Middle East ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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Middle East

Here I regard the Middle East as the area of the Arabs, the Turks and the Iranians, which coincidently is more or less the area where the oud is one of the main plucked instruments.

So roughly it would be North Africa (Morocco*, Algiers*, Tunesia*, Libya*, Egypt and Sudan), and then across the Nile in Asia : Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran (Israel does not have typical plucked instruments).
*) To avoid overlap, some instruments can be found on the page North Africa.

This page also includes Turkey, which is a bit separate between the real Middle East and Greece (which is on page Europe South) but I have put it here as most Turkish instruments have quite a resemblance with the Arabian ones.
For the same reason here are also the countries in the Caucasus mountains : Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Chechnya and Kalmykia.


example :
bought in Amsterdam, 1980
L=880 B=390 H=200mm
scale 600mm
You Tube
Arabian oud
You Tube
Turkish oud

The oud (or ud) is the classical lute of the Arabs. It can also be found all over the world where you find muslims; so also in many countries of Africa and South East Asia (see gambus).
The oud is one of the oldest instruments. It probably descended in the Middle Ages from the Eastern Chinese pipa. It then arrived via the Moors in Europe and there the name [al 'ud] became "lute".

The back of the body of the oud is made of (10-25) quite thin ribs of wood, glued together, often in highly decorative patterns. The soundboard is made of soft wood and has one or (often) three rosettes. It has a short neck, with a fingerboard flush with the soundboard and without frets. The violin-style friction pegs are inserted from both sides of the open pegbox, which is slightly bended and fixed to the neck under an angle to the back. It has nylon strings (original gut strings) in 6 double courses, which are fixed to a bridge glued on the soundboard.

In Egypt and Syria the ouds are usually very decorated, with delicately carved inserted wooden rosettes, surrounded by inlay of mother-of-pearl and black-and- white coloured wood. The scratchplate and fingerboard is similarly decorated with coloured inlay. For white : ivory, bone or nowadays white plastic is used. On some ouds even the entire back is finished with mother-of-pearl inlay.
In Turkey the oud is usually quite plain, with minimal decoration around the rosettes, and looks more like a renaissance lute. It has a smaller stringlength and is tuned higher. This type of instrument is also used in Greece and called outi (see further under Turkey).
In Iran the oud is called barbat, and not so much used anymore. The modern barbat has a longer neck, a slightly raised fingerboard, and 5 courses.
In Iraq another type of oud (oud Bashir) is getting popular (see under)

The tuning of the Arabian style oud could be : D GG AA dd gg c'c'.
Usually the lower course is only a single (drone) string and sometimes this string is put on the other side (above the first). There are more tunings in use, usually differing in the lower courses. Sometimes the drone string is left off, resulting in a 5 course oud.

The oud is played with a long thin (plastic) plectrum. The music (if written) is in western notation. The classical music is the taqsim : a kind of basic melodies/ scales on which the player improvises. The most famous oud player of recent times was the Iraqi : Munir Bashir (see under).

For much more information about the oud see ArabicMusic and TheOud.
For some interesting 4-course ouds that are still in use, see page Africa North.

a highly decorated oud from Damascus,
a plain oud from Turkey.

The example oud is probably from Egypt.

oud Bashir
example :
bought via internet from OtherWorlds 2009
L=820 B=360 H=180mm
scale 600mm
You Tube
oud Bashir 

Besides the often used Egyptian-style oud, nowadays you can also find different models. In Iraq the famous (late) oud player Munir Bashir developed a special type of oud, which is now often named after him : the oud Bashir (or oud Bachir or Iraqi oud). It can be recognized by the loose bridge and the lack of decoration.

The most visual difference is that the soundholes do not have decorative rosettes in them (or around them), and usually are oval-shaped. However this type of open soundhole can also be found on a normal oud.

The main difference however is the loose ("floating") bridge, over which the strings run to a wooden strip with holes at the bottom part of the body. This different bridge results in a different way of sound production from the soundboard, and the general feeling is that the sound of this type of oud is sharper, louder, and more guitar-like.

Although the back is made from separate ribs (like all ouds/lutes) the outside is sanded down to an almost round smooth surface. There is a thick strip around the edge, which serves also to fix the strings to. The fingerboard is slightly raised above the soundboard. The entire instrument is highly varnished.

The nylon strings are usually in 6 or 7 double courses.
Tuning could be : cc dd gg c'c' f'f' F, or any of the normal used oud tunings.

Playing is like the normal oud with a long thin plectrum, or fingerstyle.

right : the different ouds next to each other

pear-shaped oud
example :
bought via internet from OtherWorlds 2008
L=820 B=390 H=200mm
scale 620mm
You Tube
oud kumethra / pear-shaped oud 

Nowadays some ouds are made in different shapes, like with a flat back or an electric one with only the body shape. Also another shaped oud is getting popular, with the body shaped like a pear. So it is sometimes called : pear-shaped oud, or (in Arabic) oud kumethra or even : "pregnant oud".

The main difference with the standard Egyptian oud is the back of the body, which has curves in two directions. This must be very difficult to make.
Even more surprising is the fact that on most of these ouds the back (which is still made of separate ribs) is completely inlayed with different coloured pieces of wood and mother-of-pearl, making this oud a precious jewel to look at !

It is played in several countries of the Middle East. In Algeria the lady singer (Diwan de) Mona can often be seen holding an oud kumethra.

It is played like the standard oud.

See more information : Urueña (in Spanish).

The very decorative inlayed back of the pear-shaped oud, with the curves showing the reason why it is also called the "pregnant oud".
example :
bought in Aleppo,
Syria, 1989
L=1020 B=225 H=160mm
scale 780mm
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The buzok (or bozok) is the long-neck lute of the Middle East. It is mainly played in Syria, Libanon and Jordan. A similar looking instrument can be found in North Africa (but with a flat back): the mondol (see Africa-North) and in Turkey/Greece : the lavta (see under).

The body of a buzok (much smaller than an oud) is made from separate ribs, glued together in a lute-shape. The neck is guitar-like, and has tied-on nylon frets. It has some 1/4 notes. The flat pegbox slopes slightly backwards, and has two slits for the tuning pegs, which are wooden T-shaped friction pegs; 3 on both sides. The fingerboard is sometimes made of white plastic. There is some wood inlay on the soundboard, and a carved wooden rosette inserted in the soundhole.

The buzok has 3x2 metal strings, which run over a small loose wooden bridge to a piece of wood on the edge of the body. Tuning could be cc gg c'c'.

It is played with a plectrum. Although usually an instrument for folk music, it is also used to play classical taqsim on it.


top   Yemen
example :
picture from friend and owner Pierre d'H
L=850 B=180 H=140mm
scale 620mm
You Tube
You Tube
after 40 seconds

The qanbus is the lost lute of the Yemen. It is very difficult to find nowadays, as it is completely taken over by the Arabian oud. It may also be called qambus or turbi.

It is similar to other small lute-like instruments in East Africa, with similar names like gabusi on the Comoros, kibangala (on the Swahili coast - see East-Africa), qabus in Saudi Arabia, andgabbus in Oman. It is replaced now almost everywhere by the much larger Arabian Oud. It may have been the eldest of the ouds.
This instrument has travelled with the Arab sailors (just like the oud) all the way to South East Asia, where the gambus is still played on the island of Sarawak/Sabah, near Johore on the Malaysian mainland, and on some Indonesian islands (see South East Asia).

The body and neck of the qanbus are made from one piece of wood, hollowed out. The lower part of the body is covered with hide, and the top half with a thin piece of wood. There is usually some kind of soundhole made in the wood.

The pegbox is sickle-shaped, with decorative rounded friction pegs on both sides. It has no frets. The strings run over a loose bridge on the skin to a quite large peg-like extension at the end of the body. It has 4-8 gut/nylon strings in 4 courses and is played with a plectrum.

See for much more information about this Qanbus and related lutes : Portfolio.

I could not find any qanbus in the town of Sana'a (Yemen) in 1988, in spite of being with a Yemeni guide who played himself the oud - nobody had heared of it. The example instrument was specially made in 2004 for a cultural event in the French Embassy in Yemen.

top   Turkey
example : baglama saz bought in Rotterdam, 1978
L=1150 B=200 H=195mm
scale 800mm
You Tube
You Tube
including tapping
You Tube
electric saz

The saz is the most well-known Turkish plucked instrument. It comes in several different sizes : the small cura, the baglama, the bigger divan saz and the biggest : the meydan saz. Nowadays you can also find an electric saz. The baglama (pronounce : bah-lahma) is the most popular. In Iran and Azerbaijan this instrument may be called chogur, choghur or çogur.

The body of the saz is traditionally carved from a block of wood, hollowed out with a round soundhole on the bottom side. However nowadays the body is often made from separate ribs glued together. It has a thin wooden soundboard, with usually several strips of different coloured wood on both sides.

The neck is quite thin and glued with a V-join to the body. The tuninghead is a separate piece of wood, and set under a slight angle with a V-join to the neck. The neck has tied-on frets of nylon string, some in 1/4 notes. On the left side is a groove along the edge, to ease the making of knots in the frets.

It has 8 strings in 3 courses of (steel) strings; the middle course with 2, both others with 3 strings. They run over a small wooden bridge to a piece of wood on the edge of the body. The T-shaped friction pegs are usually 4 on the front and 4 on the (left) side of the tuninghead

The saz is played with a plectrum and mainly only the first course. Some players manage to tap with the ringfinger on the soundboard while strumming (like flamenco players), to give a special extra rhythm effect. Others use a kind of tapping.

Most sizes of the saz can have either a long or a short neck. The short neck requires a different playing style as the lower notes are on the other strings.

For a different type of saz, see Azerbaijan.



top : baglama saz from Turkey, bottom : azeri saz from Azerbaijan

See for more information about the Turkish saz : allaboutturkey.

example : bought in Celçuk, Turkey, 1998
L=870 B=300 H=160mm
scale 560mm
You Tube
You Tube

The cümbüs (pronounced "dzjoom-boos", and there should be a small cédille under the s) is a banjo-like instrument from Turkey. The name comes from the name of the factory in Istanbul.

The body is made from a metal bowl, that looks like a cooking-pan. The (plastic) banjo skin can be tuned by screws around the rim, which also join the bowl to the front. The wooden neck and the peghead is made from one piece of wood, and fixed with a large screw to the side of the bowl. By turning the screw the angle of the neck can be adjusted. There is a veneer layer as fingerboard, and the cümbüs is fretless.

The cümbüs has 6x2 metal strings, and is tuned like an oud. The tuning machines are in two rows of 6 on both sides of the open peghead. The bridge has 3 round pieces glued to the feet, to avoid the high pressure of 12 metal strings damaging the skin. The strings are fixed to a metal stringholder at the edge of the rim.

The cümbüs is played like an oud.

See for lots of information about the cümbüs : Rootsworld.com and Ericederer.

There used to be a similar instrument called the ahenk, with a wooden bowl, and a wooden front, but with the bridge resting on a small separate piece of skin. It had two small soundholes in the front. There seems to be a recent revival of the ahenk.

picture from eBay

example :
bought via eBay
from tr.ir.store, Turkey 2014
L=800 B=360 H=200mm
scale 580mm
You Tube
Turkish oud
You Tube
Greek oud
oud (Turkey)

The oud (or ud) in Turkey resembles much the Egyptian (Arabian) oud, but usually the body is more slender and a bit smaller. In general the instrument is quite plain (there is not much decoration).

The soundboard is left unvarnished, and has three soundholes (one big, two small ones). It has a scratch plate of darker wood between the lower two small soundholes.

In Greece a similar oud is used and called outi.

The tuning of the Turkish oud with 11 nylon strings (in 6 courses), is two notes higher than the Arabian oud : E AA BB ee aa d'd'.

Playing and music is similar to the normal Arabian oud, with a long thin plectrum.



example :
bought via internet from Thebouzoukishop, Greece 2009
L=850 B=320 H=165mm
scale 650mm
You Tube

The Lavta is an instrument that was popular in the early 20th century, particularly amongst Greeks and Armenians, with a famous player like Tanburi Cemil Bey. Then it was gradually replaced by the oud and around 1930 they were vanished. From the 1980’s there has been a revival of this instrument, and now you can find them again both in Turkey and in Greece.

The lavta is a kind of hybrid oud : the body looks much like a small (Turkish) oud (with a body made of many ribs), with a guitar-like neck. The bridge usually has mustache-like ends. The fingerboard is flush with the soundboard, which is often unvarnished, and has a carved and inlayed rosette. Notice the very peculiar fretting distances (with wound nylon frets), resembling the Turkish tanbur.

Some lavta have a pegbox like the oud (bending backwards), others more like a guitar (or like a buzok or Greek laghouto). The tuningpegs are violin shaped, with 3 on the right side and 4 on the left side of the open tuning head.

The lavta has 7 nylon strings in 4 courses : A dd gg c'c' (like the oud),
or sometimes A dd aa d'd'.

Playing the lavta is similar to an oud, with a long thin plectrum.



example :
bought in Istanbul, 1998
L=1380 B=340 H=200mm
scale 1090mm
You Tube

The Turkish tanbur (also tambur) is a classical Turkish lute with a very long thin neck. The name is also used for other long neck lutes in Iran and Central Asia.

The body is made of (20-25) thin wooden ribs in a very round shape. The front is very thin spruce, left unvarnished. The broomstick-like neck is fixed to the body, and continues into the peghead. There are 6 violin-type friction pegs, 4 are inserted from the front and 2 from the left side. The frets are tied-on nylon (in 5 windings per fret), with many in 1/4 note intervals.

The tanbur has 3x2 metal strings, which go over a loose bridge to holes at the edge of the body. Tuning is usually Dd AA dd.

In spite of its long length it is not so difficult to play, however orientation demands practice, by which the special arrangement of the 1/4 notes is helpful. Because of the long length it has a very deep sound. Usually only the first course is fingered. The tanbur is mainly used to play classical taqsim music. It is also used by the Kurds for folk music, to accompany singing.

Besides this tanbur there is another similar instrument with a long neck, but with the body like a banjo. This instrument is called yayli tambur (see under), which is mainly used as a bowed instrument.


See (and hear) more at Tanbur (in Turkish).

yayli tambur
example :
bought from David Parfitt, UK 2012
L=1270 B= 300 H=140mm
scale 1060mm
You Tube
You Tube
yayli tambur

This special Turkish tambur is a hybrid : a combination of the normal lute-like long neck tambur with the body like a banjo. This instrument is called yayli tambur (or yaylih tambur).

The body has the size of the cümbüs (see above), so a deep metal bowl, with a (plastic) skin on top. It is usually made by the same factory as the cümbüs.

The neck is quite flat, and just as long as the normal tanbur. The frets are tied-on nylon (with 5 windings per fret). It has a small guitar-like peghead with machine-tuners (3 on each side). The 6 metal strings (in 3 courses) run over a loose bridge (with the two feet on flat round wooden plates) to some fixing points at the edge of the bowl.

Tuning is the same as the tambur : Dd AA dd.

The yayli tambur is mainly used as a bowed instrument, but it is sometimes plucked; that is why it is included here anyway.


See (and hear) more at Tanbur (in Turkish).


top Iran

Iran (formerly called Persia) is on the crossroad of many different cultures. To the west (with Iraq) live the Arabs (Iranians are not Arabs, and although their script is in Arabic, their language is Farsi). To the east the Pakistani and Hindis of the Indian subcontinent, in the northeast the Afghans and in the northwest the Kurds in Turkey and Caucasus. So no wonder the Iranian plucked instrument reflect this wide variety.

The two main Iranian instruments are the setar and the tar, related to each other in tuning and both used for classical Iranian Maqam music. The oud (here called Barbat) is nowadays hardly played in Iran. In the north you can find the saz Azerbaijan (also called qopuz, or chogur ) and the Azeri tar. To the southeast (in Baluchistan) the tanburag (see page Pakistan) is used, in groups that also use the benju (see page India). In several areas the dotar (in different types) is in use. The afghan rabab is used in the east, but also in a different shape in orchestras.

example : bought via internet from USA, 2001
L=850 B=155 H=140mm
scale 660mm
You Tube

The setar (also spelled sehtar) is the main plucked instrument from Iran. It is one of the very many long neck lutes from the area of the Middle East and Central Asia. They all have a quite thin neck made of walnut or apricot, and a body usually made of mulberry; either built of ribs, or carved from a single block.

The setar body is made of (7 to 10) ribs, glued together. The soundhole is usually a number of small holes drilled in a pattern in the front.

The neck is from a separate piece of wood, as is the soundboard. The neck extents to the peghead, with 2 flat T-shaped pegs on both sides of the open peghead. The 24 frets are tied-on gut, with some in 1/4 note intervals.

The 4 strings are thin steel strings, in 3 courses (the name setar means "three strings"); the first two are single, the lower is double in octaves. The strings run over a small loose bridge, to holes in the edge of the body.
The tuning would be cc' g c'.

The setar is played with only the right index finger, strumming up and down. It gives a very sweet delicate sound. The music is mainly the classical Dastgah of Iran. It is also played by the Sufi mystics.

For lots of information about Iranian instruments see farabisoft.


example :
bought via eBay 2006
L=940 B=240 H=210mm
scale 670mm
You Tube

The tar is another important long neck lute from Iran. A similar shaped and named instrument is used in the Caucasus states (see under Azerbaijan). This instrument
["tar " = "string"] appeared in its present form in the middle of the eighteenth century.

The body of a tar is a double-bowl (figure-of-eight) shape, carved from one piece of mulberry wood (some from a bookmatched pair of wood pieces). Seen from the side the body is slanting towards the end. The front is a thin membrane of stretched bladder.

The neck is glued to the body and a separate quite large, square pegbox. The 6 friction pegs (with big round knobs) are in three on both sides of the open pegbox. The frets are tied-on nylon or gut, with some in 1/4 note intervals.

The tar has 6 steel strings in 3 double courses (the lowest one in octave). They run over a loose bone bridge (with feet) on the skin, and are fixed to a string-holder at the edge of the body. Tuning would be cc' gg c'c'.

The tar is played with a special small brass plectrum (often held in a ball of wax) and is used for the classical music of Maqam and Dastgah of Iran.

For a nice video about making a tar see sound of love.
See for lots of tar information farabisoft and simorq.

left : the tar body is slanting.
above : the bone bridge, with carved curled up ends and a rope to keep the bridge on the right place on the skin.
right : the square tuning head with rounded pegs and decorative hole.

There is also a bass tar, which has only 3 strings and only the lower half of the body is covered with a skin. It is uses in orchestras.
example :
bought via internet from Sazonava, Iran 2003
L=870 B=170 H=170mm
scale 670mm
You Tube


The Iranian tanboor (also spelled tanbur or tanbour) has a narrow pear-shaped body, normally made with (7-10) separate ribs, glued together. The body-shape looks much like the Turkmen dutor (see Central Asia), which is however always carved. It has a separate long neck with 14 tied-on gut frets. The soundboard is also made of mulberry wood and has a number of small holes burned in it in a pattern. It has 3 flat T-shaped pegs; 2 are inserted from the front, one from the left side.

The tanboor has three metal strings - the first course is double, on which the melody is played. The other one functions as a drone string with occasional fingering by the thumb. The strings run over a small loose bridge, to holes in the edge of the body.

The tanboor has a unique playing technique by which the strings are strummed with the 3 fingers of the right hand (with arpeggios upwards, and hardly any use of the thumb) to produce a very full and even tremolo, often to accompany Sufi singing.

The tanboor has always been considered a sacred instrument associated with the Kurdish Sufi music of Western Iran and it is believed that its repertoire is based on ancient Persian music.


dotar East Khorasan
example :
bought via friend
Pierre d'H, Iran 2009
L=1190 B=210 H=240mm
scale 825mm
You Tube
dutar North Khorasan
example :
bought via internet from Safi Bag, Iran 2007
L=1100 B=75 H=150mm
scale 730mm
You Tube


In Iran several different types of dotar (or dutar) are used. All look similar, and have two strings (hence the name : "two strings").

They differ slightly according to the region they are used, but of course they also differ between different local crafsmen. A global list (based on an Iranian book) could be :

type length frets  
dotar East Khorasan ~1150 mm ~12 large and deep body
dotar North Khorasan ~1000 mm ~12  
dotar Katul / Golestan ~850 mm ~12  
dotar East Mazandaran ~850 mm ~8  
dotar Turkmen ~900 mm ~12 see Central Asia

All dotars have the body carved from one block of mulberry wood to a thin shell, with a mulberry front (sometimes dried in an oven). In the soundboard some tiny soundholes are usually drilled in a pattern, or one small hole in the back. The body and neck are left unvarnished.

The neck is long and separate, often made of pear or plum wood. The tuning head is part of the neck and has two T-shaped tuning pegs, ususally one at the front and one at the left side.
The frets are tied-on nylon or gut strings (except the turkmen dotar, which has metal hoops). The two metal strings run over a small loose bridge to stringfasteners at the end of the body. Tuning is in 4ths or 5ths.

All dotars are played strumming/scraping/banging with the fingers in a specific pattern, and usually only the first string is fretted.
The dotar is mainly used in folk music, to accompany singing.

The dotars from East Khorasan are often decorated. The example has inlay with coloured pieces of plastic, and carved decoration on the back of the body.
example :
bought via eBay from tr.ir.store, 2016
L=850 B=150 H=120mm
scale 650mm
You Tube
6 string version

The shurangiz (also spelled shourangiz or shoorangiz) is a quite new instrument from Iran. It was designed by Hossein Alizadeh and is basically a setar, but with a partly skin front, to resemble more the sound of the tar.

The shurangiz body is made of separate ribs, glued together. There are in general two different types of shurangiz : a small one (the size of the setar, with 4 strings) and a bit larger one (about the size of the tamboor, with 6 strings).

The neck is made from a separate piece of wood. The neck extents to the straight peghead, with 4 or 6 flat T-shaped pegs. With four : two on the front, two on the left side. With six : three on each side of a half-open peghead. The frets are tied-on gut, with some in 1/4 note intervals.

The main difference with the setar is the soundboard : part of it is a thin skin, glued to the edge of the body. A smaller round piece of wood is glued on the skin, on which the bridge rests. There are several ways of doing this : some instruments have only a small piece of wood and lots of skin, some have only a small strip of skin. Some have also soundholes as a number of small holes drilled in a pattern.

The strings are thin steel strings, in 3 courses. They run over a small loose wooden bridge, to a (wooden) stringholder at the edge of the body.
With 4 strings the first two courses are single, the lower course is double in octaves. The tuning would be like the setar : cc' g c'.
With 6 strings all the three courses are double : cc' gg' c'c'.

The shurangiz is played like the setar, with only the right index finger, strumming up and down. It gives a slightly sharper sound than the setar, while the 6 string version has a much fuller and stronger sound.

For lots of information about Iranian instruments see farabisoft.

iranian rabab
example :
picture courtesy of
Iranian owner and player
Siavash Elahinia
L=0 B=00 H=00mm
scale 0mm
You Tube

iranian rabab

In Iran the afghan rabab (see Central Asia) is used mainly in the north and east (Khorasan). But recently the instrument has been altered someway, to be played in special orchestras. To distinquise it from its Afghan cousin, we will call it : the iranian rabab (or rubab).

The main difference with the afghan rabab is the lengthening of the neck (with extra frets), and using 3 or 4 main (gut or nylon) strings. It lacks the two metal drone strings on the left side of the main strings.

The body of the iranian rabab is carved from one piece of mulberry wood (although nowadays some makers use the tar technique of sawing the block in two halves and after the carving-out job, gluing the two halves together again). The bottom half is covered with goat skin, and the top with a thin piece of wood.
The neck is made separate from the body. The open tuning head still resembles a half moon, with two rounded friction pegs on both sides. The neck has about 10 tied-on gut frets (sometimes inlayed metal frets), in a diatonic pattern.
There is usually less inlay decoration than on the real afghan rababs. The wooden soundboard is pierced with small holes in a decorative pattern.

The number of (steel) resonance strings is often 7, but some instruments have up to 13. The main (gut or nylon) strings run over the top of the loose bridge on the skin, and the resonance strings run through holes in the bridge. All strings are fixed to some pins at the end of the body. Tuning of the 4 main strings is : C G c f.

The iranian rabab is played with a plectrum in music groups that play some type of classical Iranian music. The sound is less sharp and with less echo than the afghan rabab.

See for more information :mbw.ir and farabisoft.

top Georgia
example :
bought from Palmguitars, Amsterdam 1999
L=960 B=230 H=140mm
scale 630mm
You Tube

The chonguri is a long neck lute from Georgia, quite similar to the panduri (see under).

The back of the body is made from (7-10) ribs in such a way that the end forms a flat (standing) end block, which gives the chonguri its special shape. Some instruments have a body carved from one piece of wood. There are usually many soundholes drilled in the soundboard, in a round pattern.

The neck and peghead are carved from one piece of wood. There is no separate fingerboard. Normally the chonguri is fretless . The sickle-shaped peghead ends in a scroll.

There are 3 flat T-shaped friction pegs, one on the right, two on the left side of the closed peghead. The strings are fixed to the poles of the pegs.
A 4th string (the second one in fact, and called "zili") runs halfway over a tiny nut through a hole in the fretboard and is invisible fixed to a peg from halfway the side of the neck. At the nut the 3 other strings are equally divided, and so are the 4 strings on the bridge.

The 4 nylon strings (or better : 3 1/2) run over a loose wooden bridge to a single pin on the endblock.
There are many ways to tune the chonguri, like : D F d A, or f a f' c'.

The chonguri is mainly used to accompany singing, and because it is normally fretless, no chords are played.


For unknown reason the example has 6 frets of inlayed hard wood.

example :
bought from Palmguitars, Amsterdam 2006
L=720 B=160 H=90mm
scale 500mm
You Tube
as solo

The panduri is another popular plucked instrument from Georgia, and looks very similar to the chonguri (see above).

The main differences are : the panduri is smaller, it lacks the string halfway (so the panduri has just 3 nylon strings), the panduri has frets and the body shape is less rounded, and usually more in the shape of a spade (so less with a parallel sided endblock). The body is almost always made carved from one block of wood.

The frets are usually made of wood, inlayed in the front of the neck. On some there are 7 frets to an octave, but nowadays also chromatic fretting can be found.

Tuning would be : e b a', or : g a c', and playing is often strumming to accompany singing.

a panduri (top) and a chonguri side by side to show the relative size and main characteristics


top Azerbaijan
Azeri tar
example :
bought in Jerevan, Armenia 1985
L=800 B=150 H=160mm
scale 600mm
You Tube
Azeri tar /Caucasus tar

The tar of Iran can be found (in a slightly different shape) in the Caucasus states of Armenia and especially Azerbaijan. It is known as the Azeri tar or Caucasus tar or 11 string tar or qafqazi tar. It was developed from the Iranian tar around 1870 by Sadikhjan, a tar player from Azerbaijan. It is the national instrument of Azerbaijan, but it is also popular in Uzbekistan. See for the Iranian tar : above.

The body of the Azeri tar has a double-bowl (figure-of-eight) shape, carved from one piece of mulberry wood. It lacks the slanting sides of the Iranian tar, and the top half is rounded. The front is a thin membrane of stretched bladder.

The neck is glued to the body (which has a strengthening stick through it) and a separate (quite large) square pegbox. The friction pegs are 3 big round knobs on both sides, and 3 violin-like pegs on the left side of the open pegbox. The frets are tied-on nylon (4 windings), with some in 1/4 note intervals (based on 17 intervals in an octave). These fret intervals differ from the Iranian tar.

The Azeri tar has (like the Iranian tar) 6 steel strings in 3 double courses (the low one in octave). It has further one extra bass-string on the left side, on a raised nut, and usually 2 double resonance strings via small metal nuts halfway the neck. All these strings are running next to the main strings over the bridge and are fixed to a string-holder at the edge of the body.

Tuning could be : c'c' c"c" (G) (cc') gg c'c'. The strings without brackets are always in this tuning, the others may be changed for different modes.

The 4 thin resonance strings appear quite difficult to get in tune, mainly because they use for each double string one single string folded over and tuned via a loopstring with one (small) tuning peg - it is impossible to get both sides of the folded string at the same pitch. Probably players will therefore use only one string for each of the drones.

The tar is played with a special small brass plectrum and hold horizontally high across the chest.

left : the body of the Azeri tar is not slanting.
top : the wide bridge on the skin

right : on the example instrument the stringholder, the bridge and the front of the peghead are made of plastic.

The tar from Iran is usually bigger than the Azeri tar, has a downwards slanting body, and no side strings. Also the top half of the skin is not round but triangular.


azeri saz
example : bought via internet from Parsmusic, Azerbaijan 2007
L=1080 B=250 H=240mm
scale 750mm
You Tube
You Tube
in a group
azeri saz / qopuz

In Azerbaijan (next to Georgia and Armenia in the Caucasus) and in the north of Iran they use a saz that looks quite similar to the saz of Turkey, but is rather different. In Iran it is sometimes called gopuz, or ghopooz, (or chogur / choghur) but usually it is referred to as azeri saz.

The body of the azeri saz is quite deep and made of separate staves of usually mulberry wood (only rarely it is carved from a block of wood). The same wood is used for the front, which has two tiny soundholes, and lays on top of the body. The neck is a bit wider at the body join, and the pegbox is a straight extension of the neck. Some instruments may be highly decorated with inlay or with paintings, both on neck and body.

The frets are tied-on nylon, with the highest ones extending over the top of the body, fixed to small nails on the sides - this is one of the differences from the Turkish saz.
Another is the different number and placement of the frets, and the lack of a large soundhole.
The strings run over a very small loose bridge to a long and decorative wooden stringholder at the end of the body.

The number of strings is usually 9 (unlike the Turkish saz with 7), with the T-shaped pegs : 5 on the front and 4 on the left side of the pegbox.
The strings are made of metal and in 3 triple courses (although often the second course only has 2 strings).

Tuning could be : d'd'd' gg c'c'c'.

right : the bottom of the deep body,
with the decorative stringholder.

Playing style is holding the instruments rather high over the shoulder with a short strap. It is mainly used by the poet-singers of the Ashigh.

Players holding their decorated saz high up.
(from Iranian Music Encyclopedia)

top Dagestan
agach komus
example :
from Vertkov's Atlas
L= ~1000mm
You Tube
festival, many players
You Tube
agach komus

In Dagestan (a Russian republic between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, just East of Georgia in the Caucasus) exists a special instrument, which is mentioned in both the Vertkov's Atlas SSSR, and in Buchner's book. It is called agach komus (or agach-kumuz), or temur by the Avar people. Also kumuz by the Darghin and khumutz by the Tabasar. On YouTube this instrument seems quite popular, and can be found with names like Avar Pandur, pandure, tenpur, or tanbur or tanpur.

It is a kind of slender guitar with 2 (double) or 3 strings, with a deep body (carved from one block of wood) shaped like a long spade and fitted with a trident-like "spike" at the lower end. The short neck seems part of the body and has inlayed frets - sometimes in a diatonic scale (less frets). Some are nicely decorated.

Playing is usually with simple chords and stroking all strings in a specific rhythmic style, to accompany singing (often by the player self).

A picture of a modern version,
from website Pekacar.

A related instrument seems the Shirvan tanbur in Azerbaijan, although it looks much longer (see AtlasAzerbaijan).

top Chechnya
example :
from website Chechnyafree
You Tube
dechig pondar
You Tube
apa pshina

In Chechnya (a Russian republic West of Dagestan, just North-East of Georgia in the Caucasus) exists a special instrument, which can be found mainly on YOUTUBE and other video websites.
It has names like pondar, ponder, pandir, or pandur, dechig pondur or dechik pondur, adkhoku pondur or dakhch pandr, or merz ponder. The Circassians call it apa pshina. Another name is tamur.

It is an instrument like the Russian balalaika, but with a rectangular body shape. The back is shaped like a wave (like the achag komus, see above). The body and neck is traditionally carved from one block of wood and hollowed out from the front, but nowadays they are also made from small parts glued together. It has a guitar-like neck with metal frets, and an open peghead with guitar-tuners on one side.

The 3 metal strings run over a loose wooden bridge to a long narrow stringholder at the end of the body.

It seems mostly strummed with the fingers, playing chords to accompany singing.





top Kalmykia
kalmyk dombra
example :
bought via Yoycart,
China 2017

L=1020mm B=300 H=85 scale=740mm

You Tube
(Kalmyk) dombra

In Kalmykia (a Russian republic next to the Caspian Sea, between Dagestan and Kazakhstan) exists a special instrument, which looks like a mixture of both the 2-string dombra and the body shape of a balalaika. The Kalmyk people are closely related to a group in Mongolia, from where they originated. This instrument is also in use there, to accompany throat singing. It is called Kalmyk dombra (or dongbula or tovshur).

This Kalmyk dombra has a triangular body like the Russian balalaika, but the back is flat, not rounded and the sides are not straight, but slightly curved. The body is carved from one piece of wood. The front has a small round soundhole. On some instruments the top of the front is inlayed with a contrasting wood.

The neck is quite narrow (like the Kazakh dombra) and the fretboard has metal frets in a normal western scale. The fretboard is slightly raised above the front. The narrow peghead is open, with 2 machine-tuners on one side.

The 2 nylon strings run over a loose high wooden bridge to a pin at the end of the body. Tuning could be D g.

This dombra seems mostly played strumming, to accompany singing and dancing.

picture from Phayul.com

For more information about Kalmyk music, see kalmykheritage, with music examples.

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