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A practical guide to buying a good musical instrument,be it a tabla,guitar or harmonium

A practical guide to buying a good musical instrument,be it a tabla,guitar or harmonium
EIGHT years ago,after I shifted base to a new city for my first job,my mother had given me Rs 1,500 to “immediately buy a harmonium” so that I could continue my riyaz. My hunt began soon after. But,when I finally found the right shop,I realised that my budget was too low for even a basic harmonium. My search ended seven years later,at a tiny shop in South Delhi. I took home a harmonium for a reasonable Rs 3,500. The instrument works fine,just like the half-a-century-old beauty I had back home.
Buying a good instrument can be a challenging task for people who are new to a city or to music and for those who don’t want to invest much before making sure they are cut out for playing it.

All that new entrants in the field of Indian classical vocal music need,according to Vinod Kumar,director of Bhatkhande Music School in Delhi’s Qutub Institutional Area,is “a basic harmonium,one that plays the right tunes”. Kumar’s advice is to go for a harmonium with steel reeds (each key has a reed—made of brass,copper or steel—attached to it,which vibrates when air passes over it).
As far as prices go,Kumar says a standard single-bellow—the pump that forces the air through the instrument to produce sound—harmonium should be priced between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000. A seven-bellow piece will cost a few thousands more. For a scale-changer,you will need to shell out at least Rs 15,000.

Any vocal recital is incomplete without the tabla. If you want a set for regular sangat,be ready to spend Rs 2,800-4,000. According to Kumar,the best tablas come from West Bengal,but the quality of sound is not the same when they are played elsewhere—climate has a lot to do with the sound of a tabla.
A tanpura,a must for a classical singer,may cost you Rs 15-20,000.
If you want to buy a sitar,you’ll spend about Rs 15,000. While buying one,make sure there is no crack anywhere—gourd,pegs,around the holes that house the pegs,the point where the face joins the fretboard—in the piece.
The violin comes cheaper. You can get a good instrument for less than Rs 10,000.
The prices of instruments also depend on the reputation of the shop you’re buying them from. At the famous Rikhi Ram and Sons in Delhi’s Connaught Place,the range of harmoniums begins from Rs 6,500 (basic,single-bellow) and goes up to Rs 45,000 (scale changer,professional). The Indian instruments manufactured by Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company are arguably among the best in the world,with professional artistes vouching for them—during the 1966 Beatles world tour,George Harrison bought himself a sitar at the shop. Professional sitars at the shop cost upward of Rs 45,000 now. A basic tanpura comes for Rs 9,500 here,while the traditional ones cost between Rs 12,500 and Rs 24,000. The shop sells a tabla set for Rs 7,500-11,500.

Experts advise that one should prefer quality to price. Take along someone who knows the nitty-gritties of the instrument. Go to a smaller shop only if you possess a good knowledge of instruments and can judge the calibre of one from its sound and make. There are several such shops,where you can pick a tanpura for Rs 2,500-4,500,a tabla set for Rs 1,500-5,000 and a harmonium for Rs 2,600-15,000.

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If Indian classical music is not your thing and you want to try your hand at guitar or keyboard,Shivam of School of Symphony,Delhi,has a piece of advice for you: “It is slightly difficult to learn on a low-quality guitar or a keyboard,which may not have all the basic functions. We advise our students to invest at least Rs 4,000-6,000 in an acoustic guitar and about Rs 10,000-15,000 in a keyboard. The idea is that the more you invest,the more it becomes important for you to learn it properly.” He adds: “Buy branded instruments (mainly imported ones) with a fully padded cover. Yamaha is a good brand for guitars and keyboards.”

The school has launched its own brand of guitar,which costs Rs 2,500-3,000. But if you don’t mind spending a little more,some good instruments include Yamaha F-301 (Rs 6,000),Yamaha F-201 (Rs 5,000),Ariana (Rs 4,500) and GB&A (Rs 4,000).
While beginners prefer to start on acoustic guitars,electro acoustic guitars cost between Rs 2,600 and Rs 22,000,electric ones cost between Rs 3,400 and Rs 28,000,bass guitars come for Rs 4,000 to Rs 17,000 and classical ones for Rs 6,000 to Rs 14,000.

For keyboards,Shivam recommends Yamaha E-403 for the beginners.
Experts caution against mishandling any instrument—keep it covered when not in use and don’t fiddle with them unless you know what you are doing. If there is a problem with your set,contact the shop you bought it from. Happy playing.

First published on: 01-03-2009 at 14:31 IST
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