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…
Here is another unique combination: a fusion between a guitar and a veena. The concept has been developed and build by Shintai who was born in Belgium and now lives in Denmark. He frequently plays meditative concerts on this remarkable instrument.
PlayShintai on his Veena Guitar
Basically the instrument consists of a bass guitar-neck fitted on an acoustic guitar body. It has 7 main strings, 12 taravs & 23 specially shaped pardas. The 5 highest notes, located on the soundboard, are fixed while the remaining 18 are moveable. The instrument’s impressive head accommodates 17 tuning keys. Amongst them are 4 banjo-type tuners pointing to the backside and 2 extra machine heads are mounted on the neck for tuning the cikari strings.
On Shintai’s request I’ve added a regular sitar jawari (Elforyn™) and an extra wide tarav jawari (bone) and also 6 moveable tarav moghara (Elforyn™)
In 2009, Hari Chand presented me an old sitar which has been originally made by him and his brother, late Kartar Chand, in the 1970’s. The sitar suffered severely from a loose joint due to “an unfortunate fall from a kitchen table”…, dixit the former owner. How peculiar that no other parts of the instrument were broken. Since the owner wasn’t interested in this sitar anymore I was the lucky one to receive it.
During the second half of this year I finally found the time to repair and fully restore this instrument. Here are some pictures about the more spectacular part of the process. For this occasion I installed my home-made steam injector again. It has been serving me well in the past (click here), although its use is not always completely without risk. The steam can be very tricky and cause severe burns quickly. But everything went well. As for the joint itself: the wood was split at 2 positions due to an earlier joint adjustment. That’s why I decided to insert a completely new piece of wood.
Now this sitar is completely repaired and carefully renovated, ready to start a new life. It is a very light weight instrument, decorated in a very refined and exquisite way. There are 20 pardas, 12 taravs and a high quality staghorn jawari. The sound is superb, bright and clear, with an incredible tarav response. Well-known qualities for all sitars built by these two excellent craftsmen-brothers!
After finalizing the structural rough woodwork on the travel-sitar’s body (see Part 1 = Travel Sitar Mods (3A)) the final acts are: completing the body finish and preparing and installing the sitar’s hardware such as godi (jawari), machine heads, strings, pardas and eventually an electro-magnetic pickup.
I’ve painted the body in white using Bio Pin™ waterbased organic white paint and Colortone™ high gloss waterbased finish. The patri, jawari, cikari machine head mount and cikari posts are all made from Elforyn™. So it became a real “organic & vegan” sitar,… 100% suitable for vegetarians… 🙂
Installing 7 Schaller™ Mini M6 machine heads and 20 bronze pardas N°6.
Main strings gauges :
1) Baj tar : steel, 0,30mm (N°3)
2) Jora tar : nickel flatwound, 0,46mm (N°26)
3) Laraj tar : nickel flatwound, 0,56mm (N°24)
4) Gandhar tar : steel, 0,30mm (N°3)
5) Pancham tar : steel, 0,30mm (N°3)
6) & 7) Cikari tar : steel, 0,23mm (N°0)
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…
This very impressive new Rudra Veena came to my workshop for initial setting and jawari. It is now owned by Fabio T., a very enthousiastic ICM adept and young italian filmmaker. This is one of the last rudra veenas made by maestro Murari Mohan Adhikari, the last representative of Kanailal and Brother, worldfamous Calcutta based musical instrument makers. It was originally ordered by late Asad Ali Khan and, although the instrument is already a couple of years old, it has never been played.
The first thing to do was a proper string setting. I noted that all the strings were mounted very high above the first parda’s position (lowest notes). It was just impossible to play MA tivra from the first fret. The baj tar had to be lowered by approx. 1.5mm on the tar daan to be able to reach the MA tivra correctly. After that, all the pardas were adjusted to their new and correct position on the neck. Adjustments needed for proper intonation to the SA & PA tar & kharaj were only very few.
The jawari work took almost 8 hours to complete. The original jawari surface was shaped only very roughly. Not a single string had a useful initial sound. Only heavy rattle and clatter came out. But I started to file, scrape and sand, string by string, slowly and steadily and finally realised a smooth and open sound with a stable and long sustain on each note. The only problem I encountered was on the kharaj tar. This 0.92mm plain bronze wire seems to be too stiff to be able to make a proper progressive contact with the jawari’s surface. This problem sometimes occurs on surbahars and sitars with a somewhat heavy kharaj as well. So I adopted their solution: change the original and ancient plain bronze heavy wire into a modern fine and flexible flatwound bronze on steel string. The result is amazing: A very deep, nicely round and fully evolving open sound with virtually endless sustain. Om Namah Shivaya…
Technical info on strings & tuning according to Asad Ali Khan style:
Cikari’s: steel 0,30mm (N°3) & 0.25 (N°1) tuned to G#3 (SA) & G#4 (SA)
Baj tar: steel 0,40mm (N°6) tuned to C#2 (MA)
SA tar: bronze 0,56mm (N°24) tuned to G#2 (SA)
PA tar: bronze 0,72mm (N°22) tuned to D#2 (PA)
Kharaj: flatwound bronze 0,92mm (N°20) tuned to G#1 (SA)
Laraj: bronze 0,56mm (N°24) tuned to G#2 (SA)
This natural plain brown surbahar was made by Hari Chand and presented to my wife Tine in 1999. This exclusive instrument is a reduced, female sized, copy from the original surbahar which Hari Chand’s brother, late Kartar Chand, has made for Pt. Balaram Pathak in the 70’s. The pictures were recently made by Luc De Gezelle.
This surbahar is completely made out of selected and well-seasoned tun wood. The very simple decoration and clear polish accentuates the natural wood structure and gives this sober instrument a unique touch. There are 11 taravs and 19 hand made cast bronze pardas. Scale length is 928mm and the neck is 103mm wide. The tabli’s diameter is 378mm. So, it is an overall 6% reduced in scale copy of a regular male size surbahar.
Tony Karasek, an american performing artist and technician with 30 years experience in instrument repairs and maintenance has finally made his first sitar. He writes:
“Due to increased market demand, the quality level of Indian instruments currently being produced has suffered significantly. (I made a living for years repairing them in California). Recognising this fact, I moved to Pune, India with my wife and family in April, 2003 to re-establish the high quality standards for instrument production. My intention is to produce a line of Sitars and Tanpuras based on those of the mid-20th century.”
After this adventure, he resides in Charlotte, North Carolina and made his first own handmade sitar. It took about 18 months and 3 rewrites to produce the “Karasek Sound Domestic Custom Sitar Number 1”. Tony writes about it:
“The priority was first and foremost – sound with finest quality materials, components, joinery and consistant fit and feel. To that end, this sitar came into being. The body is made of mahogany with padouk wood trim. Indian rosewood pegs, Arizona grown gourds, delrin bridges and faux tortoise shell trim finish off the rest of the instrument. Internally, there have been many new innovations that have not only produced a far more solid instrument but greatly enhanced the tone and resonance.”
I would love to see and feel this unique and most promising instrument in real and play it. Meanwhile for me there are only a couple of impressive pictures to see, and a youtube demo. All the above pictures are from Tony. You can find more of them and also a lot of very detailed and unveiling info at his website Karasek Sound here.
Another young and dedicated Ashok Pathak sishya came to me with this old Hiren Roy sitar. The question came up again: Can you add an extra cikari string to this precious vintage sitar in order to meet the Balaram Pathak Garana style specifications?Since I am not so much in favour of starting to drill holes in old and valuable instruments, I decided to introduce an alternative way. Just as I did before with an old and beautiful Kartar Chand surbahar, I proposed to use the first tarav kuti to mount the 4th cikari string (high SA). This sitar came with 13 tarav strings. So then now 12 are left, which finally should be a good compromise…?
Doing so, the workflow is highly reduced to the making and installing of a new cikari pin which can hold 2 cikari strings & re-organising the existing cikari string positions and adding an extra cikari string slide on the jiwari. Also the original last cikari string post (high SA) has to be replaced by a new pin.
Chico’s ivory jawari, made from an old billard ball, is still doing remarkeably well. Now after more than 4 years of pretty intensive play, there is still no noticeable excess wear. Only discoloration occurs. The jawari’s surface will have easily a yellow appearance. The sound however always remains very stable. Details of the construction of this rare ghodi can be seen here.