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I'm a clawhammer banjo player interested in learning the oud. I have the following general questions:

  • How difficult is the oud relative to the banjo (i.e., has anyone else made this switch)?
  • What should I expect to pay for a starter oud? (So far the lowest I've seen on eBay and Amazon is $300 or more, which is somewhat higher than the price for a starter banjo and substantially more than the price for a starter guitar; is that typical?)
  • What should I look for in a starter oud?

Lastly, a geographically specific question: how do people in the US come by their instruments? I could order from Mid-East.com, but I'm not crazy about the idea of ordering online when I don't really know what I'm getting; I'd much prefer to visit a shop if possible. Any suggestions for someone in the northeastern US (specifically New England)?

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You around Boston, by any chance?

http://www.meetup.com/Boston-Music-Players/events/201134252/

Which instructs students: "To purchase Oud: Unique Strings 165 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478‎". It also refers to several online sources including Mid-East.com, which maybe is a vote of confidence in them? Also, it refers to a Center for Arabic Culture; that might be a useful source of people who know ouds and local sources for them (including maybe any used market in them).

I don't know for ouds, but I guess I'm not surprised it's more than a starter banjo or guitar; when there's not a huge demand for an instrument, it's not going to be available for cheap. A friend of mine who was working in Egypt said they were available there for about US$50, but then you had the exciting problem of figuring out how to get it home in one piece, and paying for transport.

I would advise you to try to find somebody who knows ouds to help you shop for one. I myself have been burned by my own ignorance trying to buy a instrument as a beginner, and in the areas I am not a beginner, I've saved a few friends from unwise purchases by being with them while they shopped.

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It's really cool that you're interested in the Oud.

You should check out Mike's Oud forum. Very interesting stuff out there.

Also check out www.mauriceoudshop.com. This is the safest place to get an Oud from online in the United States.

The Oud is not necessarily more difficult than learning Banjo or Guitar, it's just a different approach. It's more like a melodic instrument like a violin.

Also check out http://www.oudforguitarists.com/types-of-ouds-ultimate-oud-buyers-guide-1/

Good luck. Once you get into the Oud you'll be quite addicted.

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I'm learning oud since 5 months now. I don't have any experience with banjo, but sitar (from Indian Classical Music).

To address your questions, in my opinion, oud is a bit easier than sitar, but probably more difficult than other instruments, specifically for getting the right intonation (and we're speaking microtonally). As always, the more you practice, the easier it gets. I made more progress with oud in this 5 months than what I could with sitar in the same amount of time, but that's still relative.

On the other hand I would say a $300 dollars oud is pretty cheap, so I would say it could work fine. Regular ouds are around $1500 dollars and more too. Someone mentioned a $50 dollar oud in Egypt, but beware decoration instruments sold in fairs or souvenir shops (they exist in India too and sell very decorative but otherwise "firewood" sitars). Who knows, maybe you do get a decent cheap instrument by a young, starter maker, but be very careful.

With regards with what you should look in a starter oud, I would say that the highest quality, the less problems you'll have tuning it, etc. But that doesn't comes with a starter price. On the other hand, since I wouldn't recommend learning on your own since you need to know the position (specially right hand/arm), the technique is very different to other instruments, and the music itself is very complex, you better try to find a good teacher and ask him the type of oud he recommends. There are ouds from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and so on, and many of them are different with regards to size, stringing/tuning, sound, etc. I would say the most different is turkish with regards to the others, because not only tuning is different, but construction is very different too (and thus, sound). Then, your teacher can recommend you also a place in the US for you to buy one. Buying overseas is pretty delicate and you have to know more or less where you're buying and what you'll most probably get.

As someone also posted, Mike's Ouds Forums is a great resource and can help in many regards.

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