All About Persian Setar


Setar is a Persian musical instrument with an interesting story. It has a pear shaped body. Although the word "setar" means three strings in persian, a modern setar has four strings. First setars had three strings but 150 years ago a fourth one was added by a famous setar master Moshtagh Ali Shah. The fourth string gave Persian Setar a better sound and players a possibility of more complex tuning alternatives.



Structure of Setar

Setar is a small lute, played with a flat pick. Setar is body consists of two parts; a soundbox and a long neck. The box is usually made of walnut or mulberry while the neck is made of walnut wood. Setar is like a western mandolin but with a longer neck. This instrument originally had three strings. However it has changed through time, now it has four strings and its frets vary between 22 to 28. All of them are made of gut. The soundbox has a strong resonance which produces the harmony of the notes. The harmony of the sound that master players are able to achieve is the key aspect of this instrument. These 4 pegs help to tune your setar tune.

Setar is played with the index finger’s long nail. When it is strummed, it gives the melody and drone together. Setar has a soft timbre but sometimes it can become loud and vigorous.

When it comes to frets, setar provides 22 to 28 movable frets on the fingerboard to create great sounds. When we look at the sizes, 22 cm to 30 cm can be average for sound box. The length of the finger board can be varied between 40 cm to 48 cm. The width of the finger board is 3 to 3.5 cm. Kamaliyan model and Hashemi model are two types of setar according to Persian setar soundbox size.

If you have a small soundbox, you have a Hashemi model with higher sound and if you have a large soundbox, your model is the Kamaliyan model with the bass sound. These are pieces of information about the structure of the setar to help you before you go to tune your instrument. After that, you can learn your setar’s strings and how to tune them in the next title.



Historical Background of Setar

Most pages and history of musical instruments mention that Tar is one of the newest instruments for Persia. However, there are some narratives include Tar has earlier history than that. Tar was occured in Farabi era according to that anecdotal. Additional to him, Safi al-Din al-Urmawi and others helped to complete Tar instrument. As a physical evidence for this claim, a painting from Hasht Behesht palace in Safavid era is shown. Also, there two paintings which have Tar as instrument to show that in Shiraz in 1775 CE and 1790 CE. What does it mean that Zand era has Tar instrument too as popular. On the other hand, there is dilemma about it which is that  there is no any specific name for this instrument in the paintings. The common comment about this situation is that those people were called different name for this instrument. So, the name of Tar for that instrument bases on Qajar era which Tar was gotten that name in Qajar era with Naser al-din Shah Qajar. When we say that, we can assume that this instrument date with Tar name is back to 200 or 250 years ago. Qajar era gives us this evidence with a painting which Mirza Ali Akbar Khan Farahani is teaching the tar. That is the reason people determine Persian Tar as one of the newest instrument for Persia.


Sound Performance of Setar

Setar's soundbox is covered with thin wood and its long neck is completed with four strings. It has a wide melodic range which is very distinguishing. Its range is almost more than twenty scale degrees. Traditionally it is played with the right hand's index finger nail. But performers of Persian Setar have introduced new techniques in this century. Their brave attitude towards setar gave it a whole new meaning. The left hand playing technique with other aspects including the shape covered with relatively thin wood improved the sound.

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Contribution Of Setar To Persian Music

In modern Iran, Setar is considered to be the supreme instrument of Persian classical music. However, it was almost forgotten during the nineteenth century. It took almost 100 years to gain its popularity back. During that era, the increased popularity of other instruments shadowed the reputation of Setar. However, the new enthusiasts of Persian music started perform with Setar again. In the late 1970s, new generation of classical music performers explored Setar's power and brought it back to public attention once again.

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All the Persian Setar models sold in stores are handmade. Most of them are made of metal strings and some of them have strings made of animal's intestine. They are the products of excellent craftsmen. If you are looking for buying a convenient Persian Setar with a fair value please visit our store in İstanbul or check our online catalogue. A wide variety of Setars for every taste exist in our catalogue. Different sizes, for various expectations can be found in our store and online catalogue.

For further information please see our Setar Collection


Cultural Importance of Setar in Iran Today

Setar has a huge cultural importance in Persian music today. This importance is fueled by the historical roots of the Setar instrument. It has been around for hundreds of years. Even before the Islam, Setar was a part of Persian Culture.

Although losing its popularity at times, Setar’s influence in Persian music has been revived nowadays. Thanks to wonderful modern works of musicians from Iran such as Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Setar is widely recognized as a great instrument in Iran in 2020.

Emotional Value of Setar in Iran

In addition to being an almost magical musical instrument, another reason why it regained its popularity is the emotional meaning of the Setar for people of Iran. For many, Setar is their national heritage from their ancestors. They feel that they must protect and cherish their heritage. Culturally speaking, this is an amazing phenomenon. For the younger generations, not only knowing about an important part of your people’s artistic history but also experiencing the influence of an instrument like Setar, is one of the greatest cultural treasures.


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In addition to knowing about your culture’s history of art, new generations have a chance to play the same instrument as their ancestors did. It is a wonderful opportunity for those young people because it allows them to have a real connection with their ancestors.

The pure sound and musical quality of Setar already make it very impactful and special. Yet with its historical background, Setar has a special place in Persian people’s hearts. It is a part of their identity and even the sounds coming from Setar tells you something about the people that used to roam in their lands and play Setar.

What lies in the future for Setar?

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Thanks to its historical background and its ability to captivate listeners, Setar has been a part of Iran Culture for long years. It is safe to assume that it will not go extinct or be forgotten in Iran for any time soon.

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How to play setar?

The note C in setar is the middle C in piano. In Iranian music, the do is semi-pitch, as in classical music. The sound of the instrument may disturb the ears of the person playing it. Therefore, the base note of La is used to tune the first string for practice. Another reason to use la is the quality of the wire. As a result of this process, the durability of the wires increases. 

At the same time, it is easier to apply techniques such as putting fingers on the strings and pressing the strings. A unique melody is usually considered for each Dastgah. However, the emotion and song theme of the player may differ according to each Dastgah system. So, if the first string needs to be tuned on the note C and the second string on the note G, respectively, it may be possible to tune each under one fret.

Also, you should know that there should be no twisting of the wrist when placing your hand over the bowl and that setar should be placed on it like a half-open fist. The little finger and thumb should be on either side of the strings. While turning, the index finger cracks should not be from the first knuckle and should be made in the second knuckle of the index finger.

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