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Thread: The great-grandaddy of the guitar--Oud making

  1. The great-grandaddy of the guitar--Oud making

    A few members, and most notably Jim Becker asked me to post some info on the instruments I make, a sort of "How it's made" (am I the only one who loves that show?) for ouds. As a relative newcomer to SMC, I've gleaned lots of great info in the few short months since joining. So I though I should take some time and give a little back, for what it's worth. I hope at least a few of you enjoy this thread.

    First off, a little history. The oud is a 5000 year old instrument that is still being played today, most notable in the Levant, the Arabian peninsula, N. Africa, Greece, Turkey, and throughout the Meditteranean. It is the direct ancestor of the European Lute (think Rennaisance paintings). The word "lute" comes directly from the Arabic word "Al Oud". Oud means "wood" in Arabic. The oud made its way through N. Africa up through Spain and became the lute, which eventually begat the guitar. Both the oud and the lute are very similar in form and sound. Although they are played in very different ways. At the end of this thread I'll post some videos of the ouds I make as well as some audio clips.

  2. #2
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    Excellent Jameel. I've been curious since your BS post.
    "A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg".


    Samuel Butler

  3. Getting started

    The oud is made much like any other guitar-like string instrument. Only the best woods are used for the various parts, well-seasoned, quartersawn tonewoods of a great variety are utilized. Since the bowl (the back) is the first thing to be made, I'll start there. There are several different "styles" of ouds, depending on where they are built. Turkish instruments are smaller, Egyptian, a bit larger and deeper sounding. Syrian, somewhere in-between. I build ouds based on the style of the Nahat family of luthiers from Damascus Syria. They were prolific from the mid-1800's to the about the 1940's. A Christian family of fine furniture and instrument-makers, several generations of Nahat were masters luthiers, and today their instruments are viewed as the pinnacle of the craft. Some of the best Nahat ouds were made by John Nahat, George Nahat or Abdo Nahat.

    Okay, on to the bowl. The bowl is made from 13-19 ribs of hardwood, almost always made of walnut, but also made of beech, maple, mahogany or other nut woods. Much less often, tropical hardwoods are used, such as rosewood or blackwood. Nowadays, some luthiers are taking their cues from the guitar scene and making ouds with various rosewoods. I tend to use local Iowa woods, since I have access to excellent walnut, cherry and maple.

    Two ways of making bowl, one without a form, and one with. I've done both. But first the ribs must be bent over a hot iron:



    Nowadays I'm using a heating blanket and a form to do multiple ribs:




    Once the end blocks are carved out, the fitting of the ribs takes place using an inverted plane:



    or a sandpaper covered flat surface:



    When the edge is flat, it gets glued to the blocks and the previous rib.



    Method using a form:


    Last edited by Jameel Abraham; 02-10-2007 at 5:34 PM.

  4. #4
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    This is great Jameel, I'll be watching this one very closely. By the way, what type of wood do you use for the good ones?

    John
    John Bailey
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  5. #5
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    Oh....Jameel....I'm enjoying this already!
    Ken

    So much to learn, so little time.....

  6. #6
    This is interesting stuff and am looking forward to your updates. I studied lute in university through to a master's programme. I play renaissance and baroque lute, as well as the theorbo, and played professionally for a number of years. I have some pictures of some instruments which I'll post online. THe renaissance lute is a curly maple bowl, the theorbo has a English Yew and the baroque lute has a a rosewood bowl. The tonal qualities of the instrument are greatly influenced by the choice of wood of the bowl.
    I've made a couple of instruments at the shop of local builder and am just in the process of being able to make more instruments at home.

    How do you thickness the ribs for the instrument? Do you use the bandsaw and then handplane? I was wondering if you've ever used the Wagner Safe T Planer on the drill press and how well it works.

    http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Pl...-T-Planer.html


    Here are some pics of my instruments.

    This is an 8 course Renaissance Lute with a Curly Maple bowl.



    This is a detail of the Rose (soundhole) of the Renaissance Instrument. The Soundboard is about 2mm thick (or thin !!) and is carved out with a craft type exacto knife.




    The following is a Renaissance 8 course instrument (smaller and on the left) and a 13 course Baroque Lute



    This is the back of the 2 instruments. The left is a curly maple bowl and the other is a rosewood bowl.




    Best of all ... No biscuits were harmed in the making of these instruments
    Last edited by Chris Bolton; 02-10-2007 at 8:05 PM.

  7. #7
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    Very cool Jameel...thanks for taking the time to post the pics and the history.
    Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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    Jameel - Keep em coming!

    Hi Jameel -

    Thank you for these photos of your oud processes.

    Please - keep the photos and tutorials coming.

    Howard

    P.S. - when I lived in Tel Aviv many years ago my neighbours were named Khallaf. They were all musicians and synthesized unlikely musical traditions in a real interesting manner. You haven't lived until you hear Django Rheinhadt music on an oud!
    Howard Rosenberg

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    Count me in on the 'very cool' vote. The whole luthier (if that's the correct term) thing is fascinating. Plus your instruments are beautiful.
    "A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg".


    Samuel Butler

  10. #10
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    Oh, yes...this is going to be fun! Keep it coming as your time allows, Jameel!
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  11. #11
    Very nice. Thank you for showing this. It looks very much like you're building a boat.

  12. WOW! What a response. Thanks everybody! I'm looking forward to continuing this...

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bailey
    This is great Jameel, I'll be watching this one very closely. By the way, what type of wood do you use for the good ones?

    John
    I try to make them all "good ones" , so I use the best materials I can. Walnut is an excellent tonewood. The bowl is not a huge factor in sound production, but I use typical face woods like Englemann Spruce, Western Red Cedar, etc. The best old ouds used Lebanon Cedar, but no one can get their hands on that nowadays.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bolton
    How do you thickness the ribs for the instrument? Do you use the bandsaw and then handplane? I was wondering if you've ever used the Wagner Safe T Planer on the drill press and how well it works.
    Nice lutes, Chris. I love that curly maple! I thickness the ribs using my planer if the wood is not temperamental, like walnut. For grumpy woods I resaw close, then thickness sand. I don't have the safety planer, but I know lots of guys use them with good results. I think they are better for narrower pieces.

    Howard, the Khalaf name is pretty popular I guess. My last name is legally "Abraham", they changed it to that when my greatgrandfather came over, since his middle name was "Ibrahim". When I registered, I goofed up a couple times and couldnt use Abraham, so I used "Khalaf" instead. I suppose I should change it.

  13. Quote Originally Posted by Dave Richards
    Very nice. Thank you for showing this. It looks very much like you're building a boat.
    Hey Dave, I was just in Rochester a couple days ago! Small world....

  14. Okay, on to the next step....

    Fitting the ribs can be a real tedious job. I'm a bit of a stickler for good joints, so I shine an LED flashlight behind the joint to make sure its purrrrfect before gluing. Hot hide glue is the glue of choice, but I use regular old AR glue for the bowl. Hide gets used on the soundboard. To compound matters, some bowl shapes curve back in towards the face, so the profile is not a section of a circle. This makes for compound bends and some really fun twisting and bending. Its not my favorite part!

    So here is a finished bowl of 17 ribs, in walnut:



    And Cherry:



    By the way, I use a RAM Mount to position my mould. It works GREAT!



    Some bowls are just left plain, some I do geometric inlay on:



    Here is how I do the geometric inlay:

    First I make up sandwich blanks from veneer and thin woods. This one happens to be symmetrical.



    Then I glue them together and end up with this:



    Then I cut this slab into 3/8" wide strips and using a small miter box and razor saw I cut them up into 30 degree blocks to make different patterns. It took me a while to figure this out the first time, but its so simple, because a three sided 30 degree triangle makes 90 degrees, so its works perfectly. That was a fun moment!



    Finally I glue all these together in a little jig that holds them together,



    and slice them up. I get about 4 or 5, 1mm or so thick strips from this block.

  15. #15
    Thiis is just lovely.

    Next time you're here, let me know.

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