If you ask me "Where can I buy a Quality Esraj or Dilruba?"
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 "
But .. I don't recommend them at this point - unless you fly down to buy and inspect the instrument yourself.
I have nothing against them. I just wish they would pay more attention to details.
Being totally objective and just stating facts : Every Musical Instrument that my teacher has ordered from him since he ordered mine - has been flawed in some way. Each flaw has been small - caused by the makers lack of attention to detail.
Either the Bridge was too big which caused the resonating strings to be raised too high and touch the frets. Which means they were "blocked" and did NOT resonate.
Or they put the strings in such a way that every tuning head did not Tighten the same way. Some tightened clockwise, others tightened counter-clockwise.
Or they put the wrong string (too thin) as the main playing string - and the Saaz barely makes any sound.
And there are at least 2 more cases that I heard in passing but did not bother to remember.
Granted, Everything was fixable (with a few hours of work - each - by someone experienced), but it's just irritating isn't it ? If you order something, It should reach you in proper working order.
It seems Raaj Musicals in Delhi will only take care and pay careful attention to all the details if you order an instrument through a well-known musician. Or if you're just lucky.
Note: Raj Musicals in Dehli is different from "Raj Academy" which is based in the UK. If you're planning to buy from Raj Academy in the UK - then you don't need to worry about what I've written above. Their instruments will most likely be OK because they have passed strict QC standards.
Anyways.. Now I have someone else I can recommend properly.
Check out Monoj Kumar Sardar & Bros - in Kolkata.
My good friend Angad just recently 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.
My Next Saaz will definitely be from him.
Call Mr. MONOJ KUMAR at the office number, tell him Angad from Singapore recommended him.
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.
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.
*** 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 thin layer of reinforcement is highly recommended.
My own Esraj/TarShehnai is a two piece model from Delhi's Raj Musicals. 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 better and theoretically be more solid/longer lasting.
Let him 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:
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.
A friend of mine is working on making Esrajs out of Carbon-Fiber. The first prototypes should be done in July 2008. I will pass the information along when he informs me.
If you're worried about not being able to play and do not have access to a solid teacher - You can learn from Maiya Singh Ji on our Music School Site.
If you already have a really good teacher then, great ! post videos on YouTube - I'd love to see more active Dilruba/Esraj players.