Of all the stringed instruments on Shireon the astori is by far the most widespread one. It's a relatively easy instrument to learn, though hard to master. Compared to many other instruments the astori has a pretty stiff price tag. Even a cheap, secondhand astori is rather expensive for anyone below the upper class. For the middle class, an astori is a hefty investment. For the lower class, it's an almost unobtainable dream.
The Parts that Make an Astori
The main parts of an astori are the neck, the strings and the body, the latter consisting of the soundboard and the back. All astoris have these parts, though different builders might have a slightly different design on some of them.
The neck is where the player pushes down the strings to make the right tones. To help with positioning the fingers at the right spot the neck has several frets across its length at specific places. These frets are traditionally made out of gut strings tied around the neck and wear out over time.
At the top of the neck you find the pegbox, which is where the strings' tuning pegs are located. The pegbox is at an angle from the neck, varying from about 30 to close to 90 degrees depending on the builder's preference.
The tuning pegs need to be made out of a kind of wood that will give enough friction to keep the strings tight enough. A good set of pegs might last up to a decade until they're worn down and need replacing, but usually they last a maximum of five years. Pegs need to be replaced by an astori builder.
Running from the pegbox down the neck to the soundboard is the strings. These come in pairs that are tuned to the same tone. A classical astori has eight pairs of strings, though some builders make astoris with fewer strings. These non-standard astoris are frowned upon by astori purists.
The strings themselves are made out of gut strings, usually from sheep. The first thing an astori player need to learn is to tune these strings, as they react to temperature, humidity, or simply by knocking the astori into something. As there are sixteen strings in total, and all pairs need to be tuned identical, long-time astori players can often instantly pin-point how long someone else have been playing from how accurate they have tuned their astori.
The front of an astori's body is the soundboard - a flat piece of wood with openings into the hollow body to amplify the sound. The bridge, which is where the strings are attached to the astori, is placed at the lower end of the soundboard.
The back is a curved piece of wood that together with the soundboard make the body of the astori. The shape of the back is important as only a small imperfection might distort the sound. It is made of thin strips of wood glued to a supporting wooden skeleton.
Due to the higher classes having enough money to worry about instrument aesthetics there is a market for astoris that are pieces of art. In some social circles among the more wealthy population on Shireon there is a certain degree of status to own an astori - or a few - made by the more renowned builders with extra decorative elements.
The most usual part to decorate is the pegbox, which can have designs cut into it without risking lack of grip and distortion of sound. Popular designs include animal heads or floral patterns.
More adventurous builders might make the holes in the soundboard into beautiful shapes, though a small imperfection here might distort the sound. Some artistic astoris have painted designs on the soundboard. These designs are rare on instruments intended for playing, as playing it would risk wearing away parts of the paint.
(more or less, depending on size)
Notable Astori Players
One of the best astori players in history was the bard Ethvaar Ilnariver. Having played the astori from a young age, he kept honing his skill through the decades he was active.
Perhaps known more for her collection of artfully made astoris than her actual skill, Kealee Alamaris is actually a decent player.
Although not his main bardic focus, Thrannan Eralor is rarely seen without his astori. He does have a rather peculiar playstyle, however, which gives him a unique sound.
Notable Astori Builders
Irhael's Strings, based in Thalor Alari, specializes in astoris with intricate designs made from trees native to Kael Thalori. They do have some more basic models, but even these are rather expensive, as Irhael's cater mostly to the more decadent and wealthy customers.