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Author: Subject: More on Old Strings
jdowning
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[*] posted on 11-14-2006 at 12:50 PM
More on Old Strings


Early arabic texts dating from the 8th to the 14th Centuries provide quite a bit of information about the structure of the oud.
In those times the oud was strung with four pairs of strings although Ziryab at the court of Khalif Harun in the 8th C. is said to have introduced a fifth string placed between the second and third strings.
The four strings had the following names - the thickest and lowest pitched string being called the "bamm", the next called the "mathlath, then the "mathna" and the top string the "zir".
The strings were made either from strands of gut or filaments of silk tightly twisted together to form strings of uniform thickness. Ouds were strung with silk strings throughout, gut strings throughout or a mixture of gut and silk - the gut strings in this case being the basses and the silk the trebles. Silk was used because it could withstand a higher tension than gut and gave a purer tone.
Ziryab used both silk and gut strings and preferred gut strings made from the intestines of a young lion because they sounded best and were more durable. Most gut strings, however, were made from sheep's intestines as they still are to this day.

Henry George Farmer in his paper "The Structure of the Arabian and Persian Lute in the Middle Ages" ("Studies in Oriental Musical Instruments" ,The Civic Press, Glasgow, 1939) provides much detailed information about the construction of early ouds from examination of surviving early arabic texts on musical theory.

A foremost researcher and maker of silk strings today is Alexander Rakov. His web site gives information on how to make your own silk strings at: http://www.globalissuesgroup.com/silkStrings/
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Jameel
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[*] posted on 11-14-2006 at 01:21 PM


Fascinating. Is this book by Farmer still in print?



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jdowning
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[*] posted on 11-14-2006 at 02:50 PM


The book is out of print but I have just checked on line and there are currently four used copies of the book available for a reasonable $25 each on AddALL Books at
http://used.addall.com.

My posting above is from notes that I have on file made many years ago so may not be complete or completely accurate. I also have a few notes on early oud construction that I can post as a separate subject.
The best plan would be to purchase a used copy of the book if you are interested in learning all of the details. Farmer wrote other books about early Arabic instruments and music that may also be of interest. Search for author Henry George Farmer in AddALL books to see what is available.
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jdowning
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[*] posted on 11-18-2006 at 09:06 AM


Another site dealing with the construction of early Chinese silk strings (for the Qin or Chinese zither) can be found at http://www.silkqin.com.
It is likely that silk strings for musical instruments were first made by the Chinese and later introduced to the Middle East via the 'silk road' trade route.
The early Chinese manuscripts contain much more information about silk string making than do the Arabic or European sources.
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will_oud
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[*] posted on 11-18-2006 at 12:32 PM


That make sense sinse Moh Alileche's instrument, the mondol, has five silk strings. The father of this instrument, the oud, also would have had silk strings.

William F. Sparks
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aquila
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[*] posted on 11-20-2006 at 04:22 AM


This question about the historical oud strings is very interesting. A the moment my congetture is that, before 1950's, bass strings were wound on silk. This because there is no alternative to silk. Wound strings on gut cores were not in use, on guitars, since early 19th c.
Of course, I ma happy if some of you will find out very old wound strings on old ouds.
I will be happy to study them.
Ciao
Mimmo

Ps: John, I have sent you a short U2U
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jdowning
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[*] posted on 11-20-2006 at 06:13 AM


Hi Mimmo - nice to hear from you again after so many years - hope that you are well and in good health. Glad you are still very much involved in historical string research - and manufacture.
Sadly, I do not have those oud strings any more as I gave them away to another string researcher in the late 1970's - so I hope that some benefit came of that.
The strings were individually packaged and made in France as I recall. The trebles were gut and the basses silver plated wire (brass?) closely wound on silk filament (like modern guitar strings).
I will let you have more details in a separate U2U so that you can check if that person (who we both know well enough) might - by chance - still have them or have some more detailed information about the strings on file. I am sure that he would help if he has. Worth a try.
Good luck
John
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