Middle Eastern Dance
Care of Qanuns

Qanuns are rather expensive instruments ranging from $1000 for a broken or poor quality one to up to $7000 for a well crafted high quality one.  The average Turkish Qanun usually ranges between $2000-$5000.  Being such a substantial investment it's important to know how to properly maintain and care for your Qanun to protect it and prolong it's life.

The first step is to always perform preventative maintenance.  Make sure you have a case for storing your Qanun in.  Keep it in the case whenever your not using it.  This will help keep it clean and free from dust and scratches and such.  Keep some good quality microfiber cloths with your case so that you can wipe down your instrument each time you play.  A quick wipe down after playing will help to remove any dirt and oils right away and keep the finish and strings in better condition.  Over time the oils from your hands if not cleaned off your instrument will build up and start to make the finish dull and it will look noticeably dirty.  Try not to get any moisture on the skin panels of your Qanun as this may cause them to warp.  If they do get wet make certain that you allow them to fully dry and then check to see if they have warped or loosened.  You may be able to use them as is or you may be able to remove and reattach the panel while making it tighter.  If it is too damaged, dirty, or warped you may just need to replace it with a new panel.

Occasionally to maintain the finish and beauty of your instrument you'll want to give it a little more intensive cleaning.  For this you can use similar cleaners for other instruments like guitars.  For example Dunlap System 65 Maintenance Kit.  This doesn't need to be used every time you clean but can help to remove built up dirt and oils.  String conditioner is probably not necessary because the strings on a Qanun are usually nylon or gut and don't have any copper wrapping or anything like many modern guitar strings.

If your Qanun needs more than just a cleaning and is in need of repair you can either take it in to a repair shop (if you've never repaired or don't understand how to disassemble and/or reassemble your instrument this is probably the safest option) or attempt the repairs yourself.  Depending on where you are it may be difficult to find someone who is knowledgeable about or has any experience with Qanuns.  If they have experience in repairing instruments like a zither, psaltery, or a dulcimer they may be able to draw on their experiences with those instruments.  You may need to specify what tuning system you use or want if you wish to have it returned to you repaired and in tune (or relatively in tune).

If you decide to attempt the repairs yourself here's where to start...

Replacing the skin panels
First carefully remove the strings and then the bridge.  If the strings are old and need to be replaced simply cut them on the top of the holes.  Remove the leftover knots with a long nose pliers.  If the strings are still good then carefully remove them one at a time preserving the order they were removed in.  Next remove all of the trim (if you remove it carefully enough you may be able to reuse it).  Once the trim is off you should be able to remove the skins.  Next you should tape the edges of your work area.  You want to protect the finish.  I would use a painters tape but others recommend electrical tape.  the painters tape should lift without leaving a residue or damaging the finish.  the electrical tape probably won't damage the finish but it may leave behind a sticky residue which you'll then need to take extra time to clean off.

Now start by preparing the surface.  Remove all the old glue.  You may nee to use a chisel and/or razor to scrape it off.  The glue may respond well to heat so you can either heat the chisel while you are scraping (for example set the tip on a hot stove or on a hot iron) or you can also try heating the glue more directly.  A heat gun or embossing gun would work well or you you might be able to get enough heat even from a hair dryer on high heat and low speed.  Once you have removed as much of the glue as possible (and you may need to make several passes) clean the area with a damp cloth.  Make sure the surface has dried and then sand the surface with a 220 grit emery cloth.  You want the area to be slightly rough so that the glue will adhere properly.  It will stick better to a rough surface than a smooth one.  After you've sanded the surface then use a vacuum to remove  the larger dust particles (the brush attachments work really well).  Finally follow up by wiping it down with a tack cloth to make sure all dust has been removed.

Now your Qanun's surface has been prepared for installing new skin panels.  Next you will need to prepare the skin panels themselves.  Most Qanuns will have either fish skin or goat skin panels.  You can find appropriate skins from drum suppliers such as those available at Drum Factory Direct but, they will probably be cut and sized for drum heads .  You will need to measure each panel to know what size you will need.  Careful measurement, planning, and cutting will probably mean you can get more than one panel out of a single larger drum head skin.  When you get the skin it should be stiff.  You will loosen it up but before you do you need to measure and mark it.  First put the leather on the Qanun right side up and mark the shape you'll need it to be with a permanent marker.  I recommend using a fine tip to make as small a line as possible and to ensure it will not be overly visible if the wood strips don't completely cover it.  You can also use a color that is only a little darker than your skin or matches closely to the color of your wood to help anything blend if it ends up being visible.  Mark the outline of all the edges and the support pieces  Make a small mark in the farthest edge of the right corner so you will know which direction it should go when you place it.  Cut the panel to the size you've marked using a razor or hobby knife.  You can also snip a tiny bit off the corner you marked to make it easier to see which edge was marked (also just in case the permanent marker wasn't as permanent as if should have been).  Once cut out turn it over and on the wrong side use your emery cloth along the edges to rough it up.  Again a rough surface will help it to adhere better than a smooth one. 

Once you've roughed up the edges your ready to soften the leather so it will be pliable enough to stretch over the Qanun base.  Get a container large enough to hold the skin and place the skin inside it (you may roll it but don't do anything tight enough to crack or crease it and don't fold it.  Fill the container with cool water so that the skin is completely covered.  Let the skin soak in the water for about 15-20 minutes.  After it is soft and movable remove it and let excess water drip off then place it on a towel and fold the towel over the top (the skin should be sandwiched between the towel which should fold back over on itself).  Gently press down on the towel to dry the skin you could also place a few large heavy books on top to apply the pressure for you.  Do not allow the skin to dry out completely again (so don't leave it overnight or for several hours).

Apply either a good quality wood glue or a gluten glue/wheat paste to one section of the Qanun.  You can use a paint brush (or even just your pinky) to spread it out evenly and get into all the areas you need to apply glue to.  Lay out your skin carefully and press the edges into the glue.  Next take 1 1/2 drapery pins and pin the corners.  If they are hard to push in give them a light tap with a hammer.  They don't need to go in very far we just want to make sure the leather stays in place as it dries.  After the corners are pinned go around the outer edge and place another pin approximately every inch all the was around.  Allow the skin to dry completely (depending on temperature and humidity this could be several hours do a few days if the humidity is high).  Do not place it near a light or a heat source you want it to dry naturally on it's own.  When it's dry the color will change a little and if you tap it, it will sound like a drum.  Pull out the pins (if they don't come out by hand pulling then use a pliers and gently pull them out being careful not to put pressure on your newly installed skin.  Gripping closer to the base usually works better than towards the top.

If you were able to remove your wood trim pieces carefully without damaging them you can now save yourself some time and glue them back into place... if you damaged the trim, well, you've got more work to do now.  You'll need to measure and cut some wood strips to the same measurements to fit the area.  The corners will need to be mitered like on a picture frame (it's not too hard and you can by small miter tables/cutters that will allow you to simply line up your stuff at a 45* angle (or other angles) and then give you an easy way to cut at that angle.  Next you'll want to finish the strips.  You'll want to stain them in a matching color and then apply either a clearcoat polyurethane or shellac.  Once they are dry glue the wood trim back into place over the leather it doesn't hurt to rough the back up with that emery cloth first).  Use clamps and/or spacers to hold the pieces in place.

Once everything is dry put the bridge back into place in the center of each leather panel.  The thicker edge should be closer to the "bottom" of the Qanun.  Now you can replace the strings on the pegs and then returned your instrument.  Check frequently to make sure the bridge is perpendicular to the Qanun.

Installing new strings (or re-installing the old ones)
Qanun's use nylon or natural gut strings which you can purchase on-line from specialty music stores or even from Amazon.  Lay out your strings in order of diameter size.  Begin with the smallest diameter and move up to the largest diameter.  If your sting comes cut on a diagonal it's ready to be installed.  If not snip the tip so it has a diagonal cut which makes it easier to install.  Insert the cut end through the top of the hole and where it comes out from the bottom of the hole tie and fisherman's knot as small as possible.  On the strings with the smallest diameter tie a double overhead knot.  Pull the string above the hole and attach to the pegs.  Tune the instrument and keep the bridge perpendicular to the skin underneath it.  If you need replacement pegs you can also purchase them on Amazon.

Now that you know how to care for your Qanun and do some of the basic replacements be sure to start practicing with it by visiting our Qanun Playing Tips page.  Or if you'd like to read up the history of the Qanun, different kinds of zither instruments, and other interesting information you can also visit the About Qanuns page.
Female Qanouni.

Egyptian Clay Tabla, Inlaid with Mother of Pearl and Camel bone.  Private Collection.