trademark NIGAM India bulbul tarang
- string keyboard from India
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.
Above the keys stands the address of  the manufacturer Nigam:

Director: Banarsi Das Nigam

H.O. Dariba Kalan Delhi-6
Branch 19, Ghaffar Market, Karol Bagh, New Delhi

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.

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.)
The 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 scissors.

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 of solvents.)

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.
The case latches, hinges and string guides are the only parts those look factory- made.
This hinge is everything but precision work...
The crude sound hole fitting is mis- punched, has a crack and looks like punched out off a can with a simple manual appliance.

You can also see here the magnetic pickup (left) and the inductor coil of the tone arm (right).

main features:


This is the internal feedback unit
Here you see the feedback tone arm; the hinge is stabilized by a spring loaded clutch (despite it is quite wacky and bends easily).



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.)
Here 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.
 removal of these screws voids warranty...    
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