The ancestry of the setar can be traced to the ancient tanbour of pre-Islamic Persia. It is made of thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or twenty-six adjustable gut frets.
Setar, in Persian, means "three strings", but a fourth one was added by Moshtaq Ali Shah, a famous Setar player of the 18th century.
This "sympathetic" string is flot played but its echo highlights the predominant note of the avāz (a derived part of the modal system of the Persian traditional music).
It is a very "intimate" instrument, its confidential sound being the consequence of the years that it had to be played in secret, when musicians were persecuted. Moshtaq Ali Shah used to play at private musical evenings in restricted, often Soufic, cercles.
This great mystic called his instrument "tchoub-e-sagzani" - a stick to beat dogs - as a reaction against the puritains of the time who wanted to ban music.
Because of its delicacy, the setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mystics.
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