How To Buy Your First Oud
I’m glad to you are reading this, because that means you are interested in buying an Oud! The Oud is a fascinating instrument with a long history. I’ll give you some suggestions and tips when looking for your first Oud.
Added on March 30, 2014 – We have noticed that many people are interested in this subject, so we created a more comprehensive resource for buying an Oud, called the Ultimate Oud Buyers’ Guide on our Oud for Guitarists website. You can find more detailed comparison of Ouds, Oud makers, strings and Oud picks, pretty much everything you need to know about buying an Oud.
Types of Ouds
You will first need to know what kind of Oud you want to buy, because there are several types of Ouds available: Arabic Ouds, Turkish Ouds, Iraqi Ouds, and Iranian Ouds.
Arabic Ouds are by far the most popular Ouds available. You will find these used in the music of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant. They are known for a nice, deep, round sound, with very low sustain. Low sustain is not a bad thing, in fact, it is preferred sound. There is a very wide range of quality that can be found in this category, from decorative trinkets to exquisite professional instruments.
Turkish Ouds are quite a different animal. Turkish Ouds are brighter as they are tuned at a higher pitch than Arabic Ouds. They are also built with a thinner soundboard creating a lighter and brighter tone and timbre. A friend of mine who builds Ouds will even sand down his soundboard a little bit just to get more of that Turkish sound. They also try to minimize the amount of bracing used on the soundboard so it resonates more. The Turkish Oud is at least an inch shorter in scale than the Arabic Ouds as well. The nut is almost non existent creating a tone with more buzz. The difference between Arabic Ouds and Turkish Ouds is very similar to the difference between Classical guitars and Flamenco guitars.
Turkish Ouds may be a good bet for a beginner because the action will likely be low making it easy to play. Also, inexpensive factory built models tend to be quite trustworthy and well-built.
Iraqi Ouds may have a floating bridge meaning that the bridge is not fastened to the wood face. This also gives a brighter tone. The bridge is similar to the construction of some Mandolins and Irish Bouzoukis, where the strings are attached to the bottom of the instrument instead of the bridge. This is the preferred Oud of Nasser Shamma and Munir Bashir. I personally love the sound of these Ouds, but some people don’t like them either. It all depends on your preference and the sound that you want to make.
Iranian Ouds are again a very different breed. They are called Barbat in Farsi and are the culmination of research into the design of historical Ouds in Middle Eastern art and literature. Apparently, the Oud was an important instrument in Iran but for some reason fell out of use in Iran and became the most important instrument in Arab music. The Barbat was reinvented in just the last 30 years in Iran by one particular master luthier. He made the body smaller allowing more playability further down the neck. The bowl shape is less wide, but slightly deeper, making it easier to hold and giving the bass notes a punchy sound. The bass sound is deep, punchy and strong, but the high end is bit weaker than Arabic Ouds. It fits well into the sound required for Iranian music and ensembles.
In general, when buying an Oud an important part is making sure it has low action. Action is the term for the distance between the fingerboard and the strings. If the strings are close to the the fingerboard it will be easier to play. This is important because it will make or break your experience and really dampen your mood, specially when putting in a lot of practice trying to improve your technique. An Oud with high action will be hard to progress beyond the basics. Ouds are not built with truss rods like guitars so the neck is not adjustable. It is better to see the Oud for yourself to determine how the action is. If you are buying online, ask for pictures of the neck from the side if you are in doubt.
Use the Proper Strings
It is important not to put too heavy gauge strings on your Oud, especially if you have bought an inexpensive Oud. Oud strings of many types and gauges can be ordered online so don’t risk putting heavy classical guitar strings on it. Also, if you buy an Arabic Oud, don’t put D’Addario Turkish Oud strings on it. They are meant for a different tuning, and if you use that tuning you may put more pressure on your Oud than necessary.
Low Quality or High Quality
If you are already a musician and know a thing or two about tone woods, then use the standards you know best when looking for a decent Oud. Better quality Ouds will naturally use ebony tuning pegs, ebony fingerboard, and a solid spruce top, which may be made of two pieces of spruce glued and braced together. Other woods used for the bowl back are maple, walnut, palisander, and padouk. If you can tell the Oud is made out of these woods, then you are getting into more serious craftsmanship.
Lower quality Ouds will never use ebony, the tuning pegs may be difficult to tune.
Where to Start Looking
Most likely you will start looking for an Oud online, but some of you are traveling to the Middle East and want to pick up one directly from the source. If this is the case, be assured that unless you have researched where to find a decent Oud wherever you are going, you will mostly find decorative Ouds in tourist locations. You may find some playable Ouds in tourist locations but make sure you try them out before making an offer, and don’t forget to bargain well and hard. If you do find a decent shop that sells some nice looking Ouds that would probably be your best bet. Again, don’t forget to bargain.
Most people will probably look online and order something from Ebay, or from the maker themselves. This is a great way to get a new Oud. If you are buying from Ebay, find out where the Oud was built, and who built it. Check this information online, or with Mike’s Oud forums to determine their reliability.
The best way to get a decent Oud is to know the maker and order directly from them. This way you can get exactly what you want, and be assured of what you are getting. The best builders have a long tradition of Oud making perhaps passed down from older generations, and have a website you can visit. Some builders even ship overseas.
If you live on the West Coast of North America, I know of a couple places that might have some Ouds that you can see and play.
Gandharva Loka, Vancouver, Canada
This shop specializes in world instruments, and has had some Ouds in stock. They can probably order them for you as well.
Long and McQuade, Vancouver, Canada
Reseller of Godin’s recently designed MultiOuds. These Ouds are a step in the right direction for the future of electric Ouds. The electronics are unparalleled, and the playability and craftsmanship is pure genius. The possibilities are endless for the MultiOud. However, somewhat lacking in aesthetics, this is not the way to go for the purist or the traditionalist. Long and McQuade can order them for you as well.
Richard Hankey, Washington State, USA
Richard is an Oud builder, and specializes in the restoration and preservation of the Nahat style Oud. The Nahat style has been regarded as one of the best Oud builders of all time.
Dusty Strings, Washington State, USA
Specializing in Acoustic instruments, this retailer has been known to sell an Oud or two. Contact them directly for more details.
Decent factory built ouds.
Custom exquisite ouds
European Luthier Dimitris Rapakousios
Khalid Balhaiba Ouds
Nazih Ghadban Ouds, hailing from the Levant.
Mohammadi Brothers Ouds and Barbat, Iranian luthiers.
Turkish Oud Master craftsman Faruk Turunz, soundboard innovator.
I hope you found this article helpful. It is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to world of Oud, but it should get you on your way. Happy playing!
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