Since the end of march 2009 I started constructing 2 new solid body sitars after the example of SBS-02. It is a tremendous improvement in time because plans are now available and I have a steady work experience.
Bodies and head are made from honduras mahogany leftovers. The neck is again made from african mahogany, but now stripped with two pieces of maple. And a piece of indian rosewood is glued on the head top.
Many sitars suffer from an improper intonation. Mostly affected are jora and laraj kharaj strings. If you are lucky you should be able to play comfortable on the first couple of frets only. After this, immediately pulling meend to correct the tone becomes a must. It is almost a part of the advanced sitar learning process…!!?
On my electric sitars only steel strings are used. Bronze flatwounded strings for laraj & kharaj and plain steel strings for jora. And this thick steel jora again causes some weird troubles. The intonation is far from correct and has this strange behaviour that the tone is too high rather than too low. This means that pulling meend to correct the difference is extra complex. One can only play a higher note on the particular parda…!!
The solution is to shorten the jora string. This is done by adding an intonation block to the tar daan under the jora. This block needs to be made at a particular lenght. My good friend and fine sitarplayer Bert Cornelis helped me to tune the sitars very accurately. Then we temporarily fixed a small piece of bone under the string to immitate the intonation block and as such we were able to measure its desired lenght. SAS-01 needs 10mm of intonation block lenght, SAS-02 only 6mm and SBS-02 12mm.
Day 68 & 69: The intonation block on the SBS-02 and SAS-02 is made out of a piece of extra hard and strong indian rosewood. The block is inserted into the tar daan and is armed with a short pin into the head to make sure it will not become loose when playing meend on the jora.
On the SAS-01 a small piece of stagg horn is used. It is also armed with a steel pin into the head’s wood. Now these sitars are very comfortable playing on the jora without hardly any correction up to reaching the middle SA parda.
Finaly, the third new sitar SAS-02 is also ready. The same Slimbucker™ Jazz guitar pickup, made by Kent Armstrong, as with the SAS-01, Jazz Sitar is used. The only difference with SAS-01 is that on this sitar the taravs and taravbar are not installed. So, I call it the Jazz Sitar “light”…
Day 63: Removing the hardware to be able to finish the body: Sanding with grid 240 & 400 followed by 2 x pumice powder treatment, which is applied with alcohol and shellack. Ultimate finish counts 4 layers of Danish oil subsequently rubbed with 000 steel wool and drying periods during the following days. Continue reading →
Day 61: Started with sanding the body with grid 80 & 150. Then making and fitting a tar dan out of extreme hard Indian rosewood.
Day 62: Making a new ghodi on walnut wooden feet, and fitting a chrome tailpiece and the main machine heads.
Fitting the (5) main strings on the sitar body and tune them for a test. And then the same exciting decision: drill soundholes, or not …?? So again, first I made a short recording with the closed body. After the delicate surgery I recorded in the same conditions and distance to the microphone.
Playthe sound WITHOUT soundholes
Playthe sound WITH soundholes
The recorder again registered a gain profit of +8 dB. And also again the low frequencies are much better and more in balance with the rest of the strings. This confirms the same result as when creating soundholes on the SAS-01 for the first time. The overall sound is very similar to that sitar.
Day 60: Same story as with the semi-acoustic guitar avatar. Many archtop guitars are equipped with a decent pickup. So, I choose to try on this sitar a very slim but warm sounding pickup model Slimbucker™ Jazz made by famous american pickup maker Kent Armstrong.
This sitar sounds very natural, with extra warmth due to enhanced low frequency response. The pickup is tilted to meet the cikaris and adjusted between the taravs and playing strings to balance the taravs response. (Hit the picture)
Specifications of the Slimbucker™ Jazz guitar pickup:
Very soon after finishing the first 2 sitars (SBS-02 & SAS-01) I encountered a strange problem. The jora tar, which is now a steel string showed a strange behaviour. After tuning the strings properly and playing a meend on the baj tar (playing string) the jora sensitively raises in pitch while all other strings nicely regained their original pitch. Very rarely I ‘ve been noticeing this behaviour on traditional sitars before, but always it was much less pronounced and many times it disappeared after some time playing. Yet this time the jora raised almost a quarter tone on the SBS-02, and even after some days playing this inconvenience remained.
After a couple of sleepless nights I found out that it was the main jiwari which caused this malfunctioning. While pulling the playing string down (playing meend) the whole body bends (like a bow) and the main jiwari comes forward. All the other strings loosen their pitch (going low). Releasing the playing string from its meend position makes the instrument go back to its original shape, thus the jiwari is being pushed backwards to its original position. At this moment, the jiwari is also pulling all the strings backwards. But because the steel surfaced jora string is more rough and doesn’t have the same lubricating behaviour as a bronze string (original jora and laraj kharaj) the result is a considerable raised pitch.
The solution to this is very simple: carbon. With an ordinary pencil, I applied some carbon to the surface of the jiwari, straight under the jora tar’s position, and the problem was solved. But.., not for 100%. Still I noticed a very slight mismatch. Here and now the cause was quickly found: also the upper tar daan is having some difficulty to restore the steel jora tar to its original tension. Applying some wax to the contact surface between the jora string and the tar dan made an end to this jora tar tuning phenomenon.
Day 55: I mounted 2 single coil Seymour Duncan – Lipstick model pickups and tried out various combinations. One pickup is reverse winded and reverse polarised, creating thus a humbucking combination which gives less distortion and less noise. The potmeters in front offer volume and tone control while a switch on the backside makes series / parallel combination possible.
Day 56: Mounting of the electronics. Drilled holes for the potmeters, wiring and plug. Definitive mounting of the pickups and soldering the wires. Mounting of the backside switch, potmeters and plug.