A gem from Damascus, 1897


By Karim Othman Hassan

This oud is to date the only known Damascus-made oud by the Qudmany family of luthiers. The former owner found it in the 1990s, in an antique shop in the well-known North German island of Sylt. It is now held in a private collection.

The maker was oud virtuoso and luthier Udi Selim Effendi (or Şamli Selim), older brother of Tawfiq and Iskander Qudmany. According to Nazmi Özalp, ‘Udi Şamli Selim’ (also known as Halepli Selim, Selim Kutmani) was actually born in Jaffa, moving later to Damascus and then Aleppo. He was occasionally in Izmir as an oud teacher, but in Istanbul he opened an oud workshop and publishing house for books and printed music in the Perukâr Street. He taught there with Kuzgunulu David Effendi from about 1902, not only meshk but also, by request, oud and kanun according to the so-called ‘new method’ of Muallim Hafiz Mehmet Bey. He was a prominent contributor to the music scene in Istanbul.

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Selim can have been barely older than 20 when he built this instrument. Although it is simply made, one can recognize from many details that the young man knew exactly what he was doing, and could carry it out independently and virtuosically.

The maximum width is 34cm, making it relatively narrow. The maximum depth is 18cm, which makes it 2cm deeper than the ideal dimensions of Al Kindi (in which the depth is half of the maximum width of the face). This extra depth is however customary in Syrian instruments.

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The face is made of 3 pieces of spruce (probably Picea orientalis) that are not very fine-grained. It is surrounded by a band of walnut wood, which connects it to the shell.

The shape of the pickguard (raqmah) is typical for early Syrian ouds and was also used again for later pieces. The large rosette is made of walnut wood, with inlaid ornaments of animal bone. The small sound holes are also fitted with bone rosettes, glued from the inside.


A small rarity is the wonderfully refined and relatively small bridge, recognizable from close-up.  One can also trace that the instrument has been played regularly, which has regrettably led to the loss of part of the face above the raqmah. This is often to be found on antique ouds, and led to the use of larger raqmahs, which must have reduced the quality of sound, because a significant area of resonance was lost thereby.

The shell consists of 15 ribs alternating walnut and cypress. These woods, used often for furniture in the late 19th century, are ideal for ouds. The light and soft cypress wood is easy to bend, and balances out the rather brittle, harder, more compact and heavier walnut. As the condition of surviving ouds attests, this combination enables the construction of a very light but robust shell.

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The fingerboard lacks any kind of decoration. As so often, it ends with an ornamental extension known as luza (almond) in Arabic. The beautifully curved pegbox, made of walnut wood, still holds 11 of the 12 original apricot-wood pegs. Its shape and materials are once again typical of ouds from Damascus. The string length between the bridge and the nut (made of bone) is 60 cm.

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Inside, the picture is like most antique instruments from Damascus. The upper and lower join blocks, in this case made of pine, are hollowed out to reduce weight. The dowel connecting the neck to the upper block can be identified. The braces supporting the face are, like the rest of the inside, virtuosically crafted.

The sound of this 120-year-old, eminently playable instrument can be described as exceptionally sonorous and warm.


Article translated from German by Rachel Beckles Willson

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