The tambura (also called tanpura in the north India) is one of the classical instru¬ments of the stringed group. It is used all over India for drone accompaniment and its varieties are numberless. With its powerful and resonant drone, it forms a perfect base for the human voice. In appearance the tambura is like the southern veena, without the latter’s second gourd and elaborates head-piece. The bowl is usually a large one, from ten inches to one and a half feet wide. The best tanpuras are made of jackwood or a hollowed-out gourd. The overall length of the instrument varies from three and half-feet to five feet. The belly is usually slightly convex. The bridge, placed on the bowl in the centre, is made of wood or ivory.
There are four metal strings, three made of steel and the fourth and lowest one of brass. The strings pass through holes in a ledge near the peg. The tuning pegs of the first and second strings are fixed at the side of the neck; those of the third and the fourth strings are at right angles to the head. Little pieces of silk or wool placed in certain positions between the strings and the main bridge serve to improve the tonal effect and enable one to hear the overtones of each string clearly. The strings are attached directly to the narrow ledge fixed to the body. There are beads threaded upon the strings, between the bridge and the attachment to which they are secured. These beads, pushed down in the direction of the attachment, act like a wedge between the belly and the strings; by thus stretching the strings, they serve to alter the pitch as required. This contrivance renders accurate tuning easier.
When played the tanpura, it is usually held upright, the body resting upon the ground in front of the performer. Some¬times the bowl is placed on the right thigh. The strings are gently and continuous¬ly plucked with the fingers, one after the other, in the same order. In the south, tamburas usually have wooden bodies whereas in the north gourds are generally used. The finest tamburas are made in Miraj, Lucknow and Rampur in the north. In the south, Tanjavoor, Trivandrurn, Vizianagaram and Mysore are famous centres of manufacture. Tanjavoor tanthuras are beautifully carved and ornamented with ivory.