Sam (Sarkis) Varjabedian This Armenian luthier was born in Fenesse, Turkey in 1892, and died in Detroit, Michigan in 1963. He emigrated to the United States in 1913, and made ouds ('uds) from at least the early 1920's. Based in Detroit, Michigan, he continued to make ouds (and a small number of lutes) until 1963. Shown below are representative samples of his work.
His instruments can be identified by his label, which can be found behind the large rosette (soundhole) in the center of the oud. Although usually printed, some of the early labels consist of his handwritten signature and date. Some of the earliest ouds also contain his photograph on the label.
Many ouds also carry Varjabedian's label if the oud was repaired by him. Therefore, the presence of his label does not necessarily indicate that the oud was made by him. Generally, however, if the label was placed only because the oud was repaired, an earlier label by another luthier will be found.
Varjabedian also made custom hard cases out of wood for his ouds on request. At a time when ouds were purchased, sold, and transported often in simple cloth bags, this was highly unusual, and perhaps unheard of. Varjabedian was aware of this, and prided himself on the cases even more than on his ouds, which were designed to fit the specific oud that was made.
There are two labels that frequently appear in Varjabedian's later ouds--the serrated oval shown on the left, and the white rectangular label shown on the right. Ouds from the 1920s and 1930s generally had hand-written labels, at times with his picture.
The label on the left, unaltered, would date from before 1944, as he left the Gray address at that time. It appears in a serrated oval form, as well as rectangular. However, there were a number of these labels left after his move, and he would at times cross out the Gray address, write in his new address, and place this modified label in his ouds.
The label on the right, above, dates from the 1950s and 1960s. A version of this was also printed on a heavier, green paper, and served as a business card (below).
In the descriptions below, the label on the left will be referred to as label A, and the label on the right as label B.
|The mizrap guard appears to
have been either moved, or replaced, but the instrument is otherwise
Nut to bridge: 24 1/4 " Nut to base of oud: 27 7/8 " Greatest width: 14 1/2 " Diam of large rosette: 4 1/8 " Diam of small rosette: 1 5/8"
Depth of oud: 7 1/2 " Number of ribs: 17 Label: Sam Varjabedian 12716 E. Jefferson Detroit, Mich. 6/20/26 [all handwritten, no picture]
|A very basic oud, perhaps due to the on-going
depression in the country. Wood rosettes and only 13 ribs.
Original. Face was removed to carry out conservative repairs of
minor cracks, at which time photographs of the inside of the oud were
taken. Final photograph shows tail block, which has been
grooved to make this lightweight instrument even lighter. Bowl
woods probably birch and walnut. Neck is flame maple, with
Label: No. 56 Sam Varjabedian 1202 Gray July 4, 1934 (Handwritten, no picture) Uncertain as to whether the 56 on the label indicates that this was his 56th oud. Number of ribs: 13
Wood: Walnut and birch (?)
or early 1950s
|A "hanum"/ladies oud. Once owned by Udi
Hrant. Beautiful "sunburst" effect at base of bowl.
Now using the "tiled-edge" type of purfling around bowl and rosettes.
Nut to bridge: 22 " Nut to base of oud: 26" Greatest width: 13 1/2" Depth of oud: 7 " Small rosette diam: 1 1/2" Large rosette diam: 3 1/2 "
Label: Type A, with the Gray address crossed out, and another address written in: "Store 14375 Lappin". A telephone number is also written in. It is known that he was using label type B by 1954, and that he left the Gray address in 1944. This oud likely dates to the 1944-1954 period.
Wood: Maple and walnut (?)
|Restoration by Peter Kyvelos, master luthier in Belmont, MA,
including new soundboard. Even with Kyvelos'
brilliant restoration, Varjabedian's craftsmanship
is still evident, particularly with the body of the oud, and the
rosettes. Later ouds, such as this one, more highly evolved.
Note single wood for ribs, but now thin purfling strips are used between
the ribs, a technique which is not seen on his earlier ouds. "Spade" design at base of bowl in contrasting wood.
Birds now in all rosettes. Originally with "tiled edge" purfling
around rosettes and soundboard.
Nut to bridge: 23 1/2 " Nut to base of oud: 27" Greatest width: 14 1/4 " Diam of large rosette: 3 7/8" Diam of small rosettes: 1 1/2"
Depth of oud: 7 7/8" Label: Type B, white paper. On top, handwritten, "59 7/1" Number of ribs: 21
Wood: Mahogany, with maple (?) purfling.
|Completely original, with a beautiful strong and warm tone.
Varjabedian has inlaid a piece of darker wood into the soundboard above
the large rosette. Extended portion of fingerboard is flush with the surrounding soundboard, rather than
resting above it. Had been present on the 1959 oud, as well,
before the soundboard had been replaced. Tiled-edge purfling along
edges of soundboard, and around rosettes. The original owner believed that this oud
was purchased from Varjabedian before 1961, and that 1961 was the year
that he brought it back to Varjabedian to have the fingerboard replaced
Nut to bridge: 23 3/4" Nut to base of oud: 27 7/8" Greatest width: 14 1/4" Diameter of large rosette: 4 3/16" Diameter of small rosettes: 1 3/4"
Depth of oud: 7 7/8" Label: Type B, address in upper right corner cut out. On top, written "1961". Number of ribs: 19
Wood: Likely walnut with maple (?) purfling.
|Unfinished rosettes, probably from the early 1960s|
|To the right, one of the many oud moulds in Varjabedian's shop when he died in 1963.|
I am always interested in purchasing any oud made by
Sam (Sarkis) Varjabedian
Any Varjabedian Oud, In Any Condition.
Contact: Jonathan Varjabedian
I would also be interested in seeing any photographs of ouds by this maker.
This page last updated: March 15, 2006