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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
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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: 446
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.

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

Post by martin » 16 Apr 2017, 02:19

This is a late reply, but maybe it is helpful to someone, some time.
To adequately string any given instrument for a desired pitch is never easy. There are 4 factors involved: the open string length; the desired pitch; the diameter of the string and the material (steel, yellow brass or bronce). The aim is to have a balanced stringing, in which the tension and amplitude of all strings should be similar. If any one string is more slack than the others, it will be easily overplucked, whereby its amplitude will be bigger than in the other strings, causing irregularity in the sound, and mabe a slight raising of the initial pitch. If a string is too much tensioned, it will be less resonant and more metallic-sounding, and it will sound for a short duration only. The amplitude - the width of movement of the string - is critical for the jivari-effect.
I refer to the explanation of the effect as I wrote it for the wikipedia entry for 'tanpura, and include the link below. In many years of active duty as a tanpura artist for visiting Indian musicians, I had to deal with a great variety of desired pitches. I had my own large male Miraj tanpura, some smaller ladies' tanpuras, a tamburi and a beautiful Tanjore tambura where at my disposition, as I had worked on these instruments for their owners. The big Miraj is usually strung for my own pitch, a low B or Bflat, so I use relatively thick strings. These go up or down a tone, G# or C#. If I want to go above C#, I'd have to lay on strings in the same relative proportion of diameters, but a bit thinner. Now with shorter instruments from which you desire a lower pitch, indeed you have to lay on thicker strings for higher mass of material. This would involve some experimenting. Usually an experienced maker will have an idea what may work given pitch and length, but in most cases it will be found necessary to redress the curve of the jivari in relation to the changed amplitude of the new, thicker strings. As here we try to compensate the lack of sufficient length by choosing a larger diameter string to add mass, the strings get a little bit stiffer as wel. This is why some companies started making over-spun strings, in which a thin copper, bronce, brass or silver wire is wound over a steel core string. The disadvantage of wound strings for tanpuras is of course that the jiva, the cotton thread, will get stuck between the windings. For this purpose, softer material will work best. In relative hardness, which translates to breaking stresses, steel is hardest, then bronce, yellow brass and last red brass. To give you an idea, I recently fitted a ladies' with 0,40 mm bronce, 2 x 0,30 steel and 0,55 yellow brass for PssS at pitch g. To play a minor third lower, at e, I'd try 0,45 / 2 x 0,33 / 0,63. Tuning up and strumming should tell you pretty straight if the string is too tight or too loose. Test the elasticity, compare with other strings, pluck a cycle, without fiddling with jiva yet, just tune and strum as evenly as possible to judge the evenness in tension and amplitude. Best places to find strings of various material and in many diameters, is in retailers for harpsichord builders and pianos.


thenpaanan
Posts: 446
Joined: 04 Feb 2010, 19:45

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

Post by thenpaanan » 23 Jun 2017, 00:25

martin wrote:
16 Apr 2017, 02:19
...
This is why some companies started making over-spun strings, in which a thin copper, bronce, brass or silver wire is wound over a steel core string. The disadvantage of wound strings for tanpuras is of course that the jiva, the cotton thread, will get stuck between the windings. For this purpose, softer material will work best. In relative hardness, which translates to breaking stresses, steel is hardest, then bronce, yellow brass and last red brass. To give you an idea, I recently fitted a ladies' with 0,40 mm bronce, 2 x 0,30 steel and 0,55 yellow brass for PssS at pitch g. To play a minor third lower, at e, I'd try 0,45 / 2 x 0,33 / 0,63. Tuning up and strumming should tell you pretty straight if the string is too tight or too loose.
Thanks, Martin ji for the excellent and detailed exposition. My problem is that in order to get the desired pitches in a short male tanpura (C-C#) I have to mix strings. So my high sa are both steel whereas the low Sa and Pa are over-spun. As a result the sound coming from these strings is very different even though they are on the same tanpura.

-Thenpaanan

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