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Qanbūs (قنبوس)
Yemeni qanbūs
Yemeni qanbūs with 6 strings running in pairs, and an additional base string.
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification321.321
(Necked-bowl lute, instruments in which sound is produced by one or more vibrating strings (chordophones, string instruments), in which the resonator and string bearer are physically united and can not be separated without destroying the instrument, in which the strings run in a plane parallel to the sound table (lutes), in which the string bearer is a plain handle (handle lutes), in which the string bearer is a plain handle (handle lutes), whose body is shaped like a bowl (necked bowl lutes).)
DevelopedDeveloped in Yemen, possibly from barbat. Transferred to Indonesia (and to a wider extent including Malay world countries), where further developed into new forms.

A qanbūs (Arabic: قنبوس) is a short-necked lute that originated in Yemen[1] and spread throughout the Arabian peninsula. Sachs considered that it derived its name from the Turkic komuz, but it is more comparable to the oud.[2] The instrument was related to or a descendant of the barbat, a (possibly) skin-topped lute from Central Asia.[3] The qanbūs has 6 or 7 nylon strings that are plucked with a plectrum to generate sound. Unlike many other lute-family instruments, the gambus has no frets. Its popularity declined in Yemen during the early 20th century reign of Imam Yahya; by the beginning of the 21st century, the oud had replaced the qanbūs as the instrument of choice for Middle-Eastern lutenists.

Yemen migration saw the instrument spread to different parts of the Indian Ocean. In Muslim Southeast Asia (especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei), called the gambus, it sparked a whole musical genre of its own. Nowadays it is played in the traditional dance of Zapin and other genres, such as the Malay ghazal and an ensemble known as kumpulan gambus ("gambus group"). In the Comoros it is known as gabusi,[4] and in Zanzibar as gabbus.

In Yemen and Oman[edit]

The qanbus is a traditional instrument from Yemen carved from a single block of wood. It is also played in Oman, where it is called gabbus. The lower half of the top is covered in skin, and the upper half has a wooden soundboard, often with small soundholes. It has a floating bridge, a sickle-shaped pegbox and usually 7 nylon or gut strings in 4 courses, with the lowest course single. There also exist 3-course versions, with 6 or 5 strings, though these are less common.[5]

The Yemeni lute has 7 strings in four courses, tuned low note to high C DD GG CC. The first C string is a single string; strings D G and C are all pairs.[6]

In East Africa[edit]

A gabusi from the Comoros Islands. Same as the Indonesian gambus.

In Kenya and Tanzania, a related instrument was called the Kibangala. It used to be built and strung in the same way as the Qanbus. In the Comoros islands, a related instrument called the Gambusi is played, which is built in the same way but often has a flat-shaped pegbox, rather than the sickle-shape, and sometimes has a differently shaped soundbox. Both usually have 4 courses of strings, which can be double or single.[7][8][9] Several structural nuances exist between the original design (Anjouan, Mwali) and the later avatars in Mayotte.[9] The corrupted pronouciations Gaboussi, Gabusi, or Gaboussa are also met in Mayotte, and obviously preaches for a joined etymology with the Kabosy chordophone in N-W Madagascar.

In Indonesia and Malaysia[edit]

A boy playing a gambus Melayu in Indonesia.

The word gambus covers a variety of instruments, some with skin soundboards, some with wooden soundboards, some that are shaped like the Yemeni quanbūs, and some that are shaped like the Arabian oud. The instruments may have 3, 4 or 5 courses of strings, plus a single base string. To avoid confusion, various descriptors are used in the names by academic researchers.

In the Malay world there are two types of gambus: the gambus Melayu and the gambus Hadhramaut. "Gambus" can be used to refer simply to either type of instrument. The instruments are different than the Hasapi boat lutes. The instruments were "transmitted" from the Muslim world to the Malay world at an undermined time. Links to the Middle East begin as early as the 5th-6th centuries C.E., with trading networks and occupation in the 15th century. Experts have tentatively given dates for the instruments' arrival between the 9th and 15th centuries C.E. In looking for origins, musicologists have also noted some similarities with the Chinese pipa.[10][11]

The two types of gambus likely arrived at different times; the gambus Melayu likely arriving as the quanbus or barbat and developing over centuries. The gambus Hadhramaut likely developed in the 19th century after the arrival of the oud.[11]

An Indonesian man holding a dambus, a related instrument that always has a wooden soundboard and often a carved deer on the end of the pegbox in Indonesia.

Some modern luthiers in Indonesia and other countries have begun to make hybrid instruments, combining the gambus or dambus (?) with other instruments, such as the ud (Sabah), the hawaian ukulele (Flores) or the bluegrass mandoline (Lombok)[9][12][13] The corrupted pronunciation dambus is met in Bangka Belitung Islands[14] and also in a limited area from Sukamara Regency and Pangkalan Bun (Central Kalimantan).[15] Elsewhere in Indonesia, some other well known corruptions are Gambusu and Gambusi, respectively observed in Sulawesi and Gorontalo[16]..In Lombok, the mandoline-shaped gambus - actually a vague, fretless copy of Gibson's A-type bluegrass mandoline - is also locally named Manolin [17] which used to accompany Kemidi Rudat plays or Kecimol entertainment.

Gambus Melayu or gambus Hijaz[edit]

The gambus Melayu is also known as the gambus Hijaz, Panting, Gita Nangka, Gambus Seludang, Gambus Perahu, and Gambus Biawak. It retains a shape similar to the original qanbūs. It has a skin soundboard.[18]


Indonesia, in most places:A3 D4D4 G4G4 C5C5[10]
Riau Islands: G3 D4D4 G4G4 C5C5 for wire strings or A3 D4D4 G4G4 C5C5 for nylon strings[10]
Eastern Sumatra: G AA B DD AA EE (double courses tuned in unison)[19]
Brunei: E3E3 A3A3 D4D4[10] or DD GG CC[19]

Gambus Hadhramaut[edit]

The gambus Hadhraumaut is a gambus that resembles an oud. The name Hadhramaut refers to Eastern Yemen, and this form of the instrument may have arrived in Indonesia (and a wider extent to another Malay world countries) with immigrants from there in the 19th century, joining Muslim communities already established centuries earlier. The bowl is made of light woods, the neck of a hardwood. It has a wooden soundboard.[18] It is a fretless instrument with 11 strings in 6 courses, tuned low note to high:

(Notes in scientific pitch notation)
Arab tuning for oud: C2 F2F2 A2A2 D3D3 G3G3 C4C4[20]
Alternate for oud C EE AA DD GG CC[20]
Circle of fifths: B2 E3E3 A3A3 D4D4 G4G4 C5C5[20][10]
Circle of fifths: B EE AA DD GG BB[20]
Ghazal: A, DD, GG, CC, FF, BbBb

Gambus Seludang[edit]

The Gambus Seludang was another name for the gambus Hijaz with a specific reference to its monoxyle (like boat constructed from a single piece of timber) structure. The name came with the revival in Brunei, Riau and Sabah. In Sabah, this is similar in shape and size to the gambus Hijaz, but features a wooden resonator.[21]

Similar instruments[edit]

  • Gittern – a medieval European instrument built in the same way, but with a completely wooden soundboard.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Urkevich, Lisa (2014). Music and Traditions of the Arabian Peninsula: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. Routledge. p. 341. ISBN 9781135628161.
  2. ^ The gambus (lutes) of the Malay world: its origins and significance in zapin Music, Larry Hilarian, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 06 Jul 2004
  3. ^ Hilarian, Larry Francis (2003). "Documentación y rastreo histórico del laúd malayo (gambus)" [Documentation and historical tracking of the Malay lute (gambus)]. Desacatos (in Spanish) (12): 78–92. El gambus melayu que ahí llegó podría ser, o bien un descendiente directo del barbat persa, o del qanbus yemenita, que a su vez evolucionó del barbat.[translation: The malay gambus that arrived there could be either a direct descendant of the Persian barbat, or the Yemenite qanbus, which in turn evolved from the barbat.]
  4. ^ Simon Broughton; Mark Ellingham; Richard Trillo (1999). World Music: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Rough Guides. pp. 505–. ISBN 978-1-85828-635-8. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  5. ^ "ATLAS of Plucked Instruments - Middle East". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  6. ^ Samir Mokrani; Pierre d’ Herouville. "Notice a L'usage De La Conservation Du Musee Horniman, La Souche Et Le Luth, Entretien Avec Un Luthier De San'a Par Samir Mokrani & Pierre D' Herouville, Indice : Draft4 Mars 2006" (PDF). pp. 7, 28.
    3 chœurs de cordes doubles + une simple pour le qanbûé-sol-do pour le qanbûs...Jean LAMBERT a précisé dans son ouvrage que les cordes sont accordées comme suit, dans le sens croissant: Do, métal – Re , boyau (chœur de 2 à l'unisson) – Sol , boyau (chœur de 2 à l'unisson) – Do , boyau (chœur de 2 à l'unisson).
    [translation: 3 pairs of double strings + one simple for the qanbûé-sol-do for the qanbûs...Jean LAMBERT specified in his book that the strings are tuned as follows, in increasing direction: Do, metal - Re, gut (choir of 2 in unison) - G, gut (choir of 2 in unison) - C, gut (choir of 2 in unison).]
  7. ^ "ATLAS of Plucked Instruments - Africa". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  8. ^ "The Stringed Instrument Database: J-K". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d’Herouville, Pierre. "THE «GAMBUS» PROJECT".
  10. ^ a b c d e f Larry Francis Hilarian (May 2005). "The Structure and Development of the Gambus (Malay-Lutes)". The Galpin Society Journal. 58: 66–216. JSTOR 25163827.
  11. ^ a b Hilarian, L. F. (2003). "The gambus (lutes) of the Malay world". In J. S. Buenconsejo (ed.). A search in Asia for a new theory of music: A symposium organised by the Philippines Center for Ethnomusicology as the 7th International Conference of the Asia Pacific Society for Ethnomusicology (APSE). Quezon City, Philippines: UP Center for Ethomusicology. pp. 455–480. The gambus may have developed over the centuries in Malay world, however, the striking resemblance to qanbus or barbat, supports the theory that it was an "imported" instrument rather than being indigenous to Malay world albeit now modified and adapted...the gambus Hadhramaut was a later arrival to Malay world as the 'ud only arrived in Yemen in the 19th century.
  12. ^ "ATLAS of Plucked Instruments - South East Asia". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  13. ^ "The Stringed Instrument Database: G". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  14. ^ Pierre d'Hérouville. "Le Luth arabe dans le corridor malais" (PDF).
  15. ^ Pierre d'Hérouville. "Avatars du luth Gambus à Bornéo" (PDF).
  16. ^ Pierre d'Hérouville. "Périgrinations du Gambus aux Célèbes et aux Moluques" (PDF).
  17. ^ David Harnish (2021). Change and Identity in the Music Cultures of Lombok, Indonesia. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-47260-0.
  18. ^ a b Fadhilah Junuidin. "Gambus Hadhramawt Construction" (PDF).
  19. ^ a b Larry Francis Hilarian. "The Folk Lute (Gambus), and its symbolic expression in Malay Muslim Culture". Studia instrumentorum Musicae Popularis XVI Tarptautinės tradicinės muzikos tarybos Liaudies muzikos instrumentų tyrimų grupės XVI tarptautinės konferencijos straipsniai / ICTM Study Group on Folk Musical Instruments Proceedings from the 16th International Meeting. Nanyang Technological University / National Institute of Education, Singapore. p. 56.
  20. ^ a b c d Joseph M. Kinzer (2017). Bodies of Sound, Agents of Muslim Malayness: Malaysian Identity Politics and the Symbolic Ecology of the Gambus Lute (PDF) (Thesis). University of Washington.
  21. ^ Pierre d'Herouville. "Gambus Seludang Constructions, version 12-13" (PDF). Bruneian monoxyle Gambus Seludang is a local crossover design family in Brunei and Sabah. This name "Seludang" is reported by HILARIAN as a former vernacular nickname of the Gambus Hijaz, but the Bruneian making technics and organology – obvious specific feature is a 100% wooden soundboard...
  22. ^ d'Herouville, Pierre. "Gambus Seludang Constructions" (PDF). THE «PROCESS» PROJECT. p. 4.


A qanbus displayed in the instrument collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Labeled as "Syria. 89.4.394".

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