THE TECHNICAL STRUCTURE OF THE OUD

FORMER AND CONTEMPORARY MAKERS OF THE OUD

THE PROTECTION AND CARING OF THE OUD

 

THE TECHNICAL STRUCTURE OF THE OUD AND ITS FEATURES

The oud consists of five fundamental components: the body, the soundboard (belly, chest or face), the neck (fingerboard), the peg box and the strings, where the body is made first in the construction process. The body is made by putting and processing single or double fillets of contrast colors in-between slices of 70 cm length, 2-4 cm width and 3 mm thickness –due to both aesthetic and strength purposes– onto a mould. This mould, which resembles a ship hull, is made by plastering pieces of 4-5 cm thickness breadth-wise and length-wise. The number of these slices is usually an odd number and made from woods such as mahogany, walnut, plum, olive and others. The slices are first heated using an iron and thin paper to give them the bent profile of the mould. Afterwards, the slices are taken off from the mould by pulling small assembly nails out and the concave surface is then strengthened by plastering thick paper along the axis of the fillets. There is a piece attached to the inner side of the body, along the opposite axis of the bottom wedge called the ‘top wedge’, which has a 12-14 cm of width, 7-9 cm of height and 8-10 cm thickness and it is used to increase the protection of the wide bottom end of the hull, formed by the sharp edges of the slices and fillets.

The next thing to do after the body is taken out of the mould is to stick on a semi-circular piece sized 10-15 cm x 5-6 cm x 3-4 mm, along the symmetrical axis on the top part. This piece, of a similar color and material of the body is called a ‘mirror’ and is polished along with the body long after the soundboard is affixed. The function of the mirror is to cover of the dirtiness of the sharp ends of the slices and fillets, joined at the lower end of the body. The body, without the soundboard, neck and peg box weighs surprisingly about 300-600 grams after it has been taken off from the mould. It should be pointed out that the more the slices of the ud (about 23-27), the more it will have a rounder shape and consequently better quality. Since sound is reflected just like light, it is important that the inner surface be non-broken and smooth, where the sound is reflected in and out through the sound holes.

After constructing the 36 x 47 cm sized and pear-shaped body, it is now the turn for attaching the neck (fingerboard). The neck, made from hornbeam wood of 19-19.5 length, 36-40 cm width on the thinner part, 56-58 cm width on the wider part and shaped like a cut cylindrical cone on both ends(13 cm thick on the thinner, 26 cm thick on the wider part) is attached to the body via an elliptic cone named ‘bottom wedge’. The aim of such a merge is to prevent the neck from rising upwards and raising the strings due to the tension of the stretching. Those who would like to buy an ‘ud’ should be aware that the distance of the strings from the soundboard should not be more than 3 mm’s at the point where the neck is connected to the body (the ‘tiz nevâ’ point). It is both difficult and expensive to fix the types of ouds where this distance is about 4-5 mm. The reason for the makers or the players of the oud to prefer the strings not too close to the neck is the sizzling sound produced, which is actually a matter of the playing technique and not the making technique.

The flat part of the neck (fingerboard) where the fingers will play is covered with a board with a thickness of 2 mm on the wide front size and 4-5 mm on the narrow backside. The backside of the neck where the palm grasps is covered with fillets and coatings. A coating of 3 mm width and 0.5 mm thickness covers the round part where the neck is connected to the body. This coat is called a ‘metal ring/bracelet’ due to its shape and used to cover the dirtiness of the ends of the slices and fillets where they join. The bracelet is polished later on with the body and should be as slim as possible so that it seems elegant.

After attaching the neck, the body is covered with the soundboard. The soundboard is the most important part of the oud; it is roughly of size 20 cm x 50 cm x 3 mm and made from cutting the spruce wood lengthwise and symmetrical, where the fibers varying from 1-3 mm’s are plastered in such a way that the wider ones are in the middle and the slim ones are around the sides. The board takes a 36 x 48 cm pear-shaped form of 1.7-2.2 mm thickness after the smoothing. There are three sound holes on the board, one big (with a diameter of 8.5-9 cm) and two small (with a diameter of 4.2-4.4 cm), which let the sounds out with the same angle they entered the body. Under the board, there are 7 balconies, for which the inter-distances and measures vary from one Luther to another. These are made from spruce wood as well, with a 5-7 mm base size and 3-13 mm height and their function is to transfer the 85 kg / cm2 tension that the strings apply on the board to the side walls of the body. The bent L-profile connection of the body and the board is covered with the fillets.

It is now time to attach the touché made from ebony wood with sizes of 36-37 cm width and 2-5 mm thickness. The fingerboard of the oud is traditionally lengthened to the place where the neck and the body are connected. The end of the wider bottom part is usually made from ebony wood in the shape of a heart (even today, most of the ouds are made this way because it is cheaper). It should be noted that single, double or triple, light or dark colored fillets are the only ornaments of the elegant and noble Turkish oud. The ouds made in Cairo and Damascus are decorated with rough nacre and ivory embossments on their body, neck and peg box and are 2-3 times heavier than the Turkish ouds. Because Turkish luthiers prefer their ouds plain and consequently lighter, the Turkish oud does not have any kind of ornaments on either the body, neck or the membrane. A kind of contemporary oud is the one with the ‘long fingerboard’, for which the first application is due to the oud virtuoso Şerif Muhittin Targan, who is inspired by one of the three instruments he played, the violoncello. This is a commonly seen application for the expensive ouds. Instead of the heart-shaped finishing part, the fingerboard is extended up to the big sound hole. Its function is to obtain sharper sounds in the forward positions near the hole, preventing the soundboard being deaf by the pressure of the finger.

The peg box is made from lime wood of in a sinusoidal shape decreasing from 4 cm to 1.7 cm and the 5 mm thick cheeks narrowing down from 36-38 mm to 22-24 mm. It has a U cross section where the cheeks and the backside are covered with the same wood as of the body. 6 conical holes are created on top and 5 at the bottom, for the small pegs that will be inserted in. The tip of the peg box is made from a round and carved piece called a “beak”, which resembles the violin scroll. Just like the peg box and its fillets, the beak is one of the components, which gives an idea about the quality of the oud. The peg box is connected to the neck by an angle of 40-42 degrees. While completing all these tasks, the soundboard, which has been sandpapered, should be covered with paper to prevent dirt. Now, it’s time for polishing.

The body, neck and the peg box, which have been cleared up in the previous stages should now be sandpapered over and over to have their surfaces really smooth. After the multi-staged polishing-sandpapering-polishing process, the body is left out for drying. The fingerboard is polished with a piece of wool after a lusterless polish has been put on. The soundboard is sanded and cleaned before the strings are put on, but not polished, for it to be left with its natural color and fibers.

After the polish is dried out, the ‘tension bridge’ is glued on to the soundboard, located 8.5-11 cm inwards from the bottom side. This piece has 11 holes on it for the strings and it is made from hornbeam wood with a width of 2.5 cm, a length of 14 cm and a height of 1 cm. For all the strings to be leveled out, the holes become closer to the board for the high-pitched strings since the low-pitched strings are thicker. Due to the same reason, the bridge is glued on the board so that the higher tip is 1 mm closer to the bottom side and not parallel, for all the string lengths to be equal. The leaking glue after the bridge has been glued on to the board should be cleaned up with a warm-watered clean cloth and later sanded with fine sandpaper. The small bridge, which is made from ivory with a length of 36-40 mm, a thickness of 3 mm and a height of 5-6 mm is set on the L-profiled gap between the peg box and the neck. The locations of the strings are then set out on the ivory using a template and 11 gutters are carved in for the strings. To prevent the strings from breaking off while putting on or tuning, the gutters are rubbed on with dry soap.

The 11 pegs of the oud have a diameter of 7 mm at the top and 5 mm at the bottom. The round head parts where fingers grap for tuning are concave (2 x 2.4 cm), and the height of the conical bodies that are inserted into the conical holes located on the cheeks of the peg box are in between 2.5-4.5 cm.

FORMER AND CONTEMPORARY MAKERS OF THE OUD

Like all the other Turk instruments, oud is hand-made, being difficult and requiring a long time to learn. All the masters have their own way of manufacturing, which is passed on from master to pupil or from father to son. For this reason, ouds are usually referred to by mentioning the makers’ names. There are many luthiers around the world, especially in the Arabic states and USA. But it is without argument that, regarding their historical facts Turkish ouds are masterpieces. The ouds of Master Manol (1845-1915) and Master Ilya (1870-1930) are still of great value today. Some of the masters of today, which can produce uds of good quality include Ejder Güleç, Mustafa Arslan Biçicioğlu, Şinasi Özkan, Vasfi Çınlar, Nuri Tutpınar, Hadi Usta, Halim Özer, Sami Gül, Fevzi Daloğlu, Sabri Göktepe and Sadettin Sandı.

THE PROTECTION AND CARING OF THE OUD

Oud needs to be well protected while not played. Hands must be clean, for it facilitates the movement of the fingers and prevents the dirt to damage the strings. The soundboard should not be touched with dirty hands as well. The place where the arm contacts the ud while playing should be covered with a cloth, or a cuff should be worn to keep it clean. Any kind of chemical such as soap, alcohol, furniture, automobile and metal polish should never be used to either rub or clean the soundboard and the body. A dry cloth should be used for possible dust and/or stains on the body. Stains on the board should be sanded or cleaned with such materials. For the cases where the pegs get stuck, it is not correct to apply materials such as lead, powder, soap, pastel crayons and/or lubricants. In such situations, the best thing to do would be to take it back to the manufacturer.

Oud should be kept in a wardrobe not closed to daylight, and should be put in a position such that the soundboard is on the shelf. It is not recommended to hang the oud up on the wall. Attention should be played that the oud is not under direct sunlight. oud should also be protected from moisture and kept in a dry place where humidity is at a high level.

The strings should be loosened a bit when the oud is not played. It is recommended that oud is carried in cases made from fiberglass, but not kept in them for a long time. It should be kept away from closed and hot environments, especially in summer.

Like other Turkish instruments, there is no standard way of manufacturing the oud. This variation is seen both for the size and the sound quality. For those who are going to buy an oud, it is recommended that they take an advice from someone experienced in the field. There are many types of ouds in the market, ranging from very cheap ones to very expensive ones. Although economically attractive, cheap ouds are not recommended since they are made of material of poor quality, with bad timbres. Starting to learn with such an instrument of bad quality would be wrong and may result in not learning and even loosing the interest in the instrument.

Oud has a wide sound range since it has a fretless fingerboard. Compared to other instruments of the same type, it is both technical and difficult to play. It should be learned under direct supervision of a master. There are several methods on the playing technique, and some of them would include those of Kadri Şençalar, Mutlu Torun, Onur Akdoğu, Şerif Muhiddin Targan and Cinuçen Tanrıkorur

Prepared by Ali Tutan
Translated from Turkish by Tolga Bektaş