One day I received a quite damaged and almost demolished tanpura. “Children have been playing with it…” was the comment of the owner. I wonder what game they have been playing, but it was certainly not a peaceful game. Or, at least at some time it went out of hands… as one can say?
The tanpura seems to be an old instrument, bought in Benares in the 70’s. It shows already some diligent life-signs, sensations and similar repairs. As such the gourd looks impressive. I will aim to maintain this mood. Just regain its spirit. That’s where it’s ever made for…
I started to remove every worn leftover hardware piece and glued all the cracks in the wooden body. There were many! And, even the tabli has completely come loose.
I restored some deco’s and took advantage of the situation to create some extra goodie carved into the celluloïd: an OM sign, in the middle of a simple repetitive circular design …
After that, some body cleaning and leveling has been performed followed by rough color matching. Mahogany as well as gulanagari red have been applied before, so I used it again now. Followed by a thin and fresh new protective shellac finish layer, treated with bee wax to regain it’s aged expression.
Doing jawari & mounting new strings to conclude…
Note: this is a large female size (35inch) tanpura.
Sound sample:PlayBenares tanpura
The scale (open string length) of this slim instrument is 90cms and it is tuned to F#.
The string set is
1: 0,41mm bronze string tuned to C#3
2: 0,30mm steel string tuned to F#3
3: 0,30mm steel string tuned to F#3
4: 0,56mm bronze string tuned to F#2
A new set of jawaris made by Dieter Zarnitz. The wood comes from leftover pieces of a construction.
“Cumaru” is a very fine, hard and durable construction-wood. “Angelim Amargoso” is very heavy and rougher than Cumaru. Both grow in South America. The colour you see is the natural one. The setting (“jawari“) can be done at the Sitar Factory (Belgium) or at Dieter’s house (Germany).
Frédéric t’Serstevens is a young and talented sitarist and disciple of Shubhendra Rao and Kushal Das. Since in the beginning he was a dedicated (bass) guitarplayer, he came up with this rather common idea to convert a sitar into a guitar. But now in a suitable and really original way: why not make the accompanying strings, jora, laraj & kharaj, entirely playable on the full neck area?
On traditional sitars, it is common that these strings only can be played (without meend) up to the 4th, 5th, … 7th parda. From then onwards, very frequently, intonation problems occur due to a continuously and significantly increasing strings action. This means that the distance between the string and the frets (pardas) increases too much, and thus the played notes become higher… until unplayable.
The solution is very simple: reduce the strings action by changing the shape of the pardas.
original shape (Rikhi Ram)
hybrid shape (Sitar Factory)
With this kind of new hybrid pardas, mounted on a raised parda lane, the action on the strings is higly reduced. And as such coming very close to a near perfect intonation, comparable to a guitar:
Now even chords can be played perfectly on this instrument… making it the extreme sitar for guitarists, or,… reverse ?? Or just: the ultimate hybrid sitar… 🙂
Elforyn™, a modern synthetic ivory substitute, is very soft and can easily be engraved. The technique is identical to traditional decorative engravings on real ivory, bone, celluloid and plastics. You only need a “pencil” with a hard and sharp end, coloured wax and a scraper. The pencil can be made out of an old and worn triangular file. Shape and sharpen the tip thoroughly with a fine grade grinding stone. Check the sharpness and try to write your name on piece of wasted plastic first. Make sure to engrave the lines equally deep and wide.
Wax is used as a filler. Prepare it by melting it slowly. Be careful not to overheat. Also, …damps can be dangerous! Add some nice colour pigments to the melted wax and stir. Use a scraper to apply the wax on the engravings. Let it cool down and scrape the excess off.
A scraper can be made out of an old and worn blade of a hacksaw. Make the edges surface nicely straight and perfectly even. Don’t be afraid to polish it up. Then learn to scrape by holding it almost perpendicular to the surface.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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…
Today a legendary sitarshop has ceased to exist. Hari Chand, now 77 years old, brother of the founder of this Paharganj based shop, late Kartar Chand Sharma, finaly has definitively closed down the shop. After 50 years, an almost everyday dedicated handicraft in professional sitarmaking came to an end forever. So be it. There is no way back, there are no successors…