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Author: Subject: What is a cheap oud?question for luthiers and musicians
bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 1-4-2016 at 09:47 PM


The Martin guitar factor says they lose all their time and money on the finishing process. There's just no nice way to do it. Most of my ouds I do french polish finish, which is certainly a delicacy. I make almost every part by hand. In some cases, depending on the order, I make every part by hand, rosettes and even the pegs. Another important thing no one mentioned is setup, which I consider to be even more important than the sound, because no matter how great the sound is looming inside the magic box, no one will want to play it. Setup is also very time consuming to get everything PERFECT. Such as string height, string spacing, nut height, correct neck angle, relief in fingerboard, PEGS, the holes being drilled in the best place, and so on. Not to mention the art of making in itself and what the maker wants to earn for his time. Luthiers depending on their situation constantly undercut each other. We've raised this question many times in the forum. What is an oud worth? What is a violin worth? And so on. Like a work of art, price is subjective. And yes, someone mention shop costs, which living in NY, I can tell you the costs are high so in order to survive the quality has to be high.

About the instruments being made from 1900-1940 as being "good", I think many were good, but not as good as they are today due to aging. Time does wonders on tonewood. I don't believe anything has been lost.




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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 06:42 AM


I am wonder why though oud "factories" don't use more simple finishing techniques that still yield nice results. Things like wipe on poly or a wipe on varnish oil like Tru-Oil have to be cheaper and less complicated that setting up a finicky spray operation. Even if you have 10 ouds to finish at a time, it's a better way to do it given while you apply finish on one the others are drying etc...

About what you said of the setting up to play, I agree 100% it is hardest part to achieve and the luthier is 100% in control we cant say there is much luck involved here. It's also hard for someone who doesn't play oud and isn't familiar with how it should play to perform.

I am sure sometimes you are working on a few ouds and you make them all more or less in the same way with the best of your abilities. They will all sound decent but once in a while you will make a oud that is just born with a monstrous sound it will command a higher price tag no? John I remember when I played a oud in your shop (Tarab 3 I think it way) and it was just amazing.




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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 06:43 AM


You guys are doing a good job identifying the critical elements of luthier-made ouds. Can you figure out which of those elements are most essential, devise some kind of production model, train and supervise cheap labor, and offer a reliable, acceptable $600 oud? Can you make an oud comparable in quality to a $500 Martin?

If the pegs are such a problem, maybe a cheap oud will have ... geared tuners.
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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 07:07 AM


The finishing process in any guitar factory is enormous and incredibly high tech using robots and so on. There are no oud factories using robots that I know of. And the process of making a bowl likely cannot be done with robots. To answer tkmasuda's question, it would be impossible for anyone living in the U.S. or Europe to sell an oud comparable to Martin for $600. By hand it takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks to complete an oud, how can it sell for $600, especially the materials costing from $75-$200. You have to think about what you earn every month and look at your expenses. Realize a shop means double the bills for luthier. Furthermore, being inspired by the highest quality myself, I am not willing to cut the quality on my instruments, nor hire cheap labor. There is Kia and Audi, and I'm interested in making Audi only. (or Ferrari ideally!) I take more of the artist approach rather than that of the businessman. There are plenty of ouds in various quality levels, it's impossible to compete with cheap or mid-range instruments even if I wanted to.

About the sound being a factor of the price as Samir mentioned, I agree. I don't have a model that is a standard price. If an instrument is tonally outstanding, that instrument is worth more. My comparison of car manufactures is limited because the nature of a musical instrument is unique in that not all are the same tonally, unlike cars which coming out of a factory are the same. Of course playability is factored into the value as well. There are other makers who follow this principle.

The cheapest instrument that can be made in my shop is $3200. I offer a lifetime guarantee against workmanship and materials for life to the original owner on all my instruments. (neglect, abuse is not covered of course). You can be sure the setup is good, the sound is good (or great), a beautiful finish, and the oud will last many years and because of how its made will age very good. I am a firm believer in "you get what you pay far" and I've learned over and over this is true, especially when buying tools! I don't waste money or time any more and just get the good stuff!





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Dr. Oud
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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 09:16 AM


Quote: Originally posted by Brian Prunka  
... the fact that luthiers in period 1900-1940 seemed to be able to produce good instruments pretty consistently suggests that there are simply techniques and knowledge that have been lost. ...

The reason the old ouds sound good is because, well they're old. The main reason that Abdo sounds better than Georgy is that his ouds are 40 -50 years older. Building on oud with aged wood seems to produce better sound, but never as good as an oud that has been played for many years. The years of playing the oud conditions the wood to develop the sound. Some of this can be accelerated by playing music (recorded or radio) at the oud while it is at rest. I have restored funky, crude ouds with no pedigree that sound as good as the old masters just because they were played for 50 years. They don't look as good, or command as high value though.




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Brian Prunka
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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 09:32 AM


Quote: Originally posted by Dr. Oud  
Quote: Originally posted by Brian Prunka  
... the fact that luthiers in period 1900-1940 seemed to be able to produce good instruments pretty consistently suggests that there are simply techniques and knowledge that have been lost. ...

The reason the old ouds sound good is because, well they're old. The main reason that Abdo sounds better than Georgy is that his ouds are 40 -50 years older. Building on oud with aged wood seems to produce better sound, but never as good as an oud that has been played for many years. The years of playing the oud conditions the wood to develop the sound. Some of this can be accelerated by playing music (recorded or radio) at the oud while it is at rest. I have restored funky, crude ouds with no pedigree that sound as good as the old masters just because they were played for 50 years. They don't look as good, or command as high value though.


Sorry, but I don't agree. I think it's a copout. You can listen to recordings of the old ouds when they were new. Farid, Qassabji, Sounbati —those ouds sounded great to begin with.
I've played plenty of ouds that were 50 years old that don't have a good sound.
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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 11:29 AM


One thing for sure those oud players you mentioned had a fine taste in ouds :) I don't think any of them would play on anything but the best of ouds from the best makers of the day.

I will say, I have noticed my own ouds get better with age as they are played often. Also, I remember a video of Ghassan al-youssif playing one of Farid's oud. It's hard to tell if its just the strings or the technique or the Mic... but to me the sound may have decayed a little. perhaps it hasn't been played a lot or it's just strung to low with old strings... or perhaps even the player makes a difference. Simon Shaheen played one of my ouds in front of me... it had never sounded better :P

https://youtu.be/9SINA5Dd8Fc

https://youtu.be/8i1n60lE-bs




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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 11:44 AM


dear friends,

again we must learn from the old masters and not dismiss them....we have good makers all over the world and everybody is saying that he is the best ...however I have not seen any maker getting closed to Abdo Nahat work...nor to Manoli...

makers have every right to ask what ever price they want to charge for their instruments..however, we need great sound, great finish, an instrument which function very well...If an oud has the best sound on earth and the mechanism does not work.... ..what shall I do with it? If an instrument has the best finish on the world and the best workmanship and no sound....again what shall I do with it?

pegs fitted properly, nut which is cut nicely, bridge with the same holes at the same level, distance between the strings, adjusting the neck, all of these are important elements for the player and this what makes an instrument worth buying...otherwise you might as well buy an mid range oud for 500 Euros and these ouds are found very easily in Syria, Egypt...short cuts are not acceptable ... we are talking about building an Oud...for this reason I am for schools were students can learn how to build Ouds...we have this in Europe , you can learn to build any instrument ...why not in the Arab world.

every single elements used on the oud will have an effect on the sound, the bowl does affect the sound, if its made from Rosewood its not the same as if it;s made from walnut, wooden nut sounds different from bone nut, ebony fingerboard sounds different from Rosewood or bone...

Samir you are doing a great job in building ouds, you have a great Lacy oud in your hand , one of the very few ouds survived by this master....you should make copies of his Ouds....
again this is a very interesting discussion and thank you all for your input... we are all learning.
Best wishes,
Adel

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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 12:13 PM


So what comes out is, no matter if it's a student model or not, we never know what we will get if we make an order to a maker.
Same for the people willing to buy an oud on line that they never heard, a recording might be better, but it's easy to change the sound after the recording...

That's very bad for musicians, i've been spending a few days in Istanbul visiting many makers and most of the ouds i tried where crappy, the same happened to some friends too.
I'm very sorry about it, but i will not order a custom oud anymore.

There's something i don't understand, is there too much demand and work in this city for luthiers so they don't care about musicians or is it the opposite, too many makers and big pressure of cheap ouds made in factories?..it seems to be the same in arab countries from Adel's opinion.


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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 12:47 PM


Quote: Originally posted by Adel Salameh  
... I am for schools were students can learn how to build Ouds...we have this in Europe , you can learn to build any instrument ...why not in the Arab world....

There is a tradition in the Arab and Persian cultures where makers will not teach anyone outside their family. The reason I've been told is that the master wants to be remembered as the best, not to be compared with a newer maker. Well he is, but the musicians are left without a successor so he is also remembered with some contempt. The oud can be disassembled to measure and duplicate (I did, still do), but years and generations of experience has to be developed without any guidance. I believe there are makers today that are the equal of these misguided ancestors, but only time will tell if their ouds mature to produce the sound of a 50 year old instrument. Turkey has an apprentice system, this is evident in the overall high quality of Turkish ouds. Some Persian makers are now teaching, so the quality of Persian ouds/barbats is also consistently high. The Arabs, well, not so much.
This is why I wrote the book, and the result has been gratifying. Jameel Abraham used my book to build his first oud, and with his high skill as a woodworker has made some masterpieces. Unfortunately he can't make a living with the depressed market, so he is out now.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/richard-hankey/the-oud-construction-and-re...

BTW, a video is in the works....




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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 02:15 PM


Brian, I'm not saying the old ouds didn't sound good. The old makers were masters, no question. But not every oud they made sounded as good as they sound today. The reason why Farid, Qassabji, and Sounbati's ouds sound good in those recordings is because they are Farid, Qassabji, Sounbati and what maker would give them less than their best instrument !?



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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 05:10 PM


Quote: Originally posted by bulerias1981  
Brian, I'm not saying the old ouds didn't sound good. The old makers were masters, no question. But not every oud they made sounded as good as they sound today. The reason why Farid, Qassabji, and Sounbati's ouds sound good in those recordings is because they are Farid, Qassabji, Sounbati and what maker would give them less than their best instrument !?


I'm just saying that age is not an explanation or excuse. Those ouds sounded great when new, and sound even better with age. Age alone will not turn a mediocre oud into a good one, let alone a great one. There is a certain quality of sound that is rare to find in modern ouds that has nothing to do with age—it was present in these old ouds when new.






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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 10:02 PM


What ouds sounded good when new? 100% of the old ones? About age not yielding a mediocre instrument a good or great one, well that depends. In some cases yes, some ouds are just a lemon. And some actually transform. For example, I had a cheap Egyptian oud, which I hated, and never played. In fact I never even looked at it. I got it fairly new. It just sat, for about 4 or 5 years, then I decided to play it one day and noticed the damn thing was amazing. I recently sold that oud, but that is a case where a few years made a turd shine. It is known that the cell structure in wood changes, and these chances can be seen under a microscope. The wood becomes more stiff, and lighter. Even the riqq, which is something you bang with your hands. Our friend Johnny who is in the business of restoring old riqqs says that the old ones just have a sweeter sound. After much data analysis, testing and research tt is recognized that the old Italian violins are great mainly because of years. Will all instruments "transform" after some time? Not 100%, but I believe more like 90%, 10% being the lemon factor.



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[*] posted on 1-5-2016 at 11:28 PM


Quote: Originally posted by Dr. Oud  
There is a tradition in the Arab and Persian cultures where makers will not teach anyone outside their family. The reason I've been told is that the master wants to be remembered as the best, not to be compared with a newer maker.

Not only Arab and Persian mentality but also European ... I have asked 3 makers in Europe who are making ouds to do workshops of oud building to new makers and students... the 3 of them refused to do so as they are worried the new makers (students) will be competing with them .

Quote: Originally posted by Dr. Oud  
Turkey has an apprentice system, this is evident in the overall high quality of Turkish ouds. Some Persian makers are now teaching, so the quality of Persian ouds/barbats is also consistently high. The Arabs, well, not so much.

what do you say about oud makers like Saad Alttayar, Fadi matta, Wissam Joubran, Butrus Bushara, Abd Al Jalil from Kuwait, young Aref Sayyed from Palestine... all of these makers are as clean as any Turkish Oud master....

best wishes,
Adel
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[*] posted on 1-6-2016 at 03:04 AM


Thanks Mike for solving the posting problem.
I have read all the posts and have to admit I learned a lot from your wisdom and experience, especially from makers.
Yet I still have some points to point out if I may:

Buying cheap row materials may be of great saving, once mass production is involved. Saving 10$ in pegs results in thousands in the annual turnover. Sukkar made his own pegs and saved a lot, in a factory capable of making 300 ouds a month !! Needless to say that this is not applicable in one-man-show luthiery. Therefore, no low cost ouds are really available, unless you make commercial production. Sukkar or Sandi for example could not have offered their ouds this cheap, unless they have industrialized their production. They'd buy woods and glues in wholesale for prices which are a dream for a single luthier. 5$ a top for instance, or let's say a couple of hundreds for 1 m3 of walnut.

On the other hand, the difference between HQ materials and LQ materials should not exceed a 100$, therefore the issue shall always be the workmanship cost. No single luthier in Europe, Norhern America, Lebanon, Jordan, Arabian Gulf, Israel/Palestine etc. is capable to make a living in such expensive countries selling his oud for hundreds (not even 9), while in Syria, Egypt etc. it's possible for the the low wages and low cost of living.

I know, from deep inside my friends' luthieries, that if they sell their ouds for less, they'd not be able to feed their kids. A Syrian expatriate maker living in Europe once told me: "If I sell my oud for less than 1600 €, I shall be betraying my family". As living in an even more expensive country, I understood him pretty well. My neighbor, Mowais Jr. for example wouldn't be able to make a living if he'd sell his ouds for less than 1500$.

As to Turkey, it's another opera. One may find a descent oud from a fair maker for 750$, (http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=16225) while "others" ask for as double as much. A quiz Franck meant in the first place. Well, I guess so !


Thank you all
Yours indeed
Alfaraby





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Adel Salameh
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[*] posted on 1-6-2016 at 03:33 AM


I expect to see a real different between an oud which cost 500 Euros to another at 1500 Euros....and if the mechanism does not work on the 1500 Euros then it's not worth more than the 500 Euros oud regardless where the maker is coming from.
Best wishes,
Adel
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[*] posted on 1-6-2016 at 08:12 AM


Quote: Originally posted by bulerias1981  
After much data analysis, testing and research tt is recognized that the old Italian violins are great mainly because of years.


I'm not sure I would say that assertion is really recognized with a high degree of consensus. There have been so many blind test studies done where players and aficionados could not tell the difference between old and new violins. There were certainly bad violins made in the 18th and 19th centuries. Part of the reason so many of the old violins we come across are so great is because they were great to begin with... hence why they're still being played hundreds of years later.

If we accept the idea that dead seasoned wood continues to change over time then we should also put research into artificially inducing the processes if they are universally accepted as a means to improving the tone of an instrument. One would also surmise environment plays a role in whatever that process might be. A violin that has lived in Vietnam will certainly change differently than a violin that has lived in Arizona.
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