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

Random Archive:
Indian floor bench vice

Ever seen these low, rigid and robuste wooden tables with a vice ?

It’s a clever and easy idea… to provide your universal bench vice with a stable and ergonomic base. It makes this handy basic tool so much more versatile. It’s a very useful tool for lots of sitar (and other -) work. A no-miss for jiwari work (!!), parda making and mizrab making. Over-all convenient for general wood work – cutting / sawing / drilling / glue-clamp. Although in India hands as well as feet are trained to perform together in sitar making, this always available, never tired and always strong helping hand will become surely your daily friend.

This photo: Hari Chand on my workbench, Bierbeek 2000. Photo by Shivoham.

I’ve added a simple and illustrated “how to build” guideline to Maintenance / Tools – page. Or click here.

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.

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…

Swarangini Modification

Swarangini Digital is an electronic tanpura machine that delivers high quality original tanpura sounds. It has been introduced to the market in 2008. For more info about this very handy and popular machine visit the Sound Labs website. The machine is excellent for tuning and accompaniment. But, since this is a digital machine, it has a big disadvantage: the main volume is not anymore adjusted continuously but in steps. And, unfortunately, these steps are rather big, especially in the lower volume regions. Also the lowest sound ever is still much too loud in many occasions such as practice at home.

The most simple and very adequate solution is to create yourself an analog volume fine tuning knob by putting a potmeter in series with the loudspeaker. The only consideration which has to be taken into account is that this part of the circuit works under a slightly higher current level since it is the main amplifiers output. So, best is to choose a wire-wounded (high power) potmeter. A value of 50 Ohms, 4 Watts works great.

Open the box by removing the 4 screws and cutting the warranty seal sticker. Drill a 10mm hole through the side and remove the excess plastic on the inside to make room for the potmeter. Fix the potmeter and loosen the black wire which is leading to one of the solder lugs of the speaker. Solder this wire to the middle lug of the potmeter. Take another piece of insulated copperwire and solder it between the adjacent potmeter lug and the speaker lug on which the black wire was attached before. Close the box and mount a nice knob. Thats all for your custom volume finetuning knob…

Right to left hand modification

Modifying a sitar from right-hand play to left-hand play…

It is not easy to find a suitable sitar if you are left-handed and want to engage yourself into the world of sitar playing. There are good left-hand sitars for sale, but they are very rare and if you find one than there is still the price tag. So, why not modifying a regular sitar from right-hand play to left-hand play ?

Is it always possible ? Unfortunately the answer is no. Since the modern times sitars are more and more build a-symmetrically. In order to improve the meend-playability, the neck of a sitar is mounted slightly (… or more… and more) tilted. This is for our purpose the main downside…

Another one is that the kutis are to be changed from “upside” to “downside”. It will work, but on the new “downside” the holes will be too big. So, the kutis, and thus the tuning of the instrument might become some unstable. Practically, in many cases this will not become a very big issue. It is more of a theoretical matter but at some extreme cases…??

Next to the kutis comes the langoot (tail mount). This very important piece has to be shifted over the center to the right. No big deal at first, but before acting make sure that the wooden tailpiece which is mounted on the inside of the tumba is big enough to reach this new position because the peel of the gourd alone will never hold the high forces induced by all the strings on the langoot.

Last but not least the pardas are to be reversed too. Also here some luck is very welcome to prevent a lot of extra work. If the parda lanes are not nicely even and flat, one risks that on a certain moment the strings are starting to touch the adjacent parda. If this happens, then there is a big chance that you’ll have to reshape all of the following pardas… On this sitar, we decided not to reverse the pardas since they are pretty symmetrical from origine. Finally, the string position notches on the jawari are to be changed and the cikari pins symmetrically reversed. New strings are mounted.

The result looks a little strange because the jawari had to be shifted out of the tablis center, but this instrument is pretty good playable. So, very soon now the first lesson can be arranged…