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  #1  
Old 12-05-2013, 09:49 AM
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Default How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

What the title said. I'm looking to buy some tablas and begin study. I want to buy something that better than "student quality" drums. I'm wondering what criteria I should be looking for, any red flags to be aware of, and any general advice about picking out a good set of tablas.

Thanks,
C. Wumpus
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Old 12-05-2013, 06:16 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

IDK, maybe the guys at Tabla-World could answer this better. Sorry Phil, I got nuthin.

Here's a tiny bit of info from the net: Probably not much help, sorry.


Tabla is a pair of drums. It consists of of a small right hand drum called dayan and a larger metal one called bayan.

The tabla has an interesting construction. The dayan (right hand drum) is almost always made of wood. The diameter at the membrane may run from just under five inches to over six inches. The bayan (left hand drum) may be made of iron, aluminium, copper, steel, or clay; yet brass with a nickel or chrome plate is the most common material. Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of the tabla is the large black spot on each of the playing surfaces. These black spots are a mixture of gum, soot, and iron filings. Their function is to create the bell-like timbre that is characteristic of the instrument.

Although the origin of tabla is somewhat obscure, it is generally belived that it evolved from the barrel shaped drum called pakhawaj. This was about three hundred years ago.
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Old 12-05-2013, 07:49 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Thanks, Barry. I got that info. I'm wondering if anybody has any info like...

Person A: "a steel bayan is better than a brass bayan because __________."
Person B: "I disagree. Brass is better because _________."
Person C: "Also, make sure the straps have ___________, and look out for cracks, specifically around the __________."

...you know, stuff like that. I'm actually out the door to check out a pair in about 10 minutes. From talking with the guy and hearing them over the phone, they seem legit, but I just fear that there's some sort of tabla purchasing blunder equivalent to:

OP: "Hey! I just picked up a rad set of DWs! Check 'em out, yo!"
Person A: "Um, those are Pacifics!"
OP: "But it says DW on them."
Person A: "Oh boy"
Person B: "Man, OP got ripped off!"

Any thoughts/advice?
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Old 12-05-2013, 09:05 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

DW makes tablas?

I think Bo has a tabla. You know he doesn't buy anything cheap. Maybe Bo knows lol.
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Old 12-05-2013, 10:59 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Greetings, I'm a new member, I thought I'd give some advice on what to look for in decent Indian drums. Honestly, I never recieved any good advice when I bought my first set, so I'll chime in and hopefully give some advice that will prevent some headaches.

As far as a "good" set of Tablas go, I would advise against buying a really high end expensive set to learn on, since most (if not all) Tabla students either ruin or wear out their first set in the first year. They're really temperamental drums and can get destroyed very easily, it is really hard NOT to hurt them sometimes. Wrecking your first set and learning how it is broken is somewhat of a Tabla "Initiation."

Some things to look at:

Personally, I prefer brass Bayans. I've tried steel, clay, and aluminum Bayans, but the resonance from brass Bayans is considerably sweeter imo, and they're a tad bit "bassier" than the others I've played. Clay is "traditional" and sounds nice, but is awfully breakable. Brass all the way.

As for the right hand drum, the Dayan, get one made from sheesham wood. Fortunately, most traditional Tabla sets will have sheesham Dayan's anyway.

As far as Dayan size, : 5" - 5.5" is usually the best, as you can tune it to C much easier.

A third feature to look for is to look at the puddi on both drum heads (the black spot in the center), this is a mixture of paste, iron filings, India Ink and other stuff that gets rolled onto the heads in concentric circles. The rule of thumb is the more concentric circles, the better the head. For a traditional set, you'll ideally NEVER replace the heads. Strangely enough, it is cheaper to just buy a new set, and the old ones are pretty good when used as decoration. I guess what I am saying is, get one with good heads, after all, you'll be stuck with them for the life of the set.

I wasn't aware DW made Tabla sets, but then again, they make just about anything you can hit with a stick or your hands, so no surprise there.

The fact is the Maharaja brand tablas available from just about anywhere online are quite good, authentic, inexpensive, and have everything a beginner needs (including instructional books)

Also a few side notes, get tabla covers, cover them when not in use, don't get them wet ever, and make sure you have a good hammer to tune them.

I hope this helped.


-The Rhythmystic
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  #6  
Old 12-05-2013, 11:16 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Wow man thanks for all that fantastic info, but I was joking about DW making tablas. Phil knows my jokes. But damn man great first post. Welcome to DW. You are now the tabla expert here lol.
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Old 12-06-2013, 04:47 PM
Rhythmystic Rhythmystic is offline
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Lol, sorry man, I totally didn't catch the joke right away. I was a little slow on the uptake there... The hilarious part is that I tried to find some DW Tablas online after I made that post, and found out that even though DW doesn't make them, apparently Meinl does. Theirs honestly don't look half bad. But then again I haven't played them...so I can't offer an opinion.

Thanks for the welcome, and I am always glad to help out a fellow drummer.

-The Rhythmystic
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Old 12-06-2013, 04:51 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Your contributions are appreciated. I learned a thing or two from you already. Please make yourself welcome and pull up a chair, there's a lot of great people like you here.
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Old 12-06-2013, 07:40 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Thanks, Rhythmystic! I had heard that heads and sound are paramount--shell material/construction isn't quite so important. The issue that I have is not really knowing exactly what a "good-sounding" set sounds like.

I bought a set yesterday, and the head on the wooden drum is tuned low, but only one strap is over the dowels, so I figured there is plenty of room to take the tuning up. I'm hesitant to yank on the next straps to pull them over the dowel, because it requires a LOT of force. I've seen videos of people holding the drum with their feet and yanking on the straps with hooks, leaning their whole body weight back in the process...is this typical? Is this the force required, and can the average straps take it? Thanks!
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Old 12-06-2013, 07:50 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhythmystic View Post
get one made from sheesham wood. Fortunately, most traditional Tabla sets will have sheesham Dayan's anyway.
Sheesham is an absolutely stunning wood. It's everywhere in India. I'm currently looking into it for purposes I won't mention. Unbelievably, my first introduction to Sheesham is my current kitchen! Every cabinet in my kitchen is made from sheesham. I imported a ton of generic cabinets, then fashioned them into free standing kitchen furniture. Wonderful grain structure, quite dense, & hard as hell. I've made up tone strips & I'm currently A-B testing them against other similar species.

Sorry for the sidestep, but I just got so excited that someone mentioned sheesham :)
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Old 12-07-2013, 07:34 PM
Rhythmystic Rhythmystic is offline
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Quote:
Originally Posted by caddywumpus View Post
Thanks, Rhythmystic! I had heard that heads and sound are paramount--shell material/construction isn't quite so important. The issue that I have is not really knowing exactly what a "good-sounding" set sounds like.

I bought a set yesterday, and the head on the wooden drum is tuned low, but only one strap is over the dowels, so I figured there is plenty of room to take the tuning up. I'm hesitant to yank on the next straps to pull them over the dowel, because it requires a LOT of force. I've seen videos of people holding the drum with their feet and yanking on the straps with hooks, leaning their whole body weight back in the process...is this typical? Is this the force required, and can the average straps take it? Thanks!
You're very welcome. Congratulations on your new set!

It is very common, with a new set, for the Dayan to be tuned pretty low. There are a few good reasons why this is the case. Storing/Transporting Tablas with reduced head tension is one way to save the heads, and make them last longer. Plus, they do require a little "breaking in" at first. They're not exactly "set it and forget it" drums, I'm always tuning mine, even while playing them.

The scene you described, holding the drums with the feet and pulling the straps, that is actually a fairly common Tabla maintenance technique, even though it looks a bit extreme. Strap-Pulling, as its called, is used when the Dayan cannot be tuned to C using the tuning hammer. In most cases, the "claw" part of a Tabla tuning hammer is sufficient to wedge under a strap and pull it (slowly of course as to not split a head.) Now, Strap-Pulling should only be a tool in your arsenal when combination of lowering the Gatta(the tuning dowels) and using the hammer to add tension to the Tasma (the braided leather ring around the top. As a side note the Tasma is similar to the hoops we use on Western drums). Chances are you won't be able to tune 100% to C just using the Gatta alone. This is normal, as tapping the Tasma in a star-like pattern between the straps slightly will provide fine-tuning to get it tuned to C, provided you aren't tuning it with a sledgehammer, is used to make minor adjustments. In this way, its exactly like tightening lugs on a kick drum, or any other for that matter. If the Gatta tension and the Tasma tension don't work, then it falls to strap pulling, and if that fails, there is one other drastic step that can be taken, but I don't recommend this without a qualified Tabla master present, but lastly, removing, and re-conditioning the heads, and re-stringing them on the drum.

Fortunately, Strap-Pulling fixes most tuning problems, but great care must be taken not to split the heads, since adding another strap to the Gatta drastically increases the tension on the head.

Good luck to you.

-The Rhythmystic
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  #12  
Old 12-07-2013, 08:09 PM
Rhythmystic Rhythmystic is offline
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

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Originally Posted by keep it simple View Post
Sheesham is an absolutely stunning wood. It's everywhere in India. I'm currently looking into it for purposes I won't mention. Unbelievably, my first introduction to Sheesham is my current kitchen! Every cabinet in my kitchen is made from sheesham. I imported a ton of generic cabinets, then fashioned them into free standing kitchen furniture. Wonderful grain structure, quite dense, & hard as hell. I've made up tone strips & I'm currently A-B testing them against other similar species.

Sorry for the sidestep, but I just got so excited that someone mentioned sheesham :)
Its quite a nice wood, both tonally and aesthetically. It has some of the qualities of other Rosewood species, dense like Bubinga, very versatile, etc. I've always liked the look and sound a little better than some of the other species of Rosewood out there (Cocobolo is out of this world too.) I'd be interested to see the result of the A-B testing you're doing. The results would be enlightening for sure.
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Old 12-07-2013, 11:19 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

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Originally Posted by Rhythmystic View Post
You're very welcome. Congratulations on your new set!
Thanks! If I could ask for just a little more clarification please...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhythmystic View Post
It is very common, with a new set, for the Dayan to be tuned pretty low. There are a few good reasons why this is the case. Storing/Transporting Tablas with reduced head tension is one way to save the heads, and make them last longer. Plus, they do require a little "breaking in" at first. They're not exactly "set it and forget it" drums, I'm always tuning mine, even while playing them.
Okay, so the person I bought the set from bought them from India when he was over there. He never tuned them up, besides just sliding the gatta up and down (which, I've found, doesn't do very much...more on this later). So, the heads are still in "untuned" condition, despite being a few years old. For the maiden voyage of tuning these things, I find that the head of the dayan won't tune up to the C# or D it should be at. At best, it will only get up to a G. I assume this means I need to add an extra strap. Is this correct?

Another tidbit of knowledge I have come across is that sliding the gatta down the drum, while having the ability to slightly raise the pitch of the drum, is mostly meant to secure the position of the rim. Like, you slide the gattas up, tune the head, and then slide the gattas down to secure the tuning (and also to "fine tune"). Is this correct?

Also, the "always tuning" part...I know about this from being a conga/bongo/djembe/doumbek player. From my reading, I've discovered that the fundamental note of the dayan needs to be tuned to the fundamental of the song, traditionally. Is there any specific relationship the bayan needs to be to this tuning?

Don't worry, there's more...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhythmystic View Post
The scene you described, holding the drums with the feet and pulling the straps, that is actually a fairly common Tabla maintenance technique, even though it looks a bit extreme. Strap-Pulling, as its called, is used when the Dayan cannot be tuned to C using the tuning hammer. In most cases, the "claw" part of a Tabla tuning hammer is sufficient to wedge under a strap and pull it (slowly of course as to not split a head.) Now, Strap-Pulling should only be a tool in your arsenal when combination of lowering the Gatta(the tuning dowels) and using the hammer to add tension to the Tasma (the braided leather ring around the top. As a side note the Tasma is similar to the hoops we use on Western drums). Chances are you won't be able to tune 100% to C just using the Gatta alone. This is normal, as tapping the Tasma in a star-like pattern between the straps slightly will provide fine-tuning to get it tuned to C, provided you aren't tuning it with a sledgehammer, is used to make minor adjustments. In this way, its exactly like tightening lugs on a kick drum, or any other for that matter. If the Gatta tension and the Tasma tension don't work, then it falls to strap pulling, and if that fails, there is one other drastic step that can be taken, but I don't recommend this without a qualified Tabla master present, but lastly, removing, and re-conditioning the heads, and re-stringing them on the drum.

Fortunately, Strap-Pulling fixes most tuning problems, but great care must be taken not to split the heads, since adding another strap to the Gatta drastically increases the tension on the head.
I'm more worried about the torque put on the straps by the claw, and having them snap. So, pulling slowly and cautiously is the way to go, eh? I'll try this if I can't hammer the tasma up to pitch on its own. I'm still a little too cautious to apply too much force to the drum.

I noticed that the braided strap around the tasma has some loose ends sticking out. Does this mean that the straps that encircle it are snapped, or is this just a part of the construction? I haven't seen it in any pictures of tabla online. In watching tabla-making videos (I've watched a few now), I noticed that the braided strap around the tasma is made up of several strands, but I've never seen what is done with the ends of those strands once the wrapping of the tasma is completed. Did the maker of my drum just forget to tuck them neatly away?

Thanks! Lots of questions, I know...
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Old 12-09-2013, 05:43 PM
Rhythmystic Rhythmystic is offline
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

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Originally Posted by caddywumpus View Post
Thanks! If I could ask for just a little more clarification please...



Okay, so the person I bought the set from bought them from India when he was over there. He never tuned them up, besides just sliding the gatta up and down (which, I've found, doesn't do very much...more on this later). So, the heads are still in "untuned" condition, despite being a few years old. For the maiden voyage of tuning these things, I find that the head of the dayan won't tune up to the C# or D it should be at. At best, it will only get up to a G. I assume this means I need to add an extra strap. Is this correct?

Another tidbit of knowledge I have come across is that sliding the gatta down the drum, while having the ability to slightly raise the pitch of the drum, is mostly meant to secure the position of the rim. Like, you slide the gattas up, tune the head, and then slide the gattas down to secure the tuning (and also to "fine tune"). Is this correct?

Also, the "always tuning" part...I know about this from being a conga/bongo/djembe/doumbek player. From my reading, I've discovered that the fundamental note of the dayan needs to be tuned to the fundamental of the song, traditionally. Is there any specific relationship the bayan needs to be to this tuning?

Don't worry, there's more...




I'm more worried about the torque put on the straps by the claw, and having them snap. So, pulling slowly and cautiously is the way to go, eh? I'll try this if I can't hammer the tasma up to pitch on its own. I'm still a little too cautious to apply too much force to the drum.

I noticed that the braided strap around the tasma has some loose ends sticking out. Does this mean that the straps that encircle it are snapped, or is this just a part of the construction? I haven't seen it in any pictures of tabla online. In watching tabla-making videos (I've watched a few now), I noticed that the braided strap around the tasma is made up of several strands, but I've never seen what is done with the ends of those strands once the wrapping of the tasma is completed. Did the maker of my drum just forget to tuck them neatly away?

Thanks! Lots of questions, I know...

As I am certain you have figured out. These are some pretty complex drums, and actually, I had the same questions when I started.

There is definitely both an art and a science to Tabla tuning. It is always more time consuming and difficult when trying to tune a set that is new or has never been tuned. The good news is once this is done on your set, it should only be fine tuning most of the time. The Gatta do have an extremely limited tuning range, but once you've got an idea of tuning the drums up, the narrow tuning range the Gatta and tuning with the hammer will be all you'll hopefully need. You are correct that the Gatta do hold the Tasma in place, the Gatta serve a few different purposes in tuning. You can sometimes get more tension out of them with one strap above them by positioning them diagonally to the drum head. (if your Dayan isn't a perfect cylinder). You can strike one side of the Gatta with a hammer to get a diagonal setup. I can usually get a little more tension from making a "W" pattern around the drum with the Gatta, but it really isn't very much more than horizontally positioning them. Still...it helps sometimes.

If you've set the Gatta down a below half the drum's length (They should be stored as close to the head as possible to put no tension on the head while stored), adjusted them all the way to the bottom, hammering them down for the last few bits, and it still will not tune near pitch, there are two things that can be done. Strap Pulling (lets call this "Method A") where more one or more straps are raised above the Gatta to add further tension to the head. Honestly, pulling an additional strap above the Gatta is a scary process at first. Some players will choose to pull all four of the straps above their Gattas. I never understood this, I find that two all the way around puts enough stress on my Dayan's, and I am able to tune it correctly. The straps can handle much more than they appear. Your Tabla was designed for this technique. The keys to pulling a strap over a Gatta are gentle pulling, pulling at the point of least strap tension, and constant pulling pressure. Inconsistent pressure can yield stretched heads. That said, you're much more likely to split a head than a strap with Method A, especially if the tension on the head is too low already to tune to pitch. This does depend on Dayan size, only so far as tuning is concerned. Not that you shouldn't worry, it just seems crazier than it really is...

If two straps won't do it., I'd recommend taking your set (for that matter I'd recommend it anyway if possible.) to a Tabla instructor. Tabla instructors are generally happy to assist you if you ask nicely :)

The second type of Strap Pulling, (lets call this "Method B") Is much more drastic, and absolutely requires a Tabla master. Sometimes the Dayan's heads are ill-tightened to begin with. In Method B, the straps are unwrapped from the ring on the bottom of the Dayan, and the straps pulled tighter and re-tied. I don't recommend doing this unsupervised, as each Dayan is a tad different. Some have metal rings, some just tie a braid on the bottom. Either way, improperly stretching and tying from the bottom can cause problems...

You asked about the Bayan tuning. You may get different responses from different players. There really isn't a lot of set rules in my school of Tabla about Bayan tuning. In traditional Indian music, the Dayan is usually tuned to the drone key of the Sitarist. The Bayan generally is assumed to be tuned for anything already. How you tune it is more of a personal taste sort of thing. I have a box of Bayan Gattas gathering dust that I will likely never use. When your Dayan is tuned, the Bayan is simply tuned to whatever sounds pleasing when used in conjunction with the Dayan. Most of the time, you are using your left hand to glissando the pitch of the Bayan up and down to make pitch changes. Sometimes, the two drums seem dissonant when the Dayan is tuned up. If that is the case, lower or raise slightly via the tuning hammer to taste. If you want a higher sound, add Gattas to the straps. I personally avoid adding Gattas to my Bayans, since it can really mangle the heads. Not to mention I have two extra Bayans from old sets that are a little larger and smaller than the one that I use most of the time, and I can switch to taste.

With regards to the braided wrap on top looking a bit frayed, I really can't say without seeing how bad the fraying is, although if they snapped, I'd sure be surprised. They're strong! Strong enough to take hundreds of tuning hammer hits. The difficulty with good Tabla sets is none of them are uniform. Each one is unique. There are tons of Tabla makers in the world, and they all have different methods. Some braid decorative elements in, some tuck the strands under, some finish them in place, some others use Some tend to cater towards the needs of certain Gharanas, but for the most part, they all have different takes on the drums.

-The Rhythmystic
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Old 12-09-2013, 05:55 PM
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Thank you so much for your help and your time, Rhythmystic! With so much varying information out there on the internet, you helped me clarify a few important details. I am grateful.
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Old 12-30-2013, 04:19 AM
Medium Size Dog Medium Size Dog is offline
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Default Re: How do I pick out a good set of tablas?

Hello, Please allow me to put my 2 cents in. If the dowels are loose enough under the straps and aren't changing the pitch, consider putting in larger diameter dowels. Some of the dowels have little details carved into them but they're still purely functional. Some hardware stores and more specialty wood supply places have dowels and curtain rod material in many varying diameters. Start experimenting with pieces thicker than the originals and use the smallest ones that get the job done. Another option could be to reduce the tension as much as possible by taking the dowels out, moisten the leather of the straps, not too much, be very careful, leave it alone until you know it's COMPLETELY dry. The leather will have shrunk, just like it does when you tuck a skin head and you can carefully slip your original dowels back in. Consulting a tabla expert is always a good idea. If you want to use your tabla, doumbek, pandeiro and conga hand and finger technique on a cajon, please check out the cajons I build. I'm a drummer/woodworker/cabinet guy and knew I could make a cajon better than one I could buy. My youtube channel is: mediumsizedog. Please check them out, use good speakers and let me know what you think. Thanks, Medium Size Dog
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