Process and problems of tuning

One should tune the tanpura in the same position as one plays. If the tanpura is tuned on the floor and then raised to be played in an upright position; it is possible there may be some slight changes in pitch. The instrument should be in good condition. As previously mentioned, the tuning pegs, the bridge, the fine tuning beads and the strings should all be functioning correctly, otherwise tuning may become an enormous problem and source of frustration. One should know a few facts about the common problems that the different parts of the tanpura can cause and how to solve them. These are the main trouble spots to be aware of when tuning...

  • New Strings: tend to take a little time before becoming stable. It is necessary to continually retune the new string until it finds its stability and settles down. Once the string is tuned approximately to its required pitch, one then follows with the so-called fine tuning. To lower the pitch one should slightly push or pull on the string, thereby stretching it slightly. To raise the note one should use the fine tuning bead. New strings must be put on correctly as explained here. Correct gauge of string is essential for a stable note and a good sound. Refer to the tables at the bottom of the page shown here.

  • The fine-tuning bead: should not be too big or too small and must have a good contact     with the soundboard. Under no circumstances should it slip, which would cause an immediate change in pitch. To stop the bead slipping one can fix a small strip of medium-fine sandpaper under the bead. This will give the bead more grip. Sometimes it is possible to put a matchstick into the hole the string passes through, this helps briefly but is not advised as a permanent solution.

  • The tuning peg: should be correctly fitted. Obviously if it slips under the tension it is of no use. One can apply a little chalk to the peg; this often helps to give the peg more grip. I personally prefer grinded violin resin. This is very strong; apply sparingly. If the peg is too tight to turn it needs to be removed. Along the peg one will find shiny areas, this shows where the most contact is with the holes on the instrument. By sanding this area lightly, it will relieve the tightness of the peg consequently allowing it to turn more easily.

  • The bridge: should not move from its designated position; any slipping will cause instability in the tuning. This often happens when the bridge is not secured in its place. The placing of the bridge is crucial for a good sound and movement will change the whole balance of the instrument. Do not glue the bridge to the soundboard, as it has to stay removable for regular maintenance. This problem is generally solved by putting small pins, which are sticking up from the soundboard into the feet of the bridge. This should be done professionally.

  • The jiva: The small threads, should be regularly replaced. After some time it often happens that achieving the required buzz and production of overtones becomes more difficult. The first thing to check is the jiva. At first one can pull the jiva a little to change the point of contact under the string. If this does not work then use a new thread. (see here). Always have a roll of thread available. A good bridge needs only a thin jiva. When the jiva is thick or even double then it’s probably time to get the bridge cleaned and filed; this is called jawari.

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