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The Setar Is a Unique Musical Stringed Instrument

The Setar is an ancient Persian stringed instrument that has been an integral part of Iranian culture for centuries. Deceptively simple, this instrument has a wide range of possibilities that experienced players can present to the public. Whether played traditionally or with recently introduced techniques, playing this instrument is a grand way to celebrate ancient Far Eastern culture.

What is a setar?

This instrument is Iranian and dates from Persia before the spread of Islam. The name is derived from the Persian "seh", which means "three," and "tar," which means "string." The modern version now has four strings. It has a small sound box that is shaped like a pear, a long neck, and between 25-27 frets. This instrument is traditionally played with the right index finger. The sound box is usually made from mulberry, the neck is made from walnut, and the adjustable frets are made from animal intestines or silk.

How is the setar used in todays times?

This instrument is a descendant of the Persian tambur of Khorasan, which is the progenitor of most lutes in the East. It originally had three strings, but a fourth string was added by Moshtaq Ali Shah, which gave it a larger sound and more complex tuning possibilities. It is traditionally played with the fingernail of the right index finger, but recently two distinguished master performers, Mohammad-Reza Lotfi, and Hossein Alizadeh, have used new techniques to play this instrument, giving the music a new style and sound. Almost forgotten during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this Iranian instrument is now enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

What are the parts of a setar?

It is a long-necked fretted string instrument that is made up of these parts:

  • Neck - The neck projects from the main body and is the base of the fingerboard.
  • Sound box- The sound box is an open chamber in a musical instrument that modifies the sound of the instrument.
  • Frets - The frets are made from gut or silk, have three or four threads, and are embedded around the neck.
  • Strings - The first string is named the "White String" and is made of steel. The second string is named the "Yellow String" and is made of Bronze or Phosphor-Bronze. The thinner string of the course is named the "Drone String" and is made of steel, and the thicker string of the course is named the "Bass String" and is made of Bronze or Phosphor-Bronze.
How is the setar played?

This instrument is played as the player is sitting down and holding it horizontally against his or her leg. The body of the instrument is positioned against the players right side, and the frets are on the left. The player holds the frets with the left hand and strums the strings with the right index finger.

Setars are not sitars

The sitar is an Indian stringed instrument that is descended from the Persian setar.

  • A sitar can have between 18 to 21 strings, a large bridge for the melodic strings and a small bridge for the harmonic strings. The sitar has a neck made from mahogany, and the chambers are made from calabash gourds.
  • The setar has four strings. The bridges of the sitar are traditionally made of deer horn, ebony or camel bone and the body is made from mulberry.