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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Which set of strings is the best for my oud?

What's the difference between "Arabic" and "Turkish" tuning?
Can I tune my Arabic oud to Turkish tuning? Can I tune my Turkish oud to Arabic Tuning?

How should the oud be tuned?

How does changing the tuning affect string tension?

What materials are oud strings made from?

My new strings keep going of tune. How do I get them to stabilize?

Where can I buy an oud?

Which set of strings is the best for my oud?

Every oud is different, and what works well on one oud may not work the best on another.  Manufacturers may offer several different sets classified by tension or tuning or scale length or a combination of these factors, sometimes throwing in misleading terms that tend to confuse more than explain. Or they may offer as little one set. But it's really a "best-compromise" on their part, and understandably so given the great variations between ouds. Depending on your instrument and your own demands and tastes, these sets may be just right. Sometimes however, they are indeed a compromise. Read on for specific information about tunings, scale length, tension and materials.  The only sure method for determining the best strings for your oud is to try some different sets. 

What's the difference between "Arabic" and "Turkish" tuning? Can I tune my Arabic oud to Turkish tuning? Can I tune my Turkish oud to Arabic Tuning?

As regards strings, the differences between Arabic and Turkish-style ouds can be be very confusing. Both styles can share the same scale length, soundboard thickness, soundboard response and playability. Basically, the only single factor differentiating Turkish ouds and the Arabic variety is the fact that Turkish ouds are tuned one whole step above Arabic ouds. The tuning patterns are the generally same (mainly 4ths--see below). Since Turkish tuning is higher, it will increase the tension that the strings exert on the face of the oud.  For this reason, it is not advisable to tune an Arabic oud up to Turkish tuning.  Doing so can severely damage the oud. If for some reason you wanted to tune an Arabic oud up a whole step, you would need a custom set of strings.  However, it is perfectly fine to tune a Turkish oud down to Arabic tuning, although the resulting string tension may be too low on standard string sets.  A custom set might be necessary for ideal sound.

How should the oud be tuned?

Tuning patterns vary from person to person, and according to maqam (musical mode or scale). Courses are always tuned in 4ths, with the lowest two courses tuned according to maqam and personal taste (not necesarily in 4ths, although some Turkish-style players are tuning their entire oud in 4ths.). These two courses are often tuned up or down one whole step depending on maqam. This poses a bit of a problem for pre-made sets, since the tension on these lower two courses must be set to perform well across the whole-step tuning variation. Generally, I'm of the opinion that it is better to choose the tension of these two courses based on the tuning used most frequently, then split the difference. This should give satisfactory results for custom sets. For pre-made sets, it's generally better to choose based on the lower tuning, so the tension will increase rather than decrease when changing the tuning. Below are common tunings:

Turkish oud tunings Arabic oud tunings

Turkish EABead tuning

This is the traditional Turkish Tuning.

Arabic CFAdgc oud tuning

This is the oud tuning most used by many
modern players such as Simon Shaheen.

Turkish C#F#Bead Tuning

This is a tuning favored by many
contemporary Turkish players.

Arabic DGAdgc oud tuning

This tuning is often used as an option
when playing a maqam in D.

 

Arabic CFAdgcf high f oud tuning

This tuning is used for 7-course ouds with a floating bridge (Bashir-style). 

Without the low C, it is used on both fixed (classic) and floating bridge ouds for a higher range.  Anouar Brahem uses this tuning.

How does changing the tuning affect string tension?

For a given scale length and tuning:

· Increasing string diameter (gauge) will increase the tension, decreasing the diameter will lower tension.
· Tuning up or down one whole step will change the tension by ~.8kg.

NOTE: This is especially important to know, since tuning up all courses 1 whole step (e.g: trying out Turkish tuning on a normally Arabic-tuned oud) could possibly damage your instrument due to the great increase in tension. It's best to lower the overall string gauges when tuning up a whole step. On the other hand, if you are tuning down 1 whole step, the tension will be greatly decreased, resulting in a drastic sound change (not necessarily for the worse), or possibly rendering the strings too loose for good playability.

· For every 1cm change in scale length (at the same tuning) the tension will change by ~.13kg.

For calculating tensions of plain strings (not wound) you can use Arto's String Calculator

What materials are oud strings made from?

Nylon
The most common material for the highest (treble) courses. Sometimes used for the third course. Most often transparent, but also available in black or red. Plain nylon is often glossy in appearance, whereas rectified nylon is finished to a matte sheen for increased grip when plucking with the fingers (as in classical guitar or lute). Either is used for oud.

Nylon Multifilament (floss) Silver wound
Used for the lower courses

PVF (fluorocarbon)
Plain, unwound strings that have a higher density than nylon. At the same tuning and scale, PVF strings will be thinner gauge and brighter sounding than their nylon conterpart.

Nylgut
A sythetic "gut" material, milky-white in appearance. Also denser than nylon, but with a warm sweet sound. Used for the two upper courses. Made exclusively by Aquilacorde.

Nylgut multifilament Silver and Copper wound
Used for the lower courses, wound with either silver or copper wire. Made exclusively by Aquilacorde.

My new strings keep going of tune. How do I get them to stabilize?

Ordinarily strings take some time to stretch in and come to a stable pitch. Pull the string sideways across the face of the oud a bit and retune. After twelve or so times, the string will be stretched in and hold its pitch.

Video Demo:

 

Where can I buy an oud?

Aside from the question of Arabic vs. Turkish style, there are generally two categories of ouds.  The more expensive, luthier-built, ouds are made small workshops by a dedicated luthier and possibly apprentice(s) or assistant(s).  These ouds will always have a label inside with information about the maker (in rare cases the label may have fallen out of an old oud).  The less expensive, factory-built, ouds are made in factories, and vary a great deal in quality.

It is entirely possible to for a factory oud to equal or surpass a luthier oud in some ways, but in general luthier-built ouds are of higher quality.  These are not always clear distinctions, since a small factory may operate under the guidance and supervision of a master luthier.  Often a factory will attach a name to their ouds to give the false impression that they are luthier-built. The following are reputable living luthiers:

Arabic Style Turkish Style

Samir Azar http://www.samir-ouds.com/

Yaroub Mohammed Fadel http://www.facebook.com/yaroub.m.fadhel

Nazih Ghadban http://www.oudnazihghadban.com

Mourice Shehata http://www.mauriceouds.com/

Michael Moussa http://www.magicstrings.co.uk

Samer Totah http://www.samertotah.com

Fawzi Monshed http://www.fawzimonshed.com/

Dincer Dalkilic http://www.oudmaker.com

Yildrim Palabuyik http://www.turkishouds.com

Dimitris Rapakousios http://www.dimitrisouds.com

Sadettin Sandi http://www.cankayamuzikevi.com

Cengiz Sarikus http://www.veyselmuzik.com

Tasos Theodorakis http://www.theodorakis.name/uk/frameset.html
Faruk Turunz http://www.oudmaster.com

There are many oud factories.  Most Turkish factories produce acceptable beginner instruments.  Of the Arabic oud factories, only Ibrahim Sukar and Gawharet el Fan consistently produce decent isntruments.  Sukar ouds are very good, with his better models being equal to or better than many Arab luthiers.  Gawharet el Fan makes decent inexpensive entry-level instruments.  Sukar has no website and hi ouds are not available directly in the United States, but may be obtained through importers.  Gawharet el Fan has a website: http://www.gawhara.com.eg

Among the greatest luthiers who are no longer alive are Manolis Venios aka Manol (Greek, 1845-1915) and several generations of the Nahat (Syrian, ca.1800-1983) family.  Other great luthiers were Mohamed Fadel (Iraqi ,1904-2002) and Onnik Karibyan (Armenian, ca.1900-1975)


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