrewed, for easy traveling). The top of the neck is the peghead. The frets are made from pieces of white bone or plastic, glued on in some diatonic scale. The brown coloured fretboard runs a bit over the soundboard, and has also frets glued on it.

There are 3 friction pegs on the front, and 2 on the left. The strings go over a wooden nut, then under a tied-on nylon string fastener, to the pegs. The pegs are T-shape, but round.
The 5 metal strings are in fact 3 courses : both first (fingered) and 3th are double.

The strings run over a loose wooden bridge to 3 pins at the end of the body. The entire instrument (like all instruments made in Kashgar) are extremely decorated with inlay in black and white stripes, in herringbone, triangles, squares, etc.

Playing is done with a wire finger plectrum on the index finger. The tembor is used to accompany singing and instrumental music for dance.

top  
(Uyghur) dutar
example :
bought via internet from The Camels Back,
Kashgar 2008
L=1320 B=270 H=200mm
scale 1100mm
You Tube

(Uyghur) dutar

The dutar (dutor or dotar) is the main plucked instrument all over Central Asia. It can be found in many different shapes and styles, but this is the largest one, and decorated in the typical Kashgar style. Usually dutars are carved from a single block of wood, but both the large dutars of the Uzbeks (see above) and the Uyghurs are made of staves.

The body of the Uyghur dutar is made from separate ribs (usually mulberry wood), glued together with often a narrow half round strip on the outside of the joins (slightly raised). The flat front is also made of thin mulberry wood.There is no soundhole.

The long thin neck (mulberry or apricot) includes the (straight) pegbox. The frets are made of (4-windings of) nylon strings and tied-on in half diatonic scale. There is no groove at the side. There are two flat T-shaped friction pegs, one on the front, one on the left. The two silk strings run over a small loose bridge to a bit of wood at the edge of the body.

The neck is often highly decorated with inlay bone (or black and white plastic nowadays) in squares, triangles, lines. The top of the ribs have triangle inlays, together forming a kind of windrose. The entire instrument except the front is varnished.

Left hand playing is with two fingers for the first string and the thumb for the second string. The right hand plays often in a rhythmic fashion with a different finger for each beat. But also normal strumming with the index finger is done. Although some players play solos on the dutar, it is mainly used to accompany songs.

See for more information dotar.

top  
dolan rawap
example :
bought via internet from The Camels Back,
Kashgar 2003
L=920 B=180 H=120mm
scale 780mm
You Tube
in a group
dolan rawap

Near Kashgar live not only the Uyghurs, but also the Dolan people. They have their own type of rabab, which looks quite a lot like the kashgar rabab (usually the Chinese spelling/pronounciation of rawap is used for this instrument).

The body and beginning of the neck of the Dolan rawap is carved from a single piece of mulberry wood, in the shape of a halfround ball (like a big coconut). It is hollowed out, and on the top are two extensions - in this case not bended, but straight to both sides. The body is covered with a thick skin. The entire instrument is extremely decorated with inlay (even more than the other Kashgar instruments), including circles and dots.

The neck is just as long, but wider than the kashgar rabab and it does not have any frets. It is glued with a V-join to the body part. The pegbox is separate and turns quite straight backwards.

It has 3 main metal strings (on some rawaps it maybe nylon). One peg is on the right side, and 2 on the left side of the open pegbox. The pegs are T-shaped, but rounded. On the left side of the neck are 8 to 16 extra pegs for the metal resonance strings. All strings run over a loose wooden bridge on the skin, to some metal pins at the end of the body.

Playing is with a plectrum, mainly on the first (fingered) string, often hitting the skin with the plectrum in the same stroke. Besides accompanying singing and dance, the dolan rawap is used for classical muqam pieces. The sound is even more echoing than the kashgar rabab, because of the special extra resonance strings.

   
top Tajikistan
setor
example :
bought from group Samo, Utrecht 2009
L=1300 B=165 H=150mm
scale 1030mm
You Tube
You Tube
group Samo (setor right,
with also Afghan rabab)
setor

Music in East of Tajikistan (the Pamir) is mainly played in groups with some percussionists, and bowed ghijak, and several plucked instruments : the afghan rabab, the Tajik robab, the Tajik tanbur and the setor.

The Tajik setor (or setar) of the mountain people of Tajikistan is quite a long instrument and seems closely related to the Afghan tanbur. It also looks like a vague relative of the Indian sitar, which is maybe the reason for the similar name.

The body of the setor is made like a dutar, carved from one piece of mulberry wood. It is quite slender, but deep. The front is also made of mulberry wood, with a few soundholes drilled in it. The neck is made of some fruitwood, and quite wide and hollow, with a straight pegbox. It has a groove on the left side for tying the frets. The front of the neck is covered with a thin piece of wood, like a soundboard. The entire instrument is left unvarnished.
There are 7 T-shaped pegs on the peghead : 4 from the front and 3 from the left.
On the side of the neck (near fret 6, 11 and 16) are 3 more pegs for drone strings.

The neck has frets (in a western scale) made from wound-on nylon (5 windings each).
The setor has often 10 metal strings, in an open tuning like : c' f c / fF CC c ff or something. The first two strings form a course, the rest are only drones. The third string runs underneath the 6th fret and has a separate tiny pole bridge on the neck. The 3 short strings also have their own small pole bridges.
The strings run (in almost equal spacing) over a loose wooden bridge low on the soundboard to three wooden pins at the end of the body.

Playing the setor is with a wire fingerplectrum (like the Indian sitar), fingering only the first course, and occasionally strumming the other strings.

For more information about Tajikistan instruments see Tajikistan.

left to right : setor, robab, tanbur (from CD Tajik Music of Badachshan)

top  
tanbur
example :
bought from group Samo, Utrecht 2009
L=1000 B=210 H=120mm
scale 720mm
You Tube
all Tajik instruments

tanbur

The tanbur is another Tajik instrument, played in the Pamir, with similarities (like the sickle-shaped pegbox, and the wood/skin body cover) with the Tibetan dramyen.

The complete body, neck and peghead of the tanbur is carved from one piece of abricot wood. The body and most of the neck is hollowed out. The bottom half of the body is covered with a very thick skin. The top half and the hollowed part of the neck is covered with a piece of thin wood. The neck is fretless. Some tiny soundholes are drilled in the front, in a decorative pattern. The back has some simple woodcarvings and the entire instrument is left unvarnished.

The pegbox is sickle-shaped, without a scroll. The 7 pegs are halfround violin type, with 3 on the right and 4 on the left side of the open pegbox.
The 7 nylon strings are evenly, and quite closely spaced; they run over a small loose wooden bridge on the skin, to sliths in the end of the body.
The tuning is usually in 4 courses, and could be : EE' BB G' CC.

Playing the tanbur is usually with a (wooden) plectrum, and mainly fingering the first course; the rest is used as drones and occasionally strummed.
It is mainly used to accompany singing in an ensemble.
Left : a maker is carving the body, neck and pegbox of a tanbur from one piece of wood.
(from the CD : Tajik Music of Badachshan).

Right : the back of the example, which had some cracks repaired by the maker. He had also added a strengthening piece of wood over the weak sickle-shaped pegbox.

top  
Pamir robab
example :
bought from group Samo, 2009
L=800 B=190 H=100mm
scale 615mm
You Tube
You Tube
all Tajik instruments

 

robab

This is the robab (or rubab or rabab or robob) of East Tajikistan; it is also known as the Pamir robab. It looks rather similar to the dolan rawap of the Uyghurs, but it is shorter, and has 3 courses of double strings of nylon (with one string starting from a peg halfway the neck).

The body, neck and peghead of the robab is made from a single hollowed-out piece of abricot wood. Just above the body are two extensions (wings) on both sides of the neck; here not bended (like the kashgar rabab) or straight (like the dolan rawap), but slightly sloping down. The neck is also hollow (till the extra peg) and covered with a thin piece of wood, with some soundholes between the wings. The rounded body is covered with a thick skin. There is some woodcarving as decoration on the back.

The fretless neck is a bit tapering and has a straight turned-back pegbox (like the dolan rawap). The T-shaped pegs are 2 on the right side, and 3 on the left side of the closed pegbox. A sixth smaller peg is halfway the neck on the left side, for the 6th string.

The 6 nylon strings (all of the same gauge) are in 3 courses, and run over a loose wooden bridge on the skin, to 6 separate slits in the edge of the body.
Tuning is : c' G CC FF.

The instrument is played with a (wooden) plectrum, and is mainly used to accompany singing or play instrumental music in an ensemble (see setor).

In the Pamir you can find some very decorated Pamir robabs, like this one (used by the group Samo), which was a museum instrument.




left : difference in size between the robab, tanbur and setor
[all instruments handmade by Shavqmamad Pulodov]


top Pakistan
tanburag
example :
bought from UK friend,
2009
L=1000 B=190 H=270mm
scale ~650mm
You Tube
You Tube
tanburag

In the Pakistan province of Baluchistan (south of Afghanistan and just east of Iran, with the main city of Quetta) musicians use a long-neck lute called tanburag [tanboorag] or dhambura, but also called damburo, or kamach(i).

The body of the tanburag is made from a hollowed piece of wood. It is quite deep. The neck is separate and joined to the body with a lip join.There is a typical small ridge at the join of the neck to the body.

It has 3 metal strings, with 3 quite large tuning pegs on the front of the straight pegbox. The strings run over a small loose bridge to 3 separate pegs on the end of the body. The long neck has no (or just a few) frets. The neck and body are sometimes painted in some bright (red) colours or highly decorated with stencils. As the topnut is only to press the strings down on the fingerboard, the (open) strings give a high buzzing sound.

The tanburag is mainly used as a rhythmic drone to accompany singing or in an ensemble with sorud (fiddle), benjo (bullbull tarang) and drum, or with a donali (flute).

from the book : Music in the World of Islam
top  
chitrali sitar
example : :
bought in Chitral,
Pakistan, 1992
L=1220 B=145 H=150mm
scale 940mm
You Tube
chitrali sitar

In the mountainous North Western Frontier Provinces is the town of Chitral. In this area a long-neck folk lute is made, called the chitrali sitar.

The body of the chitrali sitar is carved from a single block of mulberry wood. The front is covered with a top of mulberry, with two tiny soundholes in the middle. The long thick neck (which is also used for the pegbox) is made of mulberry and joined to the body. The frets are tied-on nylon (in 3 windings), in a special scale (7 notes to an octave). The first 3 frets are coloured nylon. There is no groove along the neck. The body has some woodcarving.

There are 3 pegs on the front, and 2 on the left side; they are T-shaped, but round. The 5 metal strings go over a wooden nut, underneath a copper winding to the pegs. The middle string goes underneath the 4th fret, and at that fret all strings are tuned to the same pitch. The first 3 frets seem a bit out of tune.

All thin metal strings run over a very small loose bridge to one nail in the end of the body. The 5 strings (of similar thickness) are at equal distance from each other, although it seems there should be 3 courses, with the firist two played together. Tuning would be c c g cc.

Playing seems most likely strumming with the index finger, and only left hand fingering the first "course". It is used for folk music, with singing, dancing and jerricans as percussion.

For a bit more information see Shara.


This instrument seems quite rare. While traveling through the mountains of North Pakistan with my newly bought sitar (from Chitral), I could not find anybody able to play it, though many people knew about the instrument. However the Lok Virsa Museum in Islamabad had quite a few Chitrali sitar on display. I can find only one song played on CD (Sounds of Hindu Kush).

   
top Kashmir
kashmiri setar
example :
from book
Classical music of Kashmir

L= about 1150mm
B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm

You Tube
(after 1.5 minute)
kashmiri setar

In Kashmir (the mountainous area of North West India) exists a long-neck lute, which is a kind of hybrid between an Iranian setar and Indian sitar. There are two sizes : the long one is called bod, with 9 strings, and the small one : lokut with 7 strings. Only the big one is still used and even that one not often.

The body of the kashmiri setar is made of 12 ribs glued together, with a wooden front. In the front are several small soundholes. The neck is hollow (like the sitar) forming part of the resonance chamber of the body. There are 17 tied-on gut frets. The bridge is wide and flat, and slightly rounded (like on the Indian sitar and sarod).

The 7 main steel strings run to round pegs on the tuning head (3 on the front, 4 on the left side). Two shorter strings go to pegs at the left side of the neck, and pass over small separate bridges. Only the first two (double) strings are fingered (like on the tamburs).

Playing is with a wire plectrum on the right hand index finger. The melody is played on the first two strings, the other strings are only strummed for drones. The left hand only fingers with index and middle finger. In each ensemble there are two or more setars.

Notice that the now rare "saz-e-kashmiri" is a kind of fiddle.

The kashmiri setar is now quite rare and there are only a few makers left.

 

I have seen this instrument many years ago during a rare concert in Holland; in Kashmir I have only seen the (Afghan) rabab.

   
top  Nepal
tungana
example :
bought in Amsterdam 1986
L=620 B=140 H=80mm
scale 420mm
You Tube
tungana

In the mountain valleys of Nepal a small plucked instrument is played, that is sometimes (on old LP's) called a dramyen. However, this is the name used for the much bigger Tibetan lute, which is quite different anyway (see under). The real name of this Nepali lute is tungana (or tungna). They come in different sizes, and sometimes are almost as big as the dramyen. See also Bhutan, furtheron.

The body, neck and pegbox are all carved from one piece of wood, and hollowed out. The bottom half of the figure-of-8 body is covered with some thick skin, and the top half and neck with two pieces of thin wood, fitted within a rim. There is one small soundhole on the back. The back of the body is full of woodcarvings in Buddhist style. Also the "fingerboard" has woodcarving, but in such a way that it is not easy to finger the strings. The neck is fretless.

The pegbox is sickle-shaped and turns to the front where there is usually a neatly carved head of a demon or of some lion. All the wood of the instrument is painted dark brown or black.

The peghead has 4 pegs, like pine trees, two on each side of the (open on the back) pegbox. The 4 rope (?) strings run over a rather big wooden bridge to a small extension at the end of the body. A wooden plectrum is fixed by rope to it.

Playing is mostly done by strumming to accompany singing.

For more information about this type of instrument see : ArtsPremiers (in French). See also the tungana mentioned under Bhutan.

As the tungana is small and solid it is easy to carry about. In Kathmandu they are sold as souvenirs (more for the woodcarving than for their musical qualities). As the houses in Nepal are always full of smoke, the instruments are usually quite smelly and greasy.

   
top Tibet
dramyen
example :
bought in Lhasa,
Tibet 2000
L=1120 B=180 H=120mm
scale 870mm
You Tube
dramyen

In spite of the many instruments sold on eBay called "Tibetan", these are really all basic Chinese instruments - although painted in some typical way.

In fact the only real plucked lute of Tibet is the dramyen (until recently mysteriously spelled : sgra-snyan, but with the same pronounciation !).
It is often seen in the streets of Lhasa, played by beggars, who usually can play it quite well. In Bhutan a similar named, but slightly different instrument exists (see under). The body has some resemblance with the sugudu from China and the sickle shape pegbox with the tanbur from Tajikistan.

The body and beginning of the neck are carved from one piece of wood and hollowed out. The bottom half is covered with thick skin; the top half (which has halfway a sharp point at both sides, over the entire depth of the body - not just a shallow extension like on the rababs) is covered with thin wood. Between the two points is a cut-out rosette soundhole. There is a piece of wood under the top edge of the skin, with a gap between the skin top and the wooden top. The back of the body has carvings in such a way that it looks like it is made from separate ribs, with a narrow halfround strip over the "joins".

The neck of the dramyen is rather heavy, and glued with a lip-join to the body. It is fretless. The pegbox is sickle shaped, and usually ends on the front in a flat ending (and sometimes in the carving of a horse head). There are 6 long round pegs, three on each side of the open pegbox.

The 6 silk strings (in 3 courses) run over a loose wooden bridge to a wooden extension on the end of the body. A plastic plectrum is tied with rope to this extension.

Playing is with plucking simple "riffs" to accompany usually quite jolly singing. Hardly ever does a player go up the neck, all is done in the first position.

The example instrument I bought from a group of musicians in Lhasa (playing near the Winterpalace of the Dalai Lama) and so is extra decorated: red paint all over, with blue edges; flower-like decorations and even a horse head carving on the pegbox. Even the silk strings are coloured : with accent pens in yellow and pink !

Here is a more usual plain looking pegbox, without the horse head.

   
top Bhutan
dranyen
example :
bought in Thimpu,
Bhutan 2008
L=950 B=165 H=85mm
scale 690mm
You Tube
You Tube
entire dance group
dranyen

In Bhutan (a mountainous country to the East of Nepal) they play a similar looking dramyen as in Tibet.
However the Bhutan dranyen has not 6 but 7 strings, and the body has three curves on both sides. The neck is made from the same piece of wood as the body. The extra string comes from a peg halfway the neck, on the left side, but is in fact the 5th string on the bridge, and part of the second course. The body is hollowed out, and so is the neck, up to a point passed the 7th peg. The top of the body and the hollowed out neck is covered with a thin piece of wood. The bottom half of the body is covered with a (goat) skin.

The very strongly curved sickle-shaped peghead (usually made from two separate pieces of wood) ends in a carved figure, usually of a beautiful dragon head.

The long thin tuning pegs are often rather primitively carved.
There is often a lot of painted decoration on all sides of the instrument, based on traditional Bhutanese symbols.

Playing is with a plectrum (fixed to a rope) short limited riffs, to accompany singing.

Tuning of the nylon strings could be : aa (d)dd gg.
  right : instrument of mr. Jigme Drukpa
(a welknown singer from Bhutan),
seen during concert in Holland 2007
top  
tungana
example :
bought via eBay UK, 2012
L=770 B=190 H=80mm
scale 560mm
You Tube
tungana

Bhutan employs lots of Nepalees workers, who have brought their own plucked instrument, the tungana (or tungna). They come in different sizes, and sometimes are almost as big as the dranyen. Maybe because of the influenze of the colourful Bhutan dranyen, you can find in Bhutan the more colourful tunganas. Basically they are the same as the ones in Nepal.

The body, neck and pegbox are all carved from one piece of wood. The body is hollowed out with two separate round cavities. The bottom half of the figure-of-8 body is covered with some thick skin; the top half and the fingerboard with a piece of thin wood, with a raised rim around it. It also has a carved rosette as soundhole.
The neck is fretless. The back of the body is full of woodcarvings in Buddhist style.

The pegbox is sickle-shaped and turns to the front. It has usually a neatly carved head of a demon. The entire instrument is painted in several different colours, with the fingerboard and neck in a wave pattern.
The peghead has 6 pegs, like pine trees, three on each side of the (open on the back) pegbox. The 6 (single) rope (?) strings run over a rather small wooden bridge to a small extension at the end of the body. A wooden plectrum is fixed by rope to it.

Playing the tungana is mostly done by strumming, to accompany singing and dancing.

For more information about this type of instrument see : ArtsPremiers (in French).

   
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