For any artist, the quality of instrument is very important. There are many factors to consider when purchasing tabla. It is only in recent times that the wide majority purchase ready-made tablas, previously, each piece was bought individually to create a pair of tabla.
Here are 8 things to consider to keep in mind when purchasing tabla:
Good tablas are made from sheesham or biya wood. Sheesam is black in colour. A sheesham shell will have a solid bottom. Biya, on the other hand, is yellowish is colour and is softer than sheesham. When looking at shell, it important to make sure that the shell does not have any fractures in the body and that the top of the shell is even. A good shell will have been seasoned for 3 years (or 3 monsoons) before it is used.
The thickness of the vadhar is important to consider. Thin vadhars are more susceptible to breaking, which very thick vadhars are difficult to stretch when tuning. I remember when I used to buy vadhar and soak them in butter (makhan) before using them to make a pair of tabla. This was a common practice to make the vadhar smooth and more easy to stretch. These vadhars never dried out or snapped.
The thickness and length of the gata are two important factors. The thickness of the gata affects how much the pudi is stretched when moving the gata. If they are too thin then the pudi will not be stretched enough, if it too thick then it is difficult to increase the number of vadhars on the gata and when the vadhars are increased, the pudi can become overstretched. Generally, gatas should be 1 – 1.25 inches in diameter. If the gatas are too long then gatas will not stay in line when tuning making it difficult to get that precision in tuning.
The ghajara on a new pair of tabla should even all around and in the middle. No house should be higher or lower than another. If any house is higher or lower, then that house is more likely to become imbalanced in tone.
The width of the kinar determines the amount of resonance that one gets. A wide kinar makes for a less resonant sound (which is sometimes required), but in general, a very wide kinar is not recommended. If the kinar is too thin, then the kinar bols can become metallic in sound as the application of ta ends up more on the on top edge of the shell.
The shahi gives weight to the pudi. A good shahi will have concentric circles and no loose “beads” or danna. When playing a tete on the shahi, it should result in a very crisp sound. A good shahi gives the best tirakita and tete.
7) Pudi Size
The pitch of the tabla changes with the size of the pudi. For beginners, a 5.5″ diameter is recommended.
Bayan are generally made from German silver, copper or brass in original color or coated in chrome. I personally, I like brass bayans are they have a deep and round tone. There are two styles of bayans – tall or with a stomach. Those with a stomach have a bit more bass than the tall ones. Bayans come in three sizes – S, M, L. For a beginner, medium size is recommended. Bayans can comes with vadhars or strings. Those with the vadhar keep their stretch for longer, but they are susceptible to weather effects, while stringed bayans are not. Punjab, Delhi, Ajrada, Farukkhabad use bayans with vadhar, Benaras uses bayans with strings.
Tone is the most important factor to consider when purchasing tabla. All the above are factors that influence the tone of a tabla. The tabla tone should be round, have good resonance and be balanced. The bayan tone should be round and not have too much or too little bass.
Its a lot to consider, but a good instrument can greatly improve one’s practice, so take the time and spend the money to buy a good quality tabla, and remember to keep these 8 things in mind when purchasing tabla. Happy tabla shopping!
Looking to purchase tabla in the US? Taalim School sells tabla for beginners and professionals alike.