Ok, that’s a big moment for you. You have decided to start to play a Kanun, and it is just about time to look for a good instrument. Choosing an instrument like a Kanun can get tricky. The results of choosing an amateur instrument in the good case, or low quality instrument on the worst case is frustration.
So what are the keys when looking for a Kanun? How do we know how to choose one? Let’s dive in.
1. New is better, but…
In the case of Kanun, new instrument will always be better. This is due to the wear of the skin and pegs. However, if you came across an amazing instrument which was built by a known maker, it is sometime worth to find a Luthier that will setup it for you.
2. Tuning is the base
The basic requirement of every instrument is that it will be easy to tune it. While in guitar you have mechincal pegs that allow easy tuning, in kanun you don’t. It is just a wooden peg inside a hole that holds the string tight. Make sure the peg box is made from strong wood (oak for example) and that the pegs are made of ebony wood. Ebony is a very dense material that doesn’t expend during weather changes.
Sometimes, strings can make the whole different between good and bad instrument. Make sure the kanun has good strings. Weather if it’s PVF or Dupont for Turkish kanun, or plain nylon for Arabic kanun. In Arabic oud, the first 7 strings are usually made of metal. Make sure a good company produces this strings.
4. Arabic or Turkish?
That’s the big question always. Let’s understand first the differences. The Arabic kanun is bigger by 5-7cm on the wide side from the Turkish kanun. Meaning, it is more heavy and massive. It is also played 1 note below. Arabic tuned is tuned from G to D, while Turkish is from A to E. Due to the low quality of most Arabic kanun, we don’t suggest you to buy Arabic kanun. Most chances you won’t get what you are looking for, both in the finish level and the general quality.
5. The levers: Mandals (Turkish) / Oravs (Arabic)
In Arabic Kanun there are between 1-5 levers on each strings. In Turkish Kanun there are 2-12 levers. Turkish Kanun will let you play with the tones dramtically more than Arabic. Make sure the levers are made of good material, that they move smoothly and that the tuning is correct.
6. Skin or artificial skin?
This question has been discussed widely in the past 10 years. Opinions tend to go there or there without any obvious advantage to either way. Each skin has it’s pros and cons. Real skin: Great sound, wears with time, can also change in humidity or extreme weather conditions. Plastic skin: Can sound a bit metallic at first, survives better without the need to be replaced.
The bridge is the base of the Kanun. Make sure the bridge is aligned straight with the strings. The best bridges for kanun are made of maple, with ebony wood piece on the top. This allows the strings to be cut on a sharp high density material, which will give good punch to the sound.
8. Checking for buzzs and rattles
The kanun is a rather complicated instrument. Unwanted sounds can come from many parts of the instrument. Make sure by testing each lever that the sound is good without any surprises. When buying online, make sure to buy from a reliable source, make sure they test the Kanun thoroughly.
The plectrum has a vast effect on the sound. For the best results, use turtle shell pick. It has been used for centuries with great success. However, some plastic picks also do the job. Although there is not replacement for the real thing.
10. The case
After you have found your instrument, which have probably took some good amount of money to buy, make sure it is safe. The kanun is a fragile instrument, it can easily brake on various points. Make sure you get your kanun with a good hard case, to make sure where ever you – it is safe and sound.
Good luck 🙂