If you are like me, you like comparing and understanding every purchase thoroughly before buying anything. That’s even more true when it comes to musical instruments. I like to get a very good idea of what am I purchasing before actually hitting the buy button. While the internet is full of comparison of laptops, cameras, and electronics, very rarely you find good information comparing different kind of ouds.

I have gone ahead and made this guide, after being requested for it from customers on weekly basis. People are seeing Ouds, and it’s hard for them to decide or even understand the difference between them. What makes an Oud different from one to another? Why are there so many models? And what the heck does fixed bridge and floating bridge mean? Let’s dive right into it.

My name is Daniel, I’m an Oud player myself and I will do my best to show you guys how to wonder in this somewhat complex world of Zeryab’s Syrian ouds. Here we go.

Zeryab AKA Ali Khalifa

Zeryab Syrian OudsThe Ali Khalifa Oud makers from Damascus in Syria are among the top makers today.  The Ali Khalifa makers are a family that has been making ouds from generation to generation, across many years.  In fact, their family business has been manufacturing ouds since 1948.  Ensuring that the family business is kept alive is very important to these Oud makers.  Recently, they have changed their name to the Zeryab.

The Ouds that are produced with this family can be split into three main categories: Syrian, Turkish, and Iraqi.  Their Syrian Ouds are definitely the most popular. The main vision and goal of Zeryab is to produce traditional style Ouds with a modern twist.  With a high level of craftsmanship, they use modern ornamental designs on the instrument.

The bridge to nowhere?

Before touching anything related to wood, or anything shape-related there’s the bridge. Until some time ago, there were only fixed bridge ouds. Until one guy, Munir Bashir, came up with this idea: Let the string sit on the bridge, keeping it fixed, while the bridge is unattached to the top. And so it started, ouds with floating bridge became more and more popular, especially in Iraq, where Bashir was born. Until these days, the children of Bashir are making ouds in the style that their father has invented.

Different oud bowl's shape
3 fixed bridge ouds. 1. Turkish oud – Rounded. 2. Syrian Oud – Curved. 3. Egyptian oud – Flat
A fixed bridge oud is really the classic style oud. Which is, much like guitars, has a bridge glued to the face (the top) of the instrument. This bridge is obviously not movable, and if nothing horrible happens to the oud, will stay there forever.
In oppose, the floating bridge is another story. It’s a piece of wood, with a long slice of bone or ebony wood. The strings are stretched over the bridge towards the tailpiece of the wood, where it is tied in a dedicated hole.
The difference in sound between a fixed bridge and a floating bridge is very significant. Floating bridge ouds have a more deep, warm sound. While floating bridges, which is also often played with F-F high tuning, are more bright, cutting through punchy sound. Take this into account when making a decision.
Professional syrian oud - walnut wood
A Syrian floating bridge Oud made by Walid El Badiwa

Cedar vs Spruce

Once and forever, let’s get it out of the way. There’s not one wood that is better for Oud. Spruce is a bright wood, which is used for musical instruments all over the world. It has more clear sound, and deep high tones (if that makes sense). Many players like the clarity it produces.

On the other side, there’s the cedar. A wood with a long history in classical guitars. If you are after a bassy, warm tone – you should probably get an oud with a cedar face. Cedar is common among Arabic ouds mainly, but not only.

When it comes to making a decision, although cedar ouds might be slightly more expensive, they are worth the extra few bucks to get that sound you desire.

Holes design

Let’s make a quick experiment. Open your mouth and say loud “AAAAAAAAA”. Now say “OOOOOOO”. Now, last, say “EEEEEEEE”. Observe your mouth and the embroucure created when saying those sounds. As you see, the shape of your mouth has a crucial effect on the produced sound.

With ouds, it is just the same. Ouds with a wide open, have a more ‘AA’ open sound. The ones which are close to circle roesstes are more of an ‘O’ sounding instruments. If that only confuses you, listen to some Zeryab ouds, and try to hear that difference of the sound’s timbre.

Truss rod and planning long term

Each Zeryab Oud includes a Truss Rod.  A Truss Rod will run through the neck and will allow the player to easily change the angle of the neck to the body, using a standard hex key. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the Oud instrument, over time the neck on the instrument can be pulled slightly due to the overall pressure of the strings.  This will, therefore, make it slightly more difficult to play as the distance from the string to the fingerboard will be further.  Thus, with a Truss Rod, the player will be able to realign this easily and continue playing as normal.  This is what makes Ali Khalifa’s ouds great purchases.

The good news is, all Zeryab ouds have a truss rod, making them a great option when looking for an oud to a long term journey.

Technical comparison of Zeryab ouds

Top Pegs Decoration Back Truss rod Rossets
Zeryab Syrian Oud Spruce Walnut Beach / Walnut Yes
Zeryab Syrian Oud Rosettes Spruce Walnut Beach / walnut Yes Turkish style
Zeryab Syrian Oud #1 Cedar Better walnut Classic Walnut / Mahogany Yes
Zeryab Syrian Oud #2 Cedar Better walnut Nahat style Beach / walnut Yes Nahat style
Zeryab Syrian Oud #3 Cedar Better walnut Nahat style clean Mahogany / beach Yes Nahat style

Important things to look for when buying a Zeryab oud

Zeryab ouds, unlike guitars, come from the workshop with some imperfections, making them basically impossible to play out of the box. It requires someone with knowledge and tools to get them ready to play. Let’s have a look on the things that are important to make sure are right, before purchasing any oud:

Nut

The nut is the small piece of wood, sitting under the strings near the pegbox (where the tuning is done). This naughty little piece can cause a lot of hassle to any player, if not shaped and aligned correctly. When the nut is too high, it is very hard to press the strings to the fingerboard. In our shop, every oud goes through a complete setup that includes nut spacing and shaving.

Truss rod tuning

Zeryab ouds have the magical ability to change the angle of the neck. However, does take some skills to get the perfect angle for playing. We do that for you, so you can enjoy the instrument.

Strings

Zeryab ouds ship out of the factory with a very cheap set of strings made in China (a brand called ‘ Alice’). This set is not playable and will cause sound problems as soon as you tune the oud for the first time. We change the strings to each oud to Pyramid 650/11. Made in Germany, it is the world’s best selling strings set for Arabic oud.

 

Zeryab ouds. A good bang for the buck

If you spotted a Zeryab oud that you like, we suggest – go for it. Our customers love these ouds, and there’s really nothing bad to say about them. Make sure you purchase them from a dealer that takes care of all the important points and enjoy your new oud!

P.S. We are offering free Express (7-10 days) shipping for all our Zeryab ouds collections.

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