Introduction. In Iran (formerly known as Persia), different kinds of lutes are and have been popular since ancient times. This is a brief introduction to Persian lutes.
A lexical discussion of the word lute. It is believed that the word "lute" is derived from the Arabic term "al-oud العود". On the other hand, many theorists including "Eckhard Neubauer" believe that the term "oud عود" may be an Arabic term borrowing from the Persian term "roud رود" (meaning string). However, Richard J. Dumbrill, suggests that the term "roud" came from the Sanskrit rudri (meaning "stringed instrument").
The lute family of musical instruments. Curt Sachs defines a lute as any musical instrument composed of a body, and a neck that serves both as a handle and as a means of stretching the strings beyond the body.
Barbat. The short-necked lute, "barbat بربت", is one of the oldest musical instruments of Persia. In the Persian language, "bar بر" means chest, and "bat بت" means duck. Many Persian researchers including Abu Abdollah Kharazmi believe that the "barbat" is called so because the shape of this instrument is similar to the chest of a duck. The iconic master barbat player "Barbad باربد", flourished late 6th - early 7th century CE. His name has been mentioned in many works by Persian authors and poets. Currently, barbat is played in Persian classical music.
Dotar. Since ancient times, the "dotar" has been popular as a two-stringed long-necked lute. The term "dotar دوتار" is a combination of the terms "do دو" and "tar تار" meaning "two" and "string", respectively. The dotar is quite popular in the folk music of the Golestan, Khorasan, and Mazandaran provinces of Iran.
Qopuz. The "qopuz قوپوز" is a nine-stringed long-necked lute popular in Azerbaijan. A very similar version of the qopuz with the name "chogur چگور" is popular in the Hamedan province of Iran.
Setar. The "setar سهتار" is a four-stringed, long-necked lute that is one of the most popular musical instruments in Persian classical music today. Note that the term "setar" is a combination of the terms "se سه" and "tar تار" meaning "three" and "string", respectively. The setar had three strings and the famous historical master of Persian setar Moshtagh Alishah Kermani added the fourth one to the setar.
Tanbour. The "tanbour تنبور" is perhaps the oldest Persian lute. Having a long neck and three strings (in the past, it had two strings), it is popular in the Kermanshah province of Iran and recently it has been used in Persian classical music also.
Tar. The "tar تار" is a six-stringed long-necked lute that is one of the most popular instruments in Persian classical music today. Additionally, it is performed in the folk music of the cities Behbahan, Shiraz, and Shushtar. Originally, the tar had five strings, but the famous master of Persian tar, Ostad Darvish Khan, added a sixth string.
[D] Richard J. Dumbrill, The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East, Tadema Press, London, 1998.
[Sa] Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1940.
[Sm] Douglas A. Smith, A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance, Lute Society of America, 2002.
For more on Persian musical instruments check the following notes: