Recommendations on Buying an Esraj or Dilruba

If you ask me “Where can I buy a Quality Esraj or Dilruba?” (as seen on my blogspot blog)

Earlier , I would have told everyone : ” Err I don’t Know – Mine is from Raj Musicals in Delhi, so I suppose you can get one there ”

Their instruments are good, and I have nothing against them. I just wish they would pay more attention to details and give the ‘average’ customer better service. It’s best to have someone who knows how to inspect instruments properly pick it up. OR, if you are friends with a famous or semi-famous musician – ask them to place the order for you.

Note: Raj Musicals in Dehli is different from “Raj Academy” which is based in the UK. Their instruments will most likely be OK because they have been inspected thoroughly.

Anyways.. Now I have someone else I can recommend with confidence.
Check out Monoj Kumar Sardar & Bros – in Kolkata.

My good friend Angad bought an Esraj from him. I have seen photos, and heard it on Skype. She’s a beauty !
Best of all , it reached him with everything taken care of nicely. Nothing needs to be adjusted or messed with.

I hope they always give all their customers – newbies, amateur and professional – fantastic workmanship and great service.

*Update May 2008: My friend Sarab Singh also ordered one from MKS. He has just received it, and is very happy with it.

Call Mr. MONOJ KUMAR at the office number, tell him Angad from Singapore recommended him.
Don’t bother emailing – just CALL .

Office Telephone: +91-33-2237-5835
Showroom Telephone: +91-33-2248-4519

Their Basic Site: Monoj Kr. Sardar & Bros.

* RIKHI RAM is another big brand name used by several professional Hindustani Classical musicians. Seek them out and ask them too. I think they’re Delhi Based.

* If you’re ready to invest in a TOP NOTCH, traditional Sikh Instrument (Rabab, Taus , Dilruba, Saranda, Jori, etc.): Get in touch with Bhai Baldeep Singh

A few personal recommendations:

1) I suggest you buy an ESRAJ rather than a DILRUBA because the main playing string of the ESRAJ is further away from the edge, and it’s just more comfortable to play. (For me at least)
He’s got 3-4 different grades of Esraj – so you can order one that suits your budget.

If you felt like you NEEDED this information, I’d say you don’t really need an instrument made of teak, so go for the Toon Wood.

If you’re picky – A One-piece Toon Wood Esraj will do fine. If you want to watch your Budget , go for a two piece Toon Wood Esraj.
I’m sorry I don’t quite know the proper English name for Toon wood – if you do , post a comment.

Order machine head tuners for the main strings and sympathetic strings, because if you’re tall and get a small Esraj with big wooden tuning pegs, you wont be able to sit properly.
They’re just easier to tune.

*** I visited Singapore in Dec 2007 and got a chance to play Angad’s Esraj. See Videos from January 2008. His Esraj is smaller than mine, and the big wooden tuning pegs for the main strings go behind my neck when I play – so I can’t sit straight. Other than that It’s a brilliant Esraj though – I like it.
Except the tension on the main playing strings are not very high, which makes it a quiet instrument. You can instruct the manufacturer that you want the instrument to be a little louder than Angad’s – so he should increase the string tension a bit – maybe 20% . He will probably do this by putting a taller bridge or putting slightly thicker stings. I’m not sure – ASK him. ***

Under the bridge of your instrument – there MUST be a leather strip that goes across the sound-box, over the first layer of skin. For Reinforcement.
Because of the nature of animal skin and the way it is attached to the Soundbox of the instrument – it will stretch and “sink in” somewhat after a while. A layer of reinforcement is highly recommended.

My own Esraj/TarShehnai is a two piece model from Delhi’s Raj Musicals. I don’t know what wood it’s made of. I didn’t have much input when ordering it. It’s a little bit large – 70cm string length from the point where it is suspended until where the bridge starts. String tension on my instrument’s main string is about 30% higher than Angad’s. (personal estimate)

You can order a two piece or one piece from MKS. One piece is more expensive, but should sound slightly better and theoretically be more solid/longer lasting.
Like I said: Toon wood will work just fine. Go for Teak later when you don’t need my advice anymore.

Let MKS know that you want to be able to tune the main playing string to play a range of Sa = C to D#

If you are tall, tell the manufacturer how tall you are – so they can make an instrument that suits your size.

If you’re seriously planning to get one – Write all this stuff down ?

2) Secondly, Order the TarShehnai Horn/Soundbox. He charges only a tiny bit more, and it will be like you are buying 2 instruments in one.

3) Regarding the TarShehnai Horn – ask him for a horn that is SHORT and WIDE. It is my observation that they sound a bit deeper/sweeter than the Long/Narrow ones. But double check with the seller about this.
If possible, the Horn should be detachable from the Soundbox. If it is , order 2 horns – It WILL make a difference to the sound. Options I suggest you choose from:
* Light/Wide/Short
* Heavy/Wide/Short
* Light/Tall/Narrow
* Heavy/Tall/Narrow

But of course, in the end, the best thing is for you to get what YOU really want.
The above is just to just give you some guidelines based on what I know and like.

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15 thoughts on “Recommendations on Buying an Esraj or Dilruba”

  1. With MKS, tell him to search for an old swiss horn. If he trys to fob you off and says ‘no the delhi one is fine’ tell him your cancelling the order. This was he will find you the best tarshehnai horn possible! You have to be a little brave with this guy as he has started getting alot more popular and wants even more fame so tell him that you will recomend him to other people and so on, this way he spends more time and care on your instrument!

  2. Brother,

    Will you enlighten me to what kind of bone is used for the bridge on Dilrubas? Is it possible to have a ebony bridge? I think I have seen videos wear the bridge looks to be ebony. Is their a difference in sound between the 2 that you know of?

    I have a dilruba and have fooishly smashed the bridge. I plan on carving myself a new one.

    thank for any advice.

    Guru Fateh

  3. Pritpal VeerJi –

    I do know that the use of a hardwood bridge will produce a slightly different sound compared to a bone bridge. How exactly? – I can’t say.
    If bone, what kind of bone? I read that they normally use camel bone in India, but have no clue on where you can buy some.
    Ebony should work.

    Other info:

    I know that you have to plan the curvature of the “feet” of the bridge carefully – They have to be curved inwards a tiny bit to help the skin handle the pressure exerted on it by the strings. If your bridge has small, flat feet, it may puncture the skin.

    On a Turkish instrument I bought – the bridge is a wooden arch glued on to circular “feet” (also made of wood) to increase the surface area and therefore distribution of pressure of the strings on to the skin.

    Whatever you’re using, it’s best that the bridge be strong, and as lightweight as possible. Drilling holes at strategic points will reduce the weight significantly and still maintain strength.
    An American luthier I read about often drills out a beehive pattern into the wood he uses – reducing the weight a LOT while maintaining structural strength.

    If you’re open to experimenting:
    It’s possible that you use a piece of hardwood
    * carve it into the shape of a bridge without making it an arch = leave the bottom in one piece so you have one long foot rather than two small ones – this is good for the skin on the soundbox , but may or may not be good for sound – it will depend on how much weight you can remove from the bridge.
    * make sure the bottom is curved up slightly on each side to accommodate the curvature of the skin as it is pressed down by the strings
    * the top is curved a little more significantly to allow you to bow at least the first two playing strings separately
    * decide where you will drill holes for the tarabs – drill now or after the next step
    * drill a beehive pattern of ~0.50cm diameter holes into your bridge – take out as much wood weight as you can without sacrificing strength.

  4. Sat Ski Akal,

    Thanks alot for the advice Manav.

    I’ve managed to get a nice piece of ebony and am planning to start making my bridge tomorrow.

    When I bought my dilruba last year it came with a bridge that needed alot of work and I followed advice from the following link :

    which I’m sure your familiar with, and patterned my bridge on that one. After the work my dilruba was making the most beautifull sound. Sadly it fell and broke.

    I think I am going to make 2 different ones this time. One based on my previous design and one based on the honeycomb pattern that you describe. I’ve also see that myself on other types of bridges.

    I’ll let you know how things go and what I find that the difference to be between the bone I had and the ebony I will be using.

    Waheguru ji ka Khalsa
    Waheguru ji ki fatheh

  5. Pritpal Ji – that’s exactly the link I read 80% of the information I gave you from. Thank you for posting it – I was unable to find it earlier.

    The honeycomb thing is an idea from another Luthier’s site – which I read quite some time ago.

    Here is another interesting idea for a bridge :
    I can’t guarantee it will work very well on the dilruba , but it looks like it would be quite “safe” for the skin.

    Good luck,

  6. sat sri akal ,

    I also have a dil ruba, i bought mine from
    GURDIAL SINGH & SONS , they are in jalander close to phagwara gate i think ther the best ones out there.

  7. I just bought a new esraj made by DMS. It was well built with machine head tuning on all main strings and sympathetic strings. My problem is that there is a wolf tone (a kind of uncontrollable wah-wah sound all over the place) while playing the Shuddha Ma when tuned to concert C. I can actually feel this vibration on my finger tip while playing Ma on the fret. I am aware the cello player has this common problem but not aware of it on the esraj. I had another esraj made by MKS and there is no problem. Anyone with any suggestion to eliminate this will be great.

  8. I am looking for a dilruba I can buy online and am frequently seeing one made by Mid-East. Are you at all familiar with this manufacturer? I played a dilruba a friend had gotten in India that was 50 years old, but after a couple years he wanted it back. Though I had the instrument a couple years, I am not an experienced musician, and wouldn’t be able to get an instrument into shape that arrived with anything more than tuning needed. But the prices I’m seeing for MKS is twice that I’m seeing for the Mid-East models.

    As a new player, I feel stuck in the middle. On the one hand, I need a good instrument because I can’t correct an “off” one, but on the other hand I many not be a good enough musician for the difference between a good instrument and a great one to show.

  9. I just bought a dilruba a couple of days ago. The information here and David Courtney’s site has been extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction! I was able to go in person over to the AACM store in San Rafael where they had two MKS dilrubas and an MKS esraj for me to horse around on. One dilruba had machine head fittings and the other just pegs (like all other Indian stringed instruments). It was clear that the peg one had a much better tone, so that’s the one I went for–I can always swap out the pegs later. Also, since the maker shellacked the skin of the one with the machine head tuners (apparently to protect it against weather variation), we weren’t sure if it would ever break-in enough to match the tone of the one I got.

    The moral: if possible, go try them out in person or order from a music store that specializes in Indian instruments and has their own quality control…and ask a lot of questions! You’ll pay a premium for this, but if you’re new to string instruments like me and want to avoid fixer-uppers (for now), it’s a good way to go. Ask them to through in a hard case and tabla ring for free.

    The only quirky thing about my dilruba is the sympathetic string closest to the Jawari strings hits the last fret (welcome to Indian instruments). It’s not a deal breaker, though; I damped that string for now, and it still sounds great!

  10. Hi Manav.

    I am considering buying an esraj or dilruba from one of the sources mentioned in the discussion (Raj Musicals, DMS, MKS, etc.). Since you first posted your recommendations almost 2 years ago, I was wondering if you still hold the same view toward those companies and their products or if it has changed since then. Also, are there any new sources you would recommend today?


  11. Hi Ross,

    ideally – you get to try before you buy like Lisa mentioned. in which case the individual instrument will convince you – the brand doesn’t matter.

    if you can’t – then my recommendations still stand. the feedback i’ve been getting from people who have bought from MKS has been good.

    When you’re dealing with shops from india -(even MKS)- Know exactly what you want and be strong when communicating with them.
    If they try to convince you otherwise .. tell them to put your order on hold while you check elsewhere.
    You can’t be humble or innocent when talking to them – they’ll walk all over you .


  12. I spoke too soon about my MKS Dilruba being ready to play “out of the box” and wanted to give a couple of tips if you’re thinking of ordering from them. I have a little bit to say about Raj Musicals, too.

    MKS has a different design philosophy from some of the Panjab-based makers; it’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just different. The first is the 6 main strings business. MKS claims that this gives better tone, but with 20 sympathetic strings, you won’t notice if 2 main strings are removed. I found that there was too much crowding with the 6 strings making it impossible to isolate the second string. Their bridges are fairly flat, so chances are you’ll need to remove a couple. You may also have to reposition one or two of the remaining strings along the bridge (I moved the second string over towards string 3). This has not caused the bridge to shift in any way that sacrifices tone.

    The other problem is that MKS tends to place the main string painfully high off the frets—about 2 cm at high Ga! If you have built up calluses, this might not be a problem for you. But ideally the string should only be about 1 cm from the fret at taar Ga. After I lowered the main string about 1 cm, I had trouble isolating this string at taar Re & Ga. This is why I scooted the second string over—now I can go back to my sloppy playing.

    Both of these issues can be handled with one simple tool: a guitar nut file. Guitars often need work, too, so don’t be surprised if your Dilruba needs some tweeking. I ordered a 0.032 inch Nut Slotting File from Stewart-MacDonald for $12.95. This works great for all the different gauges on a Dilruba.

    A third issue for me was one of the tarabs on the jawari bridge hit a fret. My teacher removed the jawari bridge and problem solved without any changes in the quality of sound.

    I’m very happy with my MKS Dilruba now. It’s built extremely well and should last a long time.

    You might also consider the Raj Academy approved models at Raj Musicals. These are built with much higher standards (or at least standards!) to detail. I’ve recently seen several of these and they do seem to be ready to go out of the box. They were louder than I expected and have a nice tone. They’re very light weight and made out of really thin toon wood; I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing! They aren’t necessarily built to last “forever” though–maybe 6 to 8 years. For some reason, they don’t put a protective strip of leather between the skin and the bridge. Maybe this is why they’re so loud, but it probably shortens their life as well. I do like the larger, heavier horse-hair bow that they come with. You can pay by credit card at RM if you go through Western Union.

    Another possibility it to just order a cheapy off of Ebay, because no matter what you order and how much you spend, you’ll probably have to futz around with it a bit. You could end up with something that sounds perfectly fine and you’ll learn a lot about the instrument in the process of working on it. I’m thinking of going this route with an Esraj.

    Good luck!

  13. Thanks everyone for the useful information. Lisa, are you in the Bay Area? Can you share the information about your teacher? (I am not sure if you can message me offline through this site) I bought a cheap dilruba from eBay and am interested in learning the instrument. Thanks!

  14. Hi Manav ji,

    Today I called monoj k Sardar ji’ office and talked to them about ordering dilruba.
    The information you provided here is very helpful.

    They talked very nicely and I am going to send my requirements to them based on what you wrote here – I am going with 4 strings (instead of 6), machine head tuners for both main and sympathetic strings, one piece, fiber case

    Is there any other things that I should be aware of or discuss with them. Please let me know.

    Best regards,

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