The 'ūd is a short-necked lute found throughout the Middle East, believed to have origins similar
to the Chinese pipa. Its name (Arabic for "twig" and by inference
"wood") goes allegedly back to the time when the skin covering the instrument's face was
replaced with wood. The basic design of the 'ud was developed by the 8th century
A.D. Brought by the Arabs to Spain, the instrument gave both its name (al ud laud lute) and form to the European lute.
The modern 'ūd has a large, wooden, pear-shaped body, and
a vaulted back with 16 to 21 ribs. It has five double courses of nylon or gut, and
metal-wound silk strings, tuned: G2 A2, D3, G3, C4.
A sixth single course is often added tuned C2 or D2. Intricate visual ornamentation is
typical of the 'ūd, especially in the rosette design and the wood inlay.
The strings are plucked or strummed with a quill plectrum
(traditionally an eagle's feather). A new technique introduced at the end of the 19th
century includes plucking the strings with the fingers of the neck-placed hand. The short,
fretless neck facilitates both the production of microtonal intervals and the creation of
vibrato and portamento.
Thanks to its warm timbre, low
tessitura, and microtonal flexibility, the 'ūd is known as amīr al-tarab
or "the prince of enchantment." Today the 'ūd is the favored tool of
composers and theorists, and a basic member of the traditional ensemble.
Video demonstration on the 'ūd by Ali Jihad Racy