CHAPTER 5: Dulcimers in other countries since 1800 > The santur area
References date from the 18th century, and are discussed in Chapter 7. Instruments are catalogued as being from the same century, and are remarkably little different from the standard type used today, from which there is also virtually no deviation. Most are quite plain, although Hipkins shows one beautifully inlaid example (fig. 227), and Massoud Maleki spoke of the custom of inscribing poetry on the soundboard.
All seem agreed that the santur is a central instrument in Persian classical music: Nettl is particularly interesting in this connection, with the notion that a musician is scarcely complete unless he is proficient on the santur (59).
Some say the standard ensemble is simply santur and tonbuk (drum), others that it is a trio with a flute as well (60). It is apparently also used occasionally for singing and dancing to (60). As with most of the santurs, playing techniques involve alternate fast runs and slower passages using tremolo. Some players add occasional staccato passages, hammering with one hand and damping each note immediately with the other; they may also 'bend' a note as an ornament or decoration, although in general this is much more characteristic of China.
Traditionally, hammers are delicately carved in thin wood (fig. 228); although they are so standard that they are now mass-produced in plastic instead of being hand-made in wood.
The bridges on the Persian santur have a basic position dividing the strings into the ratio 1:2, at the octave; this is but rarely used elsewhere, and may be altered according to the particular dastgah being used.
One player held an English student audience spellbound for some time with his own music, finished his performance with When the Saints go Marching In and then proceeded to join in a Western-type jam-sesion.
Anthony Baines remembers a Persian in Cairo some years ago, playing a pedal-dulcimer on a little table, but no further details are known, and no other examples seem to suggest parallels.
Lura Jafran Jones wrote a Master's thesis [c. 1975] at the University of Washington, Seattle, entitled The Persian santur: no copy was available for study, though the concluding statement suggests that there is very little material on the instrument, rather it is a study concerned with the music the santur made.
In 2002 I discovered Manoochehr Sadeghi's 1971 master's dissertation, on the art of improvisation on the Persian santur, is available here.