Originally Posted by dach
I've played and recorded me playing one many times. I've been looking for one for a while but don't like to buy anything without playing first. The one I've used was not only difficult to play but also a pain to record (for more reasons than me not being a great player). I really want one but also want a quality instrument at the same time... but not wanting to spend too much since it will be not be used much...
Unfortunately, quality instruments are hand-made, and come with a price. In Istanbul, $1000 is basically your starting point for a guaranteed playable instrument, and there are instruments as expensive as $5000 new and $30,000 used. There's one maker, Haluk Eraydin, in Aydin, Turkey who has playable (though not spectacular) instruments for cheaper, and also knows how to ship to the US. Search on mike's oud message forum for them. You also may luck out with a tourist instrument at a bazaar, but rarely are those good instruments. Usually they're REALLY bad.
In the US, Viken Najaryan (Orange County, CA) and Peter Kyvelos (Boston, Massachussets) are the two great makers - their quality instruments start at $2000 (Viken) and I think $3500 (Peter). This should give you an idea of the price - ouds use woods that are now quite expensive and hard to come by, and require hundreds of hours of labor to make properly.