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Review: Building the Kamanché

Review: Building the Kamanché

by Nasser Shirazi

Includes full-scale plan

Available from Nasser Shirazi

P.O. Box 4793, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

$30, including shipping and handling

Previously published in American Lutherie #92, 2007



The kamanché is a traditional Persian stringed instrument, widely played in classical Iranian music ensembles in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, which is thought to be one of the ancestors of the violin. It appears often in historical paintings and has been described in literature by travelers to Iran and other Middle Eastern countries as early as 1418AD, but it dates back as far as 1500 to 2000 years. The word “kamanché” means “small bow” in Farsi. The general shape has remained the same throughout its history, but changes have been made in construction techniques and materials. Steel strings similar to violin strings replaced silk strings, and, in the past century, the number of strings was increased from three to four.

Approximately 35" in length overall, the kamanché is a spike fiddle, held upright as the player sits on the floor and braces the instrument on his calf or the floor. The instrument is slightly rotated by the player, who uses a variable-tension horsehair bow.

The kamanché has a round hardwood neck; a soundbox made either from a gourd, coconut shell, or from wood that has been carved or bent; a worked metal spike on the bottom; and pegs carved from walnut, maple, or sometimes ebony. The soundbox, fingerboard, pegs, and crown may be decorated with bone, shell, exotic woods or semiprecious stones. Makers interested in building a kamanche will have to find the somewhat unusual materials needed to cover the opening of the soundbox — for instance baby lamb skin (commonly used in Iran), fish skin, or pericardium (the membrane around a cow’s heart). If the above are not available, you may substitute deer skin.

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