This post will stray from the usual subject, but it is tangentially related.
I’ve just returned from a short trip to Istanbul, where I went to pick up a Turkish oud made by Faruk Türünz and his incredibly skilled crew. I was so impressed by their knowledge, skills, and particularly, by Faruk’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of oud making, exploring new and revolutionary ideas that put his ouds and their amazing sound at the top of centuries of evolution. People in every field can learn from Faruk’s continuous exploration, inquisitiveness, and his use of the scientific method to test his theories.
I haven’t written about it here before, but playing the oud has become my favorite hobby and pastime. There are many similarities between playing music and martial arts (rhythm, timing, improvisation, volume, and even melody)…and I need to do a post on that soon. But back to the subject at hand, I had read about Faruk’s amazing ouds, listened to them on his YouTube channel, and eventually decided I had to see and hear them for myself. After emailing with him for a while, I decided to fly to Istanbul (a city my wife and I have visited a couple of times before, and love), and arranged to meet him at his shop.
The oud is well over 1,000 years old. The European lute (from the Arabic “al oud”) and descended from it. It has an amazing range, and because it has no frets, micro tones can be played that are between standard western notation. The making of the oud has been passed down from maker to apprentice for centuries. It’s possible to find relatively cheap ouds for the tourist market throughout the Middle East, Turkey, Northern Africa, and Central Asia but top quality ouds made by master luthiers are harder to come by, and often only custom made. And there is no comparison between the craftsmanship, sound, feel, and playability of a cheap tourist oud and a top quality masterpiece.
Faruk has taken his ouds, made by himself and his skilled craftsman, to the highest possible level, by using revolutionary ideas, modern software, and custom tools to get the best possible results in sound quality, every time.
Early on, Faruk discovered that he could make ouds with the same materials and dimensions, but the sound would be different each time, because no two pieces of wood are exactly alike. Looking at a mechanical engineering book, he came across formulas related to the vibration and frequency of various building materials. His “aha moment” was realizing that the frequencies of the components of a musical instrument, which determine the sound quality and resonance, would be different due to the differences in wood, even with identical sized pieces of the same wood. So he set about figuring out a way to first determine the ideal frequencies of the component parts of an instrument, and then to build the instrument based on those figures.
He calls it the “brace tuning method”, and you can see one of his craftsmen using it above. With custom tools and software, he is determining the frequency of a single piece of wood that will be used to make an oud. Each brace is custom made to create the perfect frequency to achieve the desired sound when added to the oud. This revelation is what makes his ouds sound so consistently incredible. But he doesn’t stop there.
In the image above, one of his craftsmen is adding carbon fiber strips to both strengthen and perfectly balance the neck of an oud. And when you pick up one of his finished ouds, the balance is perfect. It’s another step along the evolution of the oud.
Faruk uses ebony for the fingerboards of his ouds, and in the picture above you can see the use of his custom built machine that sands the fingerboard to make it perfectly smooth and level, every time.
Every step of the process has been explored, tested, and refined, and you know it the moment you see one of his ouds in person, the moment you pick one up, and especially, when you hear the sound. They are technical masterpieces, and works of art.
Aside from his revolutionary work, the amazing thing about Faruk is his willingness to share his discoveries. He’s happy to tell anyone about his formulas and exactly how he and his crew build their ouds. Yet, few oud makers are listening. Just like in martial arts, people are limited by tradition and unwilling to question, explore, test, and evolve. Eventually they’ll be passed up by people like Faruk and his crew. What they leave to chance, Faruk has found a way to engineer to perfection. I would think that all makers of musical instruments would benefit greatly to hear of Faruk’s discoveries. I hope he or one of his craftsmen will at least write a book on the subject to make sure his knowledge will be passed on.
I don’t play well enough to do justice to his ouds, so I won’t include a video of myself playing to this post. But if you’d like to hear them, check out his YouTube Channel. In person, the sound is far better than what you’ll hear in the videos. If you’d like to get one for yourself, which I highly recommend if you’re even slightly inclined, here is his website. He does ship them around the world, but using the purchase as an excuse for a trip to Istanbul is also highly recommended. 🙂
UPDATE: 10 months after writing this post I also bought an Arabic oud from Faruk. I’ve written a review of it here.