The Tanbur is the ancestor to most long-necked, plucked stringed instruments. Its pear shaped belly is normally carved out of one piece of mulberry wood with a long neck and fourteen gut frets.
Some modern Tenburs are made of bent ribs of mulberry wood. The sound board, 3-4 milimeters thick, is also made of mulberry wood which has numerous small holes for added resonance.
The ancient Tanbur used to have two silk or in some instances gut strings tuned in Fourths or Fifths, similar to the Dotar. Although the Tanbur and the Dotar share a similar history and are basically the same, they have developed their own repertoires, playing techniques and functions.
The Tanbur has always been considered a sacred instrument associated with the Kurdish Sufi music of Western Iran and it is belived that its repertoire is based on ancient Persian music. Up until the last fifty years this instrument was used only during djam gatherings (devotional or liturgic ceremonies) of the Ahle-Haqq (the people of truth) Sufi order.
The Tanbur repertoire is generally divided into two parts :
I. Haghighi (true and celestial)
II. Majazi (artificial and earthly)
The Tanbur repertoire, like Setar and all other Persian instruments, is taught orally and has been passed on from generation to generation from father to child and master to student for thousands of years.