by David Courtney working tools

If you do not want to do this work yourself, I also do tabla repair.

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This article is only an intoduction.  If you would like more information please check out "Manufacture and Repair of Tabla"

by David Courtney working tools

Note: This article originally appeared in Percussive Notes, October 1993, Vol. 31, No 7, page 29-36

Common Problems and their Repair

We have covered extensively the basic techniques of tabla repair. The basic procedures of tuning, tightening, and head replacement are the most common tasks which need to be performed. We will now discuss specific problems and their recommended repairs.

Major Damage to Syahi

Figure 13 shows a tabla which has major damage to the syahi. The recommended procedure is to replace the entire puddi. In India one would simply replace the syahi; however, this is a very labor intensive operation and is not practical in the West.


Figure 13. Major Damage to Syahi - The recommended repair for such damage is replacement of the puddi.

Minor Damage to Syahi

Minor damage to the syahi is indicated by an annoying "buzz" or missing particles. Missing particles may be esthetically unpleasant but in no way effect the sound. A loose particle on the other hand adversely effects the sound. It is often possible to fix loose particle without resorting to major work. Unfortunately one must first find it.

One way to locate the particle is to hold the drum upside down under a strong light then strike it. If the drum is struck in this position it is often possible to see the loose particle with the naked eye. See figure 14a and 14b. This is a very good approach when it works because you can see exactly where the loose particle is. Unfortunately it doesn't always work.

Figure 14a. Normal Syahi - If the tabla is held upside down and and struck, each particle maintains its position.


Figure 14b. Syahi with Loose Particle - If the tabla is held upside down and struck, a loose particle often will be visible.

There is another way which always works but does not allow one to isolate a single particle. Lightly strike the drum with a "Tin" stroke. Now slightly rotate the drum. Repeat the process. If one moves around the rim in this manner it will be seen that in one rotation there will be heavy buzz, light buzz, heavy buzz, light buzz. Now pay very close attention to the last two fingers during this process. These two points of the light buzz described a line which bisects the tabla. The loose particle will be somewhere on this line. In practice both of these techniques may be used together to isolate the particle.

When the loose particle is found one simply has to place a tiny drop of white glue or super glue to bind it to an adjacent particle. The buzz usually disappears.

Split Head

A split head has many causes. Physical impact, exposure to high ambient temperatures, and defective workmanship are only a few common reasons. When this happens to the danya the only solution is to replace the head. If it happens to the banya and the hole is small there is another option. First remove the puddi. Take a small piece of goatskin (perhaps some excess cut from the bharti) and soak it for a few minutes in water to soften. Glue it firmly to the inner surface with a ordinary white glue (the flexible "Elmer's" white works very nicely). Clamp it firmly and allow it to dry for 24 hours as shown in figure 15. Remove the clamp and allow to dry for a few more hours. The head may then be replaced. If this approach is used, remember to keep the patch dry and not to moisten it during replacement. This technique is certainly inferior to complete head replacement but works when a replacement puddi is unavailable.


Figure 15. Patching the Banya - A small hole in the banya may be repaired by patching with the above procedure.

Broken Tasma

This problem is most likely to occur in tablas which have weak tasma to begin with. There are several approaches.

The easiest way is to simply patch the tasma. One first removes the gatta. The excess tasma at the end is the moved towards the broken area. A cut in one side is made. The other end of the tasma is then inserted into the slit and tied in a manner shown in (figure 16a - 16e). The entire tasma is then tightened in the fashion illustrated earlier.


Figure 16a-e. - Patching Broken Tasma - Knot

There is a much better way which works only if we have a lot of tasma. First secure the broken side at the kundal. Move excess tasma towards the broken side and secure at the kundal. Treat this as a secondary starting position. The whole thing is then tightened in the fashion described earlier.

Broken Kundal

This is a problem that is due to shoddy workmanship. There is no way that any tabla should suffer a broken kundal under normal use. Unfortunately, I have seen this problem too many times. In every case it was a poorly made tabla from either Bengal (India) or Bangladesh. This entire region is known for the poor quality of rawhide in the tablas.

There is only one course of action for a broken kundal. The entire tabla must be unlaced, a new kundal must be fashioned and the tabla relaced. If one has to do this I would recommend making a small reference mark on the puddi and drum so that the head is reassembled in the same position. There are fewer problems if the head goes back in the original position.

Dented Banya

This is a very common problem. The easiest thing to do is absolutely nothing. A dented banya may be esthetically undesirable but it rarely effects the sound quality. Sooner or later the banya will be due for a head replacement and the shell may be fixed then. When the shell is separated one simply has to beat from the inside with a rubber mallet. If a rubber mallet is unavailable, then a hammer covered in numerous layers of thick cloth works nicely. In almost every case the shell bends back to its original position.



We have covered all of the common problems and their repairs. With these techniques there is no reason for any tabla to be left abandoned, unrepaired or otherwise unused. With more experienced repair personnel it may even be possible for tabla to further increase in popularity. It will certainly be more convenient for the present tabla players.



banya - The left hand drum of a tabla pair
bharti - An inner annular lining of the drumhead
bija - A good quality wood found in northern India
bunad - A light gauge crossweave of the drumhead
chat - The outer annular membrane
danya - The right hand drum of the tabla pair.
deel - A very low quality wood
gajara - The weave of the drumhead
gatta - Wooden dowels place between the lacing and the shell
kundal - A ring on the lower part of the tabla which holds the tabla together
lakadi - The wooden shell of the danya
maidan - The main resonating membrane of the drumhead
na - A rim stroke of the danya
pital - The metal shell of the banya
puddi - The drumhead
shisham - An Indian rosewood
syahi - The black spot on the tabla
tasma - The rawhide lacing
tin - A stroke of the danya


Works Cited

Courtney, David
1980 "An Introduction to Tabla", Anand Power Press, Hyderabad.

1985 "Tabla Making in the Deccan", Percussive Notes, Percussive Arts Society, Urbana Ill: Vol. 23, No 2, January 1985: pp. 33-34.

1988 "The Tabla Puddi", Experimental Musical Instruments: Nicasio, CA: Vol. 4, No 4, December 1988: pp. 12-16.

1991 "Tuning the Tabla: A Psychoacoustic Perspective", Percussive Notes, Percussive Arts Society, Urbana Ill: Vol. 29, No 3, February 1991:pp. 59-61.

Sharma, Bhagavatsharan
1973 Tal Prakash, Sangit Karyalay, Hatharas, India.

Last Revised: Sept. 15

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