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Review: Setar Construction, An Iranian Musical Instrument by Nasser Shirazi

Review: Setar Construction, An Iranian Musical Instrument by Nasser Shirazi

Reviewed by Marc Connelly

Originally published in American Lutherie #77, 2004

Setar Construction, An Iranian Musical Instrument
Nasser Shirazi
Berkeley, CA, 2001

For those of you who wish to build an Iranian setar, it would be hard to imagine a finer, more complete text than that presented here by Mr. Shirazi. But if you confuse the setar with the more widely known Indian sitar, you would be in for a surprise. The setar is an ancient Iranian instrument whose variants and descendents have populated string bands throughout the Middle East and Africa for thousands of years. This long-necked, fretted, 3- or 4-stringed instrument with a gourd-shaped soundbox is played with a strumming motion by the index finger, either in traditional Iranian ensembles or as a solo instrument.

For lute makers, Neapolitan mandolin makers, bouzouki makers, and luthiers interested in gourd-shaped soundbox construction (or even using gourds themselves), there are some nifty construction tips to be had here. As I find myself spending too much time considering and reconsidering the relationship between the size of soundboxes and relative soundhole size and placement, I am intrigued by the traditional decisions that the great setar makers made in this regard. Mr. Shirazi’s personal investment in research of this instrument enabled him to include the dimensions of setar examples from three of the most important Iranian master setar builders. Yep, that’s in there too, along with a full-sized drawing of the soundbox staves, accurate drawings of all the important shapes, and photographs detailing key construction steps, including jigs and molds. Great attention is paid to construction details. The smallest point is addressed thoroughly and concisely. Each step of Setar Construction has been organized by a highly refined mind.

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