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Building the Kamanché

Building the Kamanché

by Nasser Shirazi

Originally published in American Lutherie #4, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

The word kamanché in the Persian language (Farsi) means “small bow.” This instrument, with varying shape, size, and material, is widely used in Middle Eastern countries. The kamanché described in this article is modeled after the Persian (Iranian) instrument.

The kamanché is a very old instrument and possibly dates back as much as 1500–2000 years, being another form of the ancient Indian ravanstron. In 1418 A.D. Ben Abd-ul-Cadir wrote a treatise (the manuscript of which is in the University of Leyden) which shows that its existence today has changed little since that time.

A 16th-century Iranian miniature painting in the Khamza of the poet Nizami shows a kamanché very similar to the one described below. Various early European travelers to Iran have described it also. Among these are Sir W. Ouseley in 1819,1 and Sir Percy M. Sykes.2 Sykes describes a kamanché in Khorasan, an eastern province of Iran, as follows: “...made of walnut wood. The total length is 37", with fingerboard 9" in length. The instrument is handled like a violoncello; but in shape resembles a mandolin with a long spike of worked iron. The belly is constructed from a pumpkin covered with parchment and mounted with stripes of bone radiating from a turquoise. The neck is pierced on each side with three holes, and with a hollow at the back, 3" in length; there are three wire strings and six pegs, three of which are dummies. The bow resembles our double-bass bows and is 22" in length; it is made of gypchin wood and has a strap and a loop with which to tighten the horsehair. To complete the equipment, a bit of beeswax is tied on to serve as rosin.”

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