Mastering the melody: essential tips on how to choose a santoor for your musical journey

Mastering the melody: essential tips on how to choose a santoor for your musical journey

The santoor, a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer, resonates with the rich cultural tapestry of Persia and the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent. Known for its ethereal and intricate melodies, the santoor is an instrument that attracts dedicated musicians eager to master its complex grace. Embarking on the voyage of learning to play the santoor requires not just talent and practice but also the right instrument. Selecting a santoor that matches your musical aspirations is pivotal. Here we delve into the essential considerations to ensure you make an informed decision when choosing your companion for this musical journey.

Understanding the santoor

To make a wise choice, one must first understand the anatomy and characteristics of a santoor. It is composed of a flat, hardwood soundboard with multiple strings stretched across bridges. The number of strings can vary, altering the range and intricacies of the sound. Typically, a santoor will have between 70 to 100 strings, with each set of strings tuned to a specific note. Musicians play the santoor by striking the strings with delicate, lightweight mallets called mezrab.

Wood matters

Quality of Timber:

One of the most critical aspects to consider is the wood used to build the santoor. The soundboard, which significantly influences the santoor’s tone, is typically made from walnut or maple. Walnut is known for its warm and rich tones due to its density and grain pattern, while maple offers a brighter and more crisp sound.

Aging and Seasoning:

Expert craftsmen often prefer woods that have undergone a natural aging process, as it ensures stability and enhances the overall sound quality. Seasoning of the wood plays an equally vital role. A well-seasoned piece of wood has been allowed to dry naturally over time, reducing the risk of warping and maintaining the instrument’s structural integrity.

Craftsmanship and construction

Artisanal Expertise:

The maker’s skill is paramount. A santoor crafted by an experienced artisan is likely to have better acoustics, a balanced tone, and a higher degree of precision. Indian and Persian instruments can differ slightly in terms of design and tuning, so it is essential to research or consult with a knowledgeable person to choose an instrument that fits the style of music you wish to play.

Bridge and String Quality:

Bridges carry the vibrations from the strings to the soundboard and ultimately determine the clarity of sound. They must be accurately placed and constructed from high-quality material. The strings themselves should be of premium quality metal, capable of withstanding frequent strikes and maintaining their tune.

Tuning system and range

Fixed vs. Adjustable Bridges:

Santoors come with either fixed or adjustable bridges. Adjustable bridges allow for fine-tuning, which can be essential for specific musical pieces that require precise pitch adjustments. On the other hand, fixed bridges provide stability and are often preferred by beginners for their ease of use.

Number of Bridges and Notes:

The diversity of the musical pieces a santoor can play depends on the number of bridges and the range of notes available. Standard instruments typically have 25 bridges, but professional-grade santoors can have more. The range can affect the versatility of the instrument, especially if you intend to explore various genres or complex compositions.

Size, weight, and portability

Travel Requirements:

Consider the weight and size of the santoor if you plan to travel frequently for performances or lessons. While larger instruments might offer a more extensive range and improved sound quality, they can be cumbersome to transport. Conversely, smaller santoors may sacrifice some tonal richness for the sake of portability.


The instrument should be comfortable to play for extended periods. It should align properly with your sitting posture, ensuring that your shoulders and back do not strain during practice or performance.

Price considerations and budget

Investing Wisely:

The price of a santoor can reflect its quality, craftsmanship, and the reputation of its maker. It’s advisable to invest in the best instrument you can afford, as a higher-quality santoor can enhance your learning experience and provide lasting value. However, beginners might choose a reasonably priced instrument before committing to a more significant investment.

Second-hand Instruments:

If a new, high-quality santoor is beyond your budget, consider purchasing a second-hand instrument. However, it is crucial to thoroughly inspect it for any signs of damage or wear that could compromise sound quality or playability.

Accessories and maintenance

Carrying Cases:

A sturdy case is essential for protecting your santoor from environmental factors and during transportation. Padded soft cases are lighter and more affordable, while hard cases offer superior protection but are typically more expensive and heavier.

Mallets and Tuning Tools:

Different mallets can produce variations in the sound, and having a set of mallets with varying weights and materials is beneficial. Additionally, invest in a reliable tuning tool (tuning key or electronic tuner), as a well-tuned santoor is fundamental to producing beautiful music.

Consulting with professionals

Advice from Maestros:

It is invaluable to seek advice from experienced santoor players or teachers. They can offer insights into the types of santoors best suited for particular styles or levels of expertise. They might also provide recommendations on reputable dealers or luthiers.

Test before You Buy:

Whenever possible, play the santoor before purchasing. Hearing the sound firsthand and feeling the instrument’s response is the best way to determine if it meets your needs. Look for a balanced and harmonious sound across all strings and check that the instrument resonates well and sustains notes accurately.

Choosing the right santoor for your musical journey is a decision that should not be rushed. By taking into account the wood quality, craftsmanship, tuning system, size, budget, and necessary accessories, you significantly increase your chances of finding an instrument that will serve you well throughout your musical endeavors. Additionally, tapping into the wisdom of seasoned musicians and teachers can steer you in the right direction, opening the door to a world where the mastery of melody becomes not just an aspiration but a tangible, exquisite reality.

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