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Chapter 35: Repairing Tabla Problems


This is not a perfect world. For this reason, almost every tabla set created will have some problems to it. This chapter will deal will most common problems associated with owning a tabla set and how to fix them.




This is probably the most common problem in owning a tabla set. Some heads may die unnatural deaths due to water spilling on heads, syahi breaking off, depressed head to improper hammering, or inauspicious sound of the head split when attempting to tighten the head. Others may die naturally due to lack of elasticity, head being too old, excessive moisture, or lack of stability. Every tabla head will die one day or another.


First, disassemble the drum with the broken head completely. This means that you must find the end of the tasma and unweave it all out. Remember from Chapter 1 that tasma is made of raw leather hide. Imagine pulling raw leather hide with your bare hands. Wear workers gloves if you are intolerant too this kind of pulling and hand-work! When unweaving, be very careful not too pull too tightly or else the tasma will break.


Unweave it until the start of the tasma’s connection to the kundal. Do not disconnect the end tasma from the kundal, unless the tasma is in horrible shape.


Whether it’s your dayan or baya, you will finally see the inside of the shell. Here is a shot of my old tabla shells dissembled.


Now, you must accurately measure out the drum’s diameter from outer edge lips. Measurement accuracy is the key here. If you must round, round to the higher quarter inch. Tabla heads are very sophisticated and very size specific. There is very little tolerance in fitting the right size. If you were measuring a baya shell and measured out that it was 8.6 inches, go with the 8.75 inch head. It’s better to be safe with a bigger head than sorry with a smaller head.


Today, there are a lot of companies in the U.S. that will rehead a tabla set with fresh tasmas. It would not be a bad idea to send it to them and get it professionally reheaded. However, the cost of mailing the drums, getting them reheaded, and paying for the return shipment with insurance hoping that the drums were tuned is going to ask for a lot of money in itself. The best idea is to learn how to rehead the drums and be very accurate for the right head. If you visit a tabla shop, it’s best to get the shell and try on various heads and see if one of them will fit. If you are shopping online, it is a risk and a half, since you really do not know how the head is like. Some web companies accept refunds for incorrect heads. Others won’t. Moral of the story, don’t be stuck with the wrong head!


What to look for in a good head? First, there should be all three layers of the head. Syahi should be layered and cracked while being tightly held. Inside the head, which no one really ever sees, make sure there is an inner layer beneath the kinnar known as the bharti. The bharti is the layer will protects the actual playing skin for excessive tension required. Bharti in most heads come in multiple units which are glued together. The first class head will have a single piece of bharti. If a head does not have bharti, do not even consider purchasing it. Make sure there is no dangling flesh or deformities in the head. Make sure that the head is circular! If the head is oval, then it will do no good to any drum, let alone tabla! I have seen oval headed dayans and tuning them was a nightmare. Make sure between two tasma holes in the gajra, there are three insertions. In total, there should be 48 insertions, in which sixteen equally spaced tasma holes are present. Lastly, make sure the syahi is circular with concentric circles, and no “gaps” or “craters.” Once these tests pass, make sure the head fits. If it does fit, then the reheading process takes place.


First, take small amounts of water and spread it around the bharti to make it moist. A little maidian with water won’t hurt the head. Under any circumstances, never put the water on the syahi’s side! Since the syahi is made of material that is water soluble, the drum will loose its tonal color and tuning such a ruined syahi is another nightmare!


Then mount the head on the shell of the drum. Take some rope and weave the head through the tasma holes around the kundal. This way, when tasma starts to come in, the head won’t sway around.


Begin weaving the tasma through. With tasma, reweaving can become cumbersome as well as annoying, as old tasma tend to go off in different direction. Frustration comes out when they realize that the tasma is in the incorrect orientation, remove the tasma end and reweave it again. The reweaving process can taken anywhere from an hour to two hours. Once the weaving process is done, it is time to tighten the drum. Start from the first tasma and tighten as much as possible. Tighten all the way until the end of the drum. Be sure to tie the knot at the end of the tasma’s length. After the tightening process, add gatta systematically. This means that when one gatta is added to one tasma, skip three over and add another gatta. This must be done equally. See if a resonant sound forms. If not, add a second gatta systematically. By this time, a resonant sound should form. If there is no resonant sound, retighten the head. In addition, remove the ropes used to keep the head in place from the start.


Now, it is time to tune the drum. Use the rules mentioned in Chapter 34, tune the tabla accordingly.


Also, give it time to relax. During a rehead-job, the heads will undergo tremendous change in pressure and tension. Therefore, after the rehead job is done, give it some time to get adjusted to the new surroundings. In addition, if the rehead is being done on the baya, then retighten it at least three times.




This happens only with poor quality tabla sets. Find the broken tasma segment. Cut off some excess tasma from the end. Create a slit in the two ends of the broken tasma, so that the new excess tasma can fit in. Tighten the connection between the broken tasma and make sure it is strong. Of course, it is not as strong as one solid piece of tasma, but this will do during emergency situations. Add gatta if appropriate and retune the tabla. With manually repaired tasmas, it won’t tune as high pitched as it once could before. If possible, get a roll of new fresh tasma and rehead the tabla with it.


Broken kundals only happen in poor quality tabla sets. Only proper usage, no kundal should ever break. Should your kundal break, go to a hardware store and find a metal ring that will fit the bottom. It is actually the best alternative to the kundal, as metal rings won’t bend easily.




While carrying tabla sets, it is always possible that the baya will get dented. The only solution is to simply ignore it. A dented baya rarely affects the sound of the baya. Only dents that should take emergency action are if the baya looses its egg like shape all over. It is very possible that it could happen with a badly banged-around baya. If the dent is small and not too big, then ignore it. When the time comes for a rehead, one may take the tabla hammer covered with many cloths and hammer the dent out into its old shape.




Buzzing syahis result when the tabla set is placed in a room with high moisture. While playing certain bols, the buzz will get annoying. This is caused by two things: either high moisture or a loose particle of the syahi. If the cause is high moisture, then wait until the room is dryer and check if the drum buzzes or not. If it still buzzes, then there is a loose syahi particle. One must find the particle and gentle dab it on with a tiny piece of glue. Be very careful, because too much glue can make a mess with the intricate layering of the syahi.


These are some of the most common repair situations that tabla players will deal with and must know how to repair these events. Repairing tabla requires knowledge of the tabla as well rough hands. Of course, the first rehead on the tabla will not always be the best. Throughout time and practice, however, tricks and tactics will help one succeed in fixing tabla problems when they arise.

UPDATED: June 20, 2009