The See-Tar

Last week Friday, 19/06/2015, I’ve delivered this electric plexiglass sitar to Purbayan Chatterjee. One year has passed since he had asked me to build this instrument for him (May 2014). Initially I found it a weird idea and honestly, I didn’t favour the choice of plexiglass because of the rather unknown and synthetic nature of this material (modified PMMA / Polymethyl methacrylate). In general I prefer working on wood, rather than with plastics. But the unique challenge seduced me completely and I plunged into this venture which took me a year to accomplish.

The moment I finally passed this sitar into Purbayan’s hands was very exciting, for me as well as for him, because this is really the first sitar ever made completely out of plexiglass. The instrument has a breathtaking look. The transparency is 100% and makes it look quite unreal… But, as this is meant to be a professional musical instrument, I was especially wondering how it will behave on stage, how it will sound, will the material withstand the constant changing and heavy tensions caused by the powerful play of an extremely talented professional sitarist like Purbayan Chatterjee…?

Soon after handing over the instrument I went back home and kept my mobile close to me. That same afternoon Purbayan tested the sitar profoundly during the rehearsal for a concert the next day in Brussels with Slang, the impressive jazz/rock band (with flute virtuoso Manuel Hermia) from Belgium.

To my relief no alarm call came, not in the evening, and not in the following morning. A few hours before the concert on Saturday I received an sms from Manuel Hermia writing: “Purbayan loves your sitar!!” and, indeed, a few moments later, when we met in front of the concert stage, his big smile welcomed me,… and,… the concert was marvellous and blew away all my initial questions. Purbayan named the instrument “The See-Tar”, a see-through sitar.

Must see (on this site): The making of a solid body electric sitar in plexiglass.

Tuning problem: Cracked wood

On a traditional sitar, tuning is established by pressing a wooden peg (kuti) into a hole. Unfortunately the wood on this Barun Ray sitar is cleaved. There is a long and deep split line between the baj and jora kuti. Both strings were not keeping tune anymore. The pegs got loose too easy. How this has happened is difficult to say. Maybe during a transport something has been hitting the kutis and made the wood split. Or maybe that the wood was already damaged at the moment of selection or during the construction of this sitar. Thus weakened, it may got easily split caused by the high pressure coming from the kutis being squeezed into the hole during tuning activities.

But the repair of this defect is not so difficult. First thing to do is to remove the decoration along the head. Then split the upper head plate from the latter curved neck piece.

Repair the crack with glue and, at the same time I ‘ve added a reinforcement piece of wood on the inside. On this piece the grains are running in a perpendicular direction in relation to the wood of the head plate.

Close the head and fix the deco. Finally drill the hole and clean it.

Finish with some fresh shellac and fit the kutis again. Done…

Sitar in E

In the musicschool of Breda (NL) De Nieuwe Veste resides a very inspiring, young sitarteacher. In order to motivate new pupils he teaches them first to play rather light classical music and easy popular tunes. Therefore they need their student sitar being tuned in E (instead of C#). Notes have to be shifted from C# to E and because of the rather high shift we have been fitting a very light string set.

MA = A
SA = E
PA = B
GA = G#

Extra light string set:
Baj = N°2 = 0,28mm steel
Jora = N°3 = 0,30mm steel
Laraj = N°27 = 0,37mm bronze
Kharaj = N°25 = 0,51mm bronze
Pancham = N°1 = 0,25mm steel
Cikari = N°00 = 0,19mm steel

The sitar now plays very light and easy and results in a sharp but rich and funny, jolly sound.

Play Sitar in E

Tarav Mogara repair page

I’ve added an illustrated report about the repair of tarav mogaras. These are small, round ducts which lead the tarav strings through the neck towards the tarav kutis. They are usually made out of bone or horn. Sometimes plastic is used.
Due to a very high tension coming from the tarav string which is laying on the rim, these ducts get used sooner or later. Finally they will break, and then there is nothing left to prevent the string from cutting into the wood.

So, sometimes, these tiny fragile pipes need to be replaced. Or, if you are lucky and they didn’t break (yet), they can be re-used by rotating them over 90°.

How to do? See page Tarav Mogara Repair at the Repairs section…

White Tanpura

Inspired by the white sitar mod i’ve painted this tanpurabody also in white using Bio Pin™ waterbased organic white paint and Colortone™ high gloss waterbased finish. The patri, jawari and mankas are all made from Elforyn™, a modern synthetic ivory substitute. So also this one became a real “organic & vegan” instrument,… 100% suitable for vegetarians… :-) … and she looks very neat too.

Play White Tanpura

Surbahar Kuti Repair

Photo report of a Kanailal & Brother surbahar kuti repair. 

The main kutis of this surbahar are very specific. The surface is smooth and only cut with a saw. Original Kanailal replacement kutis are hard to find. When it is broken, repair is the most obvious solution. In this case it affects a cikari kuti. Note the peculiar position on the neck: it is mounted between the first and second tarav kuti.

Kutis are made out of sheesham (sissam) wood. This is a variety of Indian rosewood (Dalbergia sisso) which grows in the Himalayan foothills to Central and South India. Surbahar kutis are rather long. I used a 18cms long piece for this work.

1. Start with looking for a suitable piece of wood.

2. Cut the ball with a saw, sand the surface smoothly and mark the center precisely.

3. Drill a hole exactly in the center. (8mm diameter)

4. Make this hole square with a chisel.

5. Make one end of the piece of wood square as well (8x8mm) and make it fit exactly into the ball.

6. Apply wood glue and lock it into a clamp. Give sufficient time to completely dry out. (24hrs min.)

7. Remove the clamp and start making the shaft round.

8. Finish the joint and make the kuti fit nicely into the instruments neck.

9. Apply some new lacquer (Shellac) over the joint and fix the original deco pin on top.

See more kuti repair here.

Carbon sitars in production

Harry Shaffer, a creative sitar maker living in Asheville, North Carolina, USA, has been developing an all carbon fiber acoustic sitar over the past couple of years. He began designing plywood guitars as a child and discovered his fascination with the sitar and the music of India in 1993. Because of his frustrating experiences with his first no-name sitar, he put his lutherie skills to work and began ripping sitars apart in order to figure out how to make them work better. In 2013 he founded Carbon Sitars and he actually begun taking orders for custom made carbon fiber acoustic sitars.

This extraordinary version called “The Suibokuga Sitar” was inspired by the art of Japan, in particularly, the sumi-e, or ink wash painting. The main pegs lack the traditional sitar designs, opting for a more Japanese design.

Here is a concept drawing of the main bridge. Harry Shaffer wanted something that reflected the aesthetic of Japanese architecture, so he chose a design that invokes a “torii” or gate to a Shinto shrine.

His new website is now online at

A similar project has been developed some 10 years ago by Pramodan Gmeiner & Harkara Urmoneit at the Shri Shinmoy Center, Germany, in june 2004. See their full report here.

Dieter Zarnitz jawaris

These jawaris are made by Dieter Zarnitz. He has copied the Barun Roy and Hari Chand style exactly. The feet are from maple or rosewood, the tops out of snakewood, rosewood or Elforyn™. The setting (jawari) can be done at the Sitar Factory (Belgium) or at Dieter’s house (Germany).

Barun Roy
Hari Chand

You can contact Dieter Zarnitz via e-mail (click here).

SAS-01 “Black buffalo” edition

Since the good old stagghorn becomes more and more rare, we are in constant seek for a valid alternative. One of the contenders is the black buffalo horn. Buffalo horn plates are used as material for engraving, for pocket knives, tang blades and japanese cooking knives. The plates are partially covered by bright, natural growth patterns and after polishing it becomes shiny and very durable. The sound is something between stagghorn and ebony. Dense, clear and very warm. Very promising !!

Black buffalo horn plate, as sold at Nordisches Handwerk website.

I’ve made a complete new hardware set out of black buffalo horn for my SAS-01 semi-acoustic sitar: jawari (main bridge), langoot (tail mount), mogara (cikari posts) and patri (neck bridge). And it looks good !! Click the pictures for fancy-zoom. :-)

Dead notes

In music, a ghost note, dead note, or false note, is a musical note with a rhythmic value, but no discernible pitch when played. On stringed instruments, this is recognised by the sound of a muted string. Muted to the point where it is more percussive sounding than obvious and clear in pitch. There is a pitch, to be sure, but its musical value is more rhythmic than melodic or harmonic… (source = wikipedia)

Untill now I haven’t been confronted with severe dead notes problems yet. I have experienced the phenomenon a couple of times, but not at such a degree that my clients have asked me to intervene.
But it happens that one of my wife’s sitars suffers from this, and recently an extra occasion came with this mail by Toss Levy: “… Dead notes on a sitar have always been a problem. Mostly by careful jawari and work on the taraf bridge and strings, I could get a better resonance. I have found dead-notes to be on most instruments and consider the instruments with a responsive resonance over the entire note range rare but of super quality. For me, and maybe in my ignorance, I have accepted the dead-notes as a sign of a lesser quality instruments… How does one go about solving the dead-note problem ??…” :

From my school-time I always remember an important basic physics law about acoustic resonance (source = wikipedia):

k = stiffness
m = mass
ωn = radian frequency (radians per second)

From the radian frequency, the natural frequency, fn, can be found by simply dividing ωn by 2π. Without first finding the radian frequency, the natural frequency can be found directly using:

k = stiffness (Newtons/meter or N/m)
m = mass(kg)
fn = natural frequency in hertz (cycles/second)

This equation tells me that the resonance frequency is proportional to the stiffness and inversely proportional to the mass of an acoustic system. It sounds logical, and gives us a rather simple tool to influence the phenomenon:

Working on the stiffness includes interfering in the instruments basic wooden construction: tabli, tumba, neck, joint etc. …   But this is uttermost time consuming and almost impossible to experiment with, and surely not, on an expensive well-built sitar.

But working on the mass can be done very easy: I did some experiments on adding mass to the ghodi (jawari – bridge construction) and the result is very promising. I have prepared and selected a couple of metal parts (lead) ranging from 10g, 20g, 30g,… to 150g and attached these one by one to the ghodi. And as the formula predicts, the resonance frequency is really shifting down. In my case, with 30g added, from komal GA towards main tonic SA where the amplitude of the resonance has been reduced such that it is almost not heard anymore.

Results (soundsamples):
1: Play original jawari (nothing added)
2: Play jawari + 10 grams added
3: Play jawari + 20 grams added
4: Play jawari + 30 grams added
5: Play jawari + 50 grams added
6: Play jawari + 100 grams added
7: Play jawari + 150 grams added

Comments on the results:

1: Dead note is clearly heard on komal GA, also noticeable on GA. (Never mind the missed NI…).
2: Dead note is already reduced in amplitude and slightly shifts towards RE.
3: Dead notes amplitude is even more reduced and shifts over RE.
4: Dead note is now almost disappeared, reaching SA.
5: Dead note is now completely gone, but the overall sound is losing low frequency range because of the damping effect of the weight.
6 & &7: The overall sound loses more and more low frequencies because of an increased damping effect.

Some considerations:

Bandwidth = Δf = f2 - f1Adding a weight to the jawari can be compared to the act of adjusting a kind of acoustic audiofilter. This implicates that when talking about acoustic waves there are always 3 parameters to keep in mind: fo, the frequency itself; A, the amplitude (how strong is the influence) and Q, the quality factor which is related to Δf, the bandwidth. This means that adjacent frequencies are involved in the proces. The lower the quality factor, the bigger influence will be noticeable on adjacent notes or srutis too. This one can be determinative for the result.

Unfortunately it is not a linear but an exponential equation. The result of the operation becomes stronger and stronger OR lesser and lesser at an exponential rate… This means that the practical adjustable range will be limited, and probably difficult to measure. Trouble might be to find a good starting weight. But, patience is a golden virtue…