The Tanbur of Baghdad

The 10th century philosopher Al-Farabi spoke of 2 types of tanburs in his book “Kitab al-Musiqa al-Kabir”. The tanbour of Khorasan and of Baghdad. He included 2 drawings.

Earlier this year I had a local luthier build a dotar for me. I had a rough idea how I wanted it to look and now I realize it looks very similar to this tanbur of Baghdad from about 950 AD! (top left)

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This has pleased me greatly as I wanted an instrument that represented the very early times of 2 string lutes. Tanburs are basically dotars. They have 2 strings although the high string was doubled by Nur Ali Elahi probably some time early in the 1940’s or 50’s.

I am working on 2 very different recordings using only this instrument and hope to have them available to share early in 2018.


Dotar of Tajikistan

This 2 string instrument also called dutôr-i mayda (small dotar) is probably the simplest looking dotar I have seen. Everything about is quite simple and like the dambura of Afghanistan, it has no frets. The right hand technique (as well as certain motifs) are similar to the Kurdish tanbour.


The sargija is used in many Balkan countries. This example is great to hear and see clearly the sound and technique. The top double course is split by the left hand to give a wonderful dissonant effect.


The sargija is a long necked bowl lute used in the Balkans. It looks very much like baglama and even tanbour to an extent, but just like those it has its own music and individual sound. Usually 3 double courses for strings but sometimes a mix( 2 double , 1 single…3 single, 1 double, 2 single etc…). It seems to be always played with a plectrum and is fretted to a non western pentatonic scale. The music seems to have alot of dissonance, close intervals and other interesting sonic things happening. I like it alot!

Toronto Dotar!

This is a 2 string lute I had made for me by the wonderfully talented luthier Mr. Mohammadreza Isfahaninejad. It is basically my design although essentially a dotar. It has a shorter scale neck and a smaller more rounded body and set up for playing like a tanbour(strings and action low). Reza decided to give it quarter tones like a setar which I could decided to keep or remove(the tied on frets). I have kept most of them and made a few adjustments on some others. I am thrilled with this simple and beautiful instrument.

my dotar