The Oud is an ancient musical instrument with a long and rich history; one that stretches back many, many centuries and extends beyond the Middle-Eastern world from which it originates. This distinctive sounding stringed instrument has more recently been experiencing a rise in popularity – and in places around the world, especially the West. No doubt, the Oud’s rich tonal character and exotic sound have enchanted the growing number of musicians who are discovering ways to incorporate its melodic potential into today’s diverse genres of ethnic, fusion, and other “world” music.
What are the main differences between an Arabic Oud and a Turkish Oud?
Modern day Ouds can be separated into two main categories: Arabic and Turkish. This distinction, however, is not necessarily based solely on geography. The Arabic Oud, for example, can be found in various forms within the larger Arab world. These include the very popular Egyptian Oud as well as the Iraqi Oud and the Syrian Oud. Nonetheless, there are more similarities than differences in such Arabic forms – particularly in terms of their construction and other fundamental features. As a result, musicians and historians tend to place the various “Arabic style” Ouds under one primary class of ethnic instrument: the Arabic Oud.
So-called “Turkish Ouds,” on the other hand, are significantly different from their Arabic cousins. Like the Arabic forms of this ethnic instrument, they have established a vast geographic reach. The Turkish style Oud may be encountered not only in Turkey, but also in Greece and in other Mediterranean countries. Again, we can expect subtle differences between forms; but the general class holds to some specific and significant traits which distinguish it from the Arabic instrument.
What are the main differences, then, between the Turkish and Arabic forms of the instrument? In a nutshell, Arabic Ouds are larger and a bit more full-bodied in their sound. Turkish Ouds have a slightly shorter scale length and typically have lower string action than their Arabic counterparts. The Turkish instrument also sports a somewhat thinner soundboard. Because of these differences, the Arabic Oud produces a darker, deeper tone than the lighter and brighter timbre of the smaller size Turkish Oud. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that individual instruments will present a wide range of overlapping tonal colors (just as with guitars, harps, and other acoustic instruments).
Construction techniques for the Arabic and Turkish Ouds (which are in both forms similar to the forebear of all Oud’s, the lute) also reveal some differences. While the construction of all Ouds is generally very light and uses a minimum of wood, Turkish Ouds are even more lightly constructed than the Arabic instruments. Thus, the Turkish Oud’s soundboard is made of thinner wood and as a rule relies on thinner bracing. In addition, the string action is lower (as previously mentioned), and the string courses are placed slightly closer together. These arguably minor differences in construction methods, more than anything else, result in significant differences in the tonal qualities of the Turkish and Arab Ouds. Fortunately, this difference in sound can make choosing between the two forms a much less complicated affair.
Choosing between the Turkish and Arabic style Oud is, in the end, a matter of personal preference. Just as with other musical instruments, it relates to the intended use, playing style and comfort, type of music that will be played, and other factors. Daly Music offers several styles of affordable Ouds which are imported from Turkey and Egypt by ethnic musical instrument manufacturer Mid-East Mfg. These range from standard models to more professional level instruments, and many are available in acoustic-electric models. We also carry some very distinctive Electric Frame Ouds that make great instruments for fusion bands. When it comes time to buy a new Turkish or Arabic style Oud, you’ll have plenty of choices available!