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Rabāb used to be a term for any stringed instrument.

Ancient rabab

rabāb or rabābah, an Arabic fiddle in the 10th century. Parent of the medieval European rebec or rubebe (11th-18th century Mediterranean/Balkans) and lira (like the lyre?) The ancient rabāb was the ancestor of almost all European bowed instruments. It had a membranous belly, 2-3 strings, and narrow neck. Its range was about an octave.

Medieval r*bab


Large rebab, more range than the ancient rabab. (similar instrument - kamanche or khomanche) Iraqi and Bedouin - joza, variant with coconut-shell soundbox.

Central and East Asia

The more western, the higher pitched the instrument (?).

Huqin (instrument family) - Chinese variant

Morin khuur - in Mongolia

Kyrgyztan - kobyz

Mughal Empire The seni rabab - wood body with resonator and six strings, no frets and traditionally no sympathetic strings.

Kabuli rabab (Afghan) - hollow wood body with gut or nylon strings.

Modern r*bab

The modern r*bab usually has a small, rounded body, covered with a membrane on the front. Long thin neck with pegbox, and no more than three strings. No fingerboard, spike to rest it on ground during performance. Played held upright, resting on floor or player's lap.


Rebab is a component of gamelan, as a bowed two-stringed lute made of wood or coconut shell covered with hide. Usually two per gamelan ensemble, one for each scale (pelog and slendro). Sometimes used in healing rituals.

Rest of Southeast Asia

Used for healing rituals in eastern Malaysia.


Thailand: saw sam sai, three-stringed spike fiddle (and related saw u and saw duang)

Cambodia: tro Khmer, coconut-shell fiddle



Tuva: byzaanchy and igil, spike fiddles

China: Yehu, diyingehu, erhu, erxian - related, bowed long-necked spike fiddles with two or three strings

Bulgaria: gadulka (related to Cretan lyra, which is entirely unrelated to lyre)

== Notes ==

Rabab - original ancestor.

Rebab - used in gamelan, general name for r*bab in most resources.

Robab or rubab - originated in Afghanistan. (Britannica 1911: The pear-shaped instrument...with strings plucked by the fingers, — the lute of the 6th century A.D., — is seen first on a frieze from Afghanistan.) Possibly diverged from here. Short-necked lute with three melody and 2-3 drone strings, usually nylon.

Rabob - Central Asian single-piece instrument?






Image resources

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/89.4.403/ (Algerian rebab)

https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10826/ (Central Asian rebab, c. 1880)

http://collections.nmmusd.org/Gamelan/9870/Rebab9870.html (Javanese rebab, used in gamelan)

https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=575113&partId=1 (Javanese rebab, c.1800)

https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3439763&partId=1 (Central Asian rabob, Xanthus)

https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3456696&partId=1&searchText=rabab (Bedouin rebabah)