Ever since I was a young kid, I've been fascinated by the Oud 
but with so many other interesting instruments in this world, 
never got around to doing anything about it. Recently saw a 
youtube video of a friend I met in Senegal, Modou Gaye 
singing and playing percussive Hang drum (in this case 
it was a Hang drum) accompanied by beautiful sounding 
Oud playing. This inspired me to at least pay a lot more 
attention to the Oud.
CLICK HERE for a short sound sample of this conversion
It's very simple to convert just about any type of guitar, 
6 or 12 string.  into a quite playable Oud -- certainly good 
enough for learning, noodling & in general getting a good 
feel for what an Oud is all about.

My current conversion (just completed today, 1-28-13) uses a 
"Decca" junker guitar - obviously do not use any guitar 
for this project that might even remotely be considered "good".

An Oud most often has 11 nylon strings - the bottom ones 
copper wound on nylon. It has five same-gauge doubled pairs 
of strings & a single low bass.  How can a 6-string guitar 
survive the string strain/tension of 11 strings you might 
ask? Well, a minimum of poking around the internet puts 
the issue to rest:

- Typical Oud strings,  Aquila Nylgut "# 13o" exert a total 
  of  94.6 lbs.

- D'Addario number "# EJ16" medium gauge steel guitar strings 
  exert a total of 163.2 lbs.

- Savarez number "# 520B" nylon guitar strings exert a total 
  of 93.6 lbs.

So you can see that Oud strings will put no undue strain on either 
an acoustic steel nor a typically more lightly built classical nylon 
guitar -  AS  IS  - without having to add any extra bracing etc. 
12-strings guitars will obviously work fine as well.

Putting nylon strings on a steel-string guitar is generally 
not advisable but in this case, the doubled notes of the Oud 
strings tend to make up for the loss of sound/volume. 

I plan to make a short sound sample or youtube video but knowing 
very little about playing the Oud, this may be a bit down the road.

These few steps must be taken for converting six-string guitars.

1) TUNING GEARS: Five extra guitar tuners have to be added to 
   the tuning head. This may not sound poissible but with a bit of
   planning can fairly easily be done. I can't guarantee that the 
   results will be pleasing to the eye but so what - it'll work 
   nicely. Three tuners usually can be fit around the tip --           
   two will usually fit next to the two guitar's E-strings. If the 
   plates of the tuners hit each other, hacksaw &/or file off 
   any non-critical part til everything fits flat.

2) FRETS must be removed from the guitar's fingerboard (Ouds are 
   fretless). Sometimes it's an easy job if you first heat each 
   fret thoroughly with a soldering gun to melt any glue. 
   Stubborn frets can be coaxed out by heating & then gently 
   hammering (sliding) them along their grooves. However you do it, 
   take care that you don't rip up a chunk of fingerboard in the 
   process (easy to do). I've learned by long experience that you
   need not fill in the fret holes - just carefully sand flush 
   any glue or projection.       Note: on my current conversion
   (pictured) the fretboard was in such bad condition that it was 
   falling apart - unusable - so I departed from these instructions 
   and instead made up a simple new fingerboard from a scrap of 
   formica-covered hardwood (thus the white surface). The formica
   makes a fine fretless surface.   

3) BRIDGE: Rework the bridge a bit to accommodate double strings. 
   On guitars where strings are held in with bridge pins: Simply 
   file a second groove in the bridge saddle 3.5 mm next to each 
   of the five thinnest strings. The bass string, not being doubled, 
   needs no attention. The bridge pins will easily take the strain 
   of a pair of strings being inserted in each pin hole. 
   Note : Oud strings as purchased do not have balls or anything 
   on either end -- you'll have to create big knots so the strings 
   will stay put in their holes. On guitars with a tailpiece: Most 
   bridges can easily be modified by filing a second groove 3.5 mm 
   next to each of the five thinnest strings.

4) NUT: Although it sometimes works to simply file extra grooves 
   in the existing nut to accommodate the five new strings (& then 
   deepening all notches), more often than not there's not enough 
   room in which case, a new nut can easily be made - even the wood 
   from a spring clothespin can make a good nut. Because the Oud is 
   fretless, make the nut slots a tiny bit deeper than the level of 
   the fingerboard (angle the nut cut downwards towards the tuner end).

That's about it!  This conversion ends up with an Oud whose 
fingerboard/stringlength is a couple of inches longer than on a 
traditional Oud. I easily solve this problem by using a capo (I prefer 
one made with a pencil & rubberbands) placed a few inches up from the nut.
Set it for a 600 mm string-length. Caution: USE THE CAPO because 
if you try to tune the instrument up to an Oud's traditional pitch 
withOUT the capo, the strings will most likely break. One nice feature 
of the capo on a fretless fingerboard is that you can quickly adjust 
the instrument's overall pitch to match who or whatever you are 
playing with.

If you use a 12-string guitar, no real conversion is needed other  
than fret removal, string change & use of the capo.

There are a number of traditional Oud tunings. 
The one I see most often (the one I use) is (low to high)   

F      CC     DD     GG     CC     FF    

   ( F   C3   D3   G3   C4   F4)

Above-mentioned Aquila Oud Strings (around $15 in 2013) and guitar 
tuning machines (I recommend Elderly part # GTM-21 at less than $2 
per) are available online at

As an aside - this instrument can be quickly tuned like a guitar 
E A D G B E ( LEAVE THE CAPO ON - because you're using Oud strings now). 
There are very few fretless guitar players in this world but after 
experimenting with no frets on a guitar years ago and finding it 
quite a bit of fun, this configuration doubles nicely as a fretless 
guitar. Hint: think melody not chords!

Dennis Havlena - W8MI
northern Michigan
Click here to access my webpage

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