Hemendra Chandra Sen, passed away in 2010, was a very well known sarod and sitarmaker. His shop was situated near Deshapriya Park in South Kolkata. There he mainly made sarods for the most world famous players such as Alauddin Khan and his son, Ali Akbar Khan, Amjad Ali Khan and the young generation Tejendra Narayan, Partha Sarathi and Kamal Mallik. But also his rare sitars became very famous. I used to lay hand on one, made in the 70’s according to the previous owner. The sitar is in good condition but some restoration work has to be done. The shellac finish needs to be re freshened, all pardas cleaned and tied up, kutis re-fitted, mounting new strings & doing jawari. Now it is ready for a second (third or fourth ??) life.
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.
More info on Elforyn™ here: www.elforyn.info
The second tumba of this brandnew beginners G.Rosul sitar has been affected by worms. When the instrument fell down to the ground one day, the gourd got severely broken. Close examination revealed that a big worm has been digging a lot of tunnels through the gourds soft & dry flesh. At some points only the very thin outer peel (hard crust) has been left making this tumba extremely fragile. Where and when this worm got in and out the gourd is hard to find out. But certainly we don’t want this kind of destructive parasites inside our beloved instruments, nor in our house…
The repair of it started with filling up most of the tunnels with a mixture of fine wooden sawdust, water & woodglue. After that the outer shape could be restored using a mixture of wooden sanddust, plaster, woodglue & colourpigment. Finally came the sanding, colouring & the finishing with lacquer.
At this point I would like to notice that nowadays on more and more (cheap) sitars a synthetic sprayed lacquer finish is applied. The problem is that these synthetic solvents react very different with colourpigments that are used in the traditional shellac finish procedure (french polishing). Even worse, shellac doesn’t attach well to these chemicals. One is obliged to start determinating the kind of chemicals used in this spray, and look for eventual available alternatives which can be applied succesful to it. And I didn’t even mention the bad health aspects which might come along when working with these cheap synthetic mixtures…
But, what to do ? Just don’t buy it ?!! At least ask for traditional finish !!
Ud H. Sayeeduddin Dagar, a great dhrupad singer, cousin uncle from the legendary Dagar brothers, frequently visits Belgium for concerts and teachings. Because travelling with big tanpuras is not easy and not without risk, Dagarji has kept a couple of them here resident for this purpose. Recently, a huge, very old and worn tanpura was in the shop. It was made by famous tanpuramakers from Miraj: Abdul Sattar & Hadji Abdul Karim. There was a minor tumba crack to be repaired and a new jawari to be fitted. The ghoraj, specially made for Dagarji, came as a massive and impressive plain staghorn piece, with a big, very roughly curved surface. Firstly I have made this surface smooth and softly rounded with a coarse file. After that I used soft blocks of upgrading sandpaper to polish the curving perfectly to its final shape.
At his request, special thick pins are mounted under the feet to prevent the ghoraj from slipping. Note the amount of holes which were already made in the tabli before. I decided not to make any more other new holes but to use a couple of existing ones.
Tanpura in B-flat
The scale (open string length) of this huge instrument is 96,5cms and it is tuned to B-flat.
The Ud H. Sayeeduddin Dagar custom string set is
1: 0,60mm steel string tuned to E#1
2: 0,60mm steel string tuned to A#2
3: 0,60mm steel string tuned to A#2
4: 0,91mm bronze string tuned to A#1
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 read (on this site): The making of a solid body electric sitar in plexiglass.
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…
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.
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.
Sitar in E
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…
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.
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.
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)
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.)
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.