Commonly associated with European Renaissance music, the lute is a plucked-string instrument played with two hands. The lute has appeared in many forms and variations throughout history. Different types of lutes have been integral in the evolution of plucked-string instruments. Many world instruments bear a striking similarity to the lute, illustrating the instrument's influence on musical development.
The oud is an Arabic instrument very similar to a European lute in size and shape, sharing the rounded back and bent fretboard. The oud generally has 11 strings and one to three sound holes. It is played using a long, thin pick called a plectrum. Different styles of this instrument are found throughout the Middle East, varying slightly in characteristics like shape, tuning, neck length and bridge size.
Mandolins share many physical and sound characteristics with lutes. Though most mandolins are flat-backed instruments, Neapolitan variations are made with round backs. The mandolin has fewer strings than the lute, a straight fretboard and a shorter, more round body than the lute with its longer pear shape. Also unlike the lute, the mandolin more commonly is associated with modern music and playing styles. It is used in popular genres ranging from pop to folk to art music.
The pipa is a plucked Chinese musical instrument. Though the many strings of the pipa are tuned to a tonal system quite different from Western scales and tuning, the pipa closely resembles the lute in its round (though shallow) back and bent neck.
The barbat is a stringed instrument of Persian origin, predating the oud and strikingly similar to the Arabic instrument. In fact, the names of the two instruments sometimes are interchanged and they are so similar that they can be substituted for one another in performances. The barbat differs from the oud chiefly in having a smaller bowl and larger fingerboard. This makes it slightly quieter, but it has the same tuning and is played the same way.
Perhaps the most famous plucked string instrument of the western music world, the guitar is flat-backed. It has a straight fingerboard and, typically, six strings. Though the predecessors of the modern guitar are many, the instrument's evolution is closely related to that of the lute. The guitar is thought to be a close cousin to the Spanish vihuela, an instrument resembling the lute in size, shape and tuning.