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Using male-pitch strings in female tanpuras, and vice-versa

Ideas and innovations in Indian classical music
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classical91
Posts: 21
Joined: 28 Aug 2015, 14:16

Using male-pitch strings in female tanpuras, and vice-versa

Post by classical91 » 01 Dec 2016, 20:39

I'm in the process of buying my first tanpura, and my parents have chanced upon an old (and decent size) Jodhpur (?) Tanpura. The Tanpura has female strings, and I was wondering how the nAdham will be affected if I merely replace the strings with the male ones. Surely there is no construction difference between male and female tanpuras except for the size, but in a decently big tanpura, will the resonance and volume be minimised by interchanging the strings with those of a higher/lower (female/male) pitch? Any expert advice is much appreciated! :)

thenpaanan
Posts: 424
Joined: 04 Feb 2010, 19:45

Re: Using male-pitch strings in female tanpuras, and vice-versa

Post by thenpaanan » 08 Dec 2016, 00:43

Someone like Martin Spaink can probably answer this much better than I.

It is very hard to generalize with acoustic instruments. I have tried a similar experiment with someone else's tanpura a long time ago and it did not go as well as I had expected.

First of all, you will have to find the right gauge wire that will create the pitch that you desire for the length of the given tanpura. Female and male tanpuras can differ considerably in the length of the stem (not to speak of the variation within female tanpuras). It is likely that this tanpura is shorter than a regular male tanpura, so you will need a thicker gauge wire than normal to get to a lower pitch. Thicker wires don't vibrate as well as thin wires. You may see some phenomena such as multiple vibrational modes -- the wire when plucked could vibrate in one frequency for a bit and then switch to a second related frequency and then after a while switch back again. This and other problems (e.g. smaller resonance chamber aka tumba) were solved to some extent in modern portable tanpuras by using coiled wires (don't know the technical name for them) which are basically a copper wire wound around a steel wire core. I don't quite know why they work but my own foldable tanpura uses regular steel wires for the sAraNi/anusAaranNi and coiled wires for the other two (lower sa and pa). So you may want to try coiled wires for all four.

Second, if it is a well-used tanpura it probably has grooves on the bridge where the old strings have rubbed on it. Your new strings will likely not fit in those grooves. It is not a problem by itself but it could affect the ability of your new strings to vibrate freely. You may want to sand those grooves down a bit.

Third, most of the old designs' parameters were carefully set so that the whole package (size, materials, construction) worked together, which is why there is not a big variety of designs in old tanpuras. So when you tinker with the design it could produce anything between the desired altered sound to completely unacceptable sound. Hard to tell. But those old tanpuras have a great deal of craftmanship in them, so you may be surprised with a marvelous sound. It will probably be a little less loud but that should be ok.

If you happen to go ahead with the experiment, please do come back and tell us how it went -- good or bad.

-Thenpaanan

classical91
Posts: 21
Joined: 28 Aug 2015, 14:16

Re: Using male-pitch strings in female tanpuras, and vice-versa

Post by classical91 » 08 Dec 2016, 19:18

Thank you for the reply! We just got the Tanpura, and it is full size - a good 4.5 feet tall, and a large kudam. It was originally a 4-kattai tanpura apparently, and hasn't been used much at all (it is 70 years old). It's a 4 string tanpura, and not 5 as I'd expected.

I agree with the strings - makes sense that the coiled wires. I may take it to a music shop and try the actual steel strings, and if they don't work, go for the copper/iron wire. Seeing that the instrument has been barely used, the grooves are also non-existent. Overall, I am quite positive it would work! I'll keep this post updated.

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