2005 Egyptian Oud

We went to Egypt in 2005, on of several trips we've taken. One of the sites on our list was Khan el-Khalili, a street market in the heart of Cairo. When I saw a booth with a few ouds hanging from the ceiling, I realized that I had to have one (and I'd worry later about whether I could play it). An oud is a middle eastern relative of the lute, with a gourd-shaped back, and no frets. Each one had a different design, with correspondingly differing prices. I finally picked one out for about 200 Egyptian pounds, which worked out to around $50, and then Rabab came wandering over. I took it out into the daylight to show her, and she started pointing out what, in the light, were obvious flaws. Then she said our driver would take us to the place where they make them. So I thanked the shop owner who was a little peeved that I didn't close the deal.

The driver took us into another part of Cairo, where there were four music stores all in a row. This was not where they make ouds, but these are the stores that deal with the serious players. After spending some time in each store, and trying my hand at bargaining (they were not eager to bargain; one flat out refused), I found one I liked at the fourth store. Rabab tried to get the price down a little, and the man relented hesitatingly, but then he offered, with no coercion, to throw in a set of strings. Which is good, because they're not really like guitar strings. They are very similar to a nylon set for classical, but there are a strange setup. There are three courses (pairs) of plain nylon strings on top; next down is a course of wound strings; then one single wound string on the bottom. Each course is tuned in unison. (If you study the photos you will realize that I have already broken one string in the top course and haven't yet replaced it.) He also threw in a couple of "picks," which are not like guitar picks but rather long, a bit like a collar stay with a gland problem. The traditional means of picking an oud is with an eagle feather, and the store owner referred to this pick as a "quill."