A guide to popular plucking instruments from the Middle East!
Published on June 30th, 2012 | by Caesar (Kuwait Music)
The region is a diverse hotbed of sounds, styles and culture and indigenous music instruments are a huge part of that. Here are some selections of popular plucking instruments that were birthed in the arab world!
The oud is one of the oldest instruments. It probably descended in the Middle Ages from the Eastern Chinese pipa. It then came in via the Moors in Europe and there the name [al 'ud] became “lute“. The back of the body of the oud is made of (10-25) quite thin ribs of wood, glued together, often in highly decorative patterns. The soundboard is made of soft wood and has one or (often) three rosettes. It has a short neck, with a fingerboard flush with the soundboard and without frets.
Oud kumethra (pear-shaped oud )
The main difference between the standard Oud and the pear shaped Oud is the back of the body, which has curves in two directions. This must be very difficult to make. Even more surprising is the fact that on most of these ouds the back (which is still made of separate ribs) is completely inlayed with different coloured pieces of wood and mother-of-pearl, making this oud a precious jewel to look at !
It is played in several countries of the Middle East.
The buzok (or bozok) is the long-neck lute of the Middle East. It is mainly played in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. A similar looking instrument can be found in North Africa (but with a flat back): the mondol.
The body of a buzok (much smaller than an oud) is made from separate ribs, glued together in a lute-shape. The neck is guitar-like, and has tied-on nylon frets. It has some 1/4 notes. The flat pegbox slopes slightly backwards, and has two slits for the tuning pegs, which are wooden T-shaped friction pegs; 3 on both sides. The fingerboard is sometimes made of white plastic.
The Turkish tanbur (also tambur) is a classical Turkish lute with a very long thin neck. The name is also used for other long neck lutes in Iran and Central Asia.
The body is made of (20-25) thin wooden ribs in a very round shape. The front is very thin spruce, left unvarnished. The broomstick-like neck is fixed to the body, and continues into the peghead. There are 6 violin-type friction pegs, 4 are inserted from the front and 2 from the left side. The frets are tied-on nylon (in 5 windings per fret), with many in 1/4 note intervals.
From Iran, the Dotar has two strings (hence the name : “two strings”). All dotars have the body carved from one block of mulberry wood to a thin shell, with a mulberry front (sometimes dried in an oven). In the soundboard some tiny soundholes are usually drilled in a pattern, or one small hole in the back. The body and neck are left unvarnished.