The Zarb Instrument (Tombak, Tonbak, Donbak, Dombak)

ZARB - (ضَرب or ضرب), also tombak, tonbak, donbak, dombak (تنپک, تنبک, دنبک، تمپک), is a goblet drum from Persia (ancient Iran). It is considered the principal percussion instrument of Persian music. The tonbak is normally positioned diagonally across the torso while the player uses one or more fingers and/or the palm(s) of the hand(s) on the drumhead, often (for a ringing timbre) near the drumhead's edge. Sometimes tonbak players wear metal finger rings for an extra-percussive "click" on the drum's shell. The instrument is also played with all ten fingers, producing rolls using all fingers and also snaps & strikes on the side of the drum that allows for complex rhythmic patterns unique to the Zarb drum amongst all percussion instruments of the world!

Shirzad likes to play on tonbaks that are inlaid with khatamkari work.

Khātam (Persian: خاتم‎) is an ancient Persian technique of inlaying. It is a version of marquetry where art forms are made by decorating the surface of wooden articles with delicate pieces of wood, bone and metal precisely-cut intricate geometric patterns. Khatam-kari (Persian: خاتم‌کاری‎) or khatam-bandi (Persian: خاتم‌بندی‎) refers to the art of crafting a khatam. Common materials used in the construction of inlaid articles are gold, silver, brass, aluminum and twisted wire.

Designing of inlaid articles is a highly elaborate process. There are sometimes more than 400 pieces per square inch in a work of average quality. In each cubic centimeter of inlaid work, up to approximately 250 pieces of metal, bone, ivory and different kinds of wood are laid side by side, glued together in stages, smoothed, oiled and polished. Inlaid articles in the Safavid era took on a special significance as artists created their precious artworks. Woods used include betel, walnut, cypress and pine.

The Shahtar (Customized Tanbur)

TANBUR - The original two-stringed Kurdish/Persian tanbur (aka, tanbour, tambur) is the forefather of all stringed instruments in the world and dates back many thousands of years. The tanbur has a deep pear shaped body with a long neck.

The instrument is traditionally made of Mulberry wood and is fretted with cat or cow guts. The metal strings are fastened with front and side tuning pegs. In ancient times the tanbur had strings of guts.

For many centuries the pear shaped body of the instrument was carved from a single piece of wood. Ever since the 1950s the body of the instrument has been made of bent ribs of mulberry wood, instead of the traditional single piece.

The great 20th century tanbur maker Nariman along with the help of Ostad Elahi shaped the modern look of the tanbur.

The tanbur and its name date back before recorded history. Historians cannot agree about the exact origins of the Kurdish/Persian tanbur, however the first documentation of its existence comes from ancient Babylon.

There is also documentation in the form of Egyptian bas-relief sculptures that prove the instrument was in use in the 26th dynasty of Egypt (circa 600 B.C.). The ancient Greeks named it the pandoura. The name tanbur has also been applied to dozens of different instruments worldwide creating a great deal of confusion.

The instrument is also known to have been used by the Zoroastrians and in the Sassanian courts (AD 224–651).

Shah Khoshin, a saint of the Ahl-e Haqq helped popularize the instrument during the 12th century. The Kurdish tanbur and its melodies were used in spiritual gatherings (Zekr, Jam) of the Ahl-e Haqq (a.k.a. Ahl-e Hakk, Ahl-I Haqq) for meditation and chanting purposes ever since the 14th century.

Up to the 20th century the instrument was considered so sacred that it was not to be played for people outside of the Ahl-e Haqq order. Its melodies and modes were so heavily guarded that they were only passed down from master to disciple.

As with the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium, the evolution of the tanbur, its melodies, and style of playing were also characterized by long periods of virtual standstill, “punctuated" by episodes of very fast development.

For thousands of years up to the beginning of the 20th century, the Kurdish/Persian tanbur only had two strings. In the early part of the 20th century, Nur Ali Elahi (a.k.a., Ostad Elahi, Nour Ali Elahi, Nur Ali Nemati, Hajj Nur Ali, Nur Ali Shah) a peerless master of the tanbur added a third string which is tuned to the same pitch as the bottom string. He also added a 14th fret.

Nur Ali Elahi’s innovations and contributions to the tanbur were extremely important and advanced the instrument to new levels.

Beyond the physical facelift the tanbur received in the 20th century, it’s method of playing also became a lot more advanced.

The derivatives of the tanbur include the Greek buzuki, the guitar, the Romanian tamburitza, the Indian sitar and tambura.




The Shahtar is the result of 10 years of Shirzad's research & study on the tonality of the tanbur which has culminated into the building & enhancement of the Tanbur instrument, with the conceptualization and help of master instrument builder Kazem Ziaebrahimi, Shirzad was able to build an instrument which combines 4 very important Persian instruments, the Oud, Tar, Setar & Tanbur into a full bodied instrument that has increased the range and tonal possibilities of the instrument while still being true to the original Tanbur.

By adding a fourth string, quarter tones and combining techniques unique to each one of the above instruments, his tonality, style & sound is unique among all string instruments which is why he decided to name his instrument the Shahtar.

The Shahtar also incorporates 2 pickups which further allows for the change & precision of the tonality of the instrument.

This type of instrument enhancement was last performed by one of the Persian music biggest legends, Ostad Darvish Khan which added a fourth string to the Setar instrument & a sixth string to the Tar instrument.






Shirzad's latest instrument was made by master instrument maker Mr. Mehdi Habibi,
watch how he makes Tanbur instruments in the below video!