This is one of the most bizarre keyboards I own. It took a long time to
find out the real name of this instrument species (I only knew that it
is neither a Trautonium nor an Ondes Martenot). It looks rather like India's
local answer to Bontempi and is likely the mechanically world most
simple keyboard instrument based on strings. Finally the musician Bryan
Day e-mailed me that this instrument species is called "bulbul tarang"
or Indian banjo and that it was originally used mainly as a children or
old people's instrument in India. In Japan a much higher grade version
of this instrument exists with the name taishogoto or taisho koto.
I found my instrument in bad condition on a flea market in the German city
Bremen. It may have been built anywhere between 1920th and 1970th; everything
seems to be possible with this strange instrument. The construction looks
like faithlessly hammered together as piecework somewhere in a slum's sweatshop
or concentration camp, and with the same quality it certainly also could
be replicated by any mediocre skilled school kid during wood working lessons.
- string keyboard from India
The instrument body resembles a monochord, but it has a set of 8 in unison
tuned, thin, parallel steel strings, those are simultaneously pressed down
by metal frets under the keys. The wooden keys have different width to
produce a tone scale because there is no translation mechanism between
keys and frets. Pressing the keys alone results in only very quiet sounds,
but by gently picking the strings while keys are held down makes a bright,
sitar- like tone of well audible volume. The strings can also be hit with
a lightweight clanger to play a bit louder, yelling sounds. (Bryan Day
told me that the bulbul tarang is traditionally played with a narrow pick,
similar like a guitar pick.) 2 additional bass strings of fixed pitch are
mounted lower than the main strings level and thus are not hit by key frets
but can be picked manually.
||Above the keys stands the address of the manufacturer Nigam:
MODERN MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
MFG. CO-OP. SOCIETY Ltd.
Director: Banarsi Das Nigam
H.O. Dariba Kalan Delhi-6
Branch 19, Ghaffar Market, Karol Bagh, New Delhi
By the electronic feedback amplifier unit sustaining tones can be generated
those can resemble recorder flute, but also can sound extremely distorted,
up to circular saw- like noises when keys are pressed only halfway down
with maximum feedback.
These are the strings with keyboard removed.
Here you see the bottom of the detached wooden keyboard assembly with
the metal frets. The keys are crudely jigsawed out of a board. The frets
are simply cut out from a piece of sheet iron and hammered into the wood.
Look, how coarsely the string gap is carved out!
|Each key is simply guided by a nail in a slot; a primitive spring bent
from a steel wire is hammered into a wood ledge to push the key up. (The
keys easily get stuck when the spring chafes a groove into the moving wood
key by bad alignment.)
lowest note key has no fret and did nothing. Thus I (re-?) installed a
missing damper there, which muffles the strings when no key is pressed.
Unlike frets, the damper sits under the strings. It is made from a bent
piece of sheet steel with a hotglued piece of bicycle tube rubber which
sides are cut in a comb- like manner to make its rubber tines damp the
strings when not pressed down. Due to the damper is placed before all frets,
it has no effect while frets press down the strings.
These are the sharp- edged string tuning screws of the instrument,
those look like made from cut- off and forged square iron hooks or the
like. Also the spiky metal plate behind them looks like cut out by
The keys are coated with a celluloid- like sort of colourful, hard
plastic sheeting that looks shrunk and warped. (Apparently it has been
either melted/ welded to the wood using coarse heat (fire?) or an overdose
The handle is a strip of sheet metal encased into a similar(?) plastic
material. The crude metal fittings at its ends are cut and bent by hand
and look like made from a piece of a can. Initially they were totally crushed
by the too tight screws and the lack of washers.
24 wooden mini- keys of unequal width (wacky mechanism, makes much noise)
sharp- edged, handcrafted construction
wooden case with integrated lid and carry handle
quasi- monophonic main voice uses 8 in unison tuned strings for chorus
2 bass strings of fixed pitch
designed for low volume: it can sound very harsh and metallic, but does
never play ear tormenting loud.
by pressing 1 or more keys half- way down, the thing can make really weird
This is the internal feedback unit
you see the feedback tone arm; the hinge is stabilized by a spring loaded
clutch (despite it is quite wacky and bends easily).
handle protected with a transparent plastic envelope to save the original
printed plastic coating from further disintegration.
string damper added (or replaced?, the lowest note key did nothing and
looks like it was designed for this).
internal, dual input positive feedback unit (solid state =>much smaller
and colder than a tube amp) with magnetic pickup and feedback tone arm
added. The inductor coil of the tone arm sends the signal from the pickup
back to the strings to built up resonance tones. A small light bulb is
wired in series to the inductor coil to limit peak current and thus prevent
overheat of the inductor. The 2nd input of the feedback unit can be used
to induce external signals into the strings, which e.g. permits to use
the instrument as a sort-of electro- acoustic vocoder. (Both input levels
and output amplitude have separate knobs to control volume and clipping
The feedback unit can also be used as amplifier for a small external speaker,
but this doesn't sound well in feedback mode because it drives the unit
into clipping (which is a normal condition for feedback units). The whacky
key mechanism makes much noise, similar like the keys of an organistrum
(a mechanically bowed medieval string instrument with a crank). When played
with clanger and no feedback, the harsh chinking sound resembles much another
middle- age instrument of the German name "Scheitholz". (I heard this one
on a phono record.)
you see some clangers (made from a piece of plastic cable insulation) and
an adapter with 2 diodes in each direction to influence feedback behaviour.
of these screws voids warranty...