I made a narka out of Belgian stag horn. This is a tuning aid to comfortably and finely tune the taravs, the sympathetic strings on a sitar.
A deer antler hung on the wall. You can find them at old flea markets, or nailed to the wall at hunters’ homes: deer horn antlers as hunting trophies. You can’t do much with them, but for a sitar player you can make a beautiful and useful tool with them.
First choose in a nice and fitting piece, and cut the end generously. Then I make a tapered slot corresponding to the width of the taravs to be operated. A hole is then drilled into it to fit the ornamental tip of the tuning knob, and then I also make the tapered slot suitably concave so that it fits nicely over the tuning knob.
Here is an old and worn Makhan Lal Roy & Son sitar with numerous defects coming to my shop. It is a very rare surbahar style sitar with very little decoration. I have no idea about the age of this sober beauty but she has clearly been through a lot.
View the main list of defects:
Neck plate is loose
Joint is loose
Pardas are worn
Pegs are worn & greasy
Tarav holes are broken
Tarav mount on tabli is broken
Lacquer on tumba is damaged
Additionally there are a few small things to do and finally new strings to be mounted & jawari done…
Unfortunately the owner decided not to have repaired everything at once. The cost is too high. The original tarav strings mount remains broken and the strings itself are attached to the main string mount as done on ordinary sitars, across the tabli. The lacquer has been cleaned thoroughly but remains as is. So I expect this sitar back sooner or later… but for now she is ready to be played on again.
Early 1970, Michel Dumont (Musician, flutist, graduate of the conservatories of Brussels and Valencienne, who became a theatre and opera decorator at La Monnaie/De Munt) together with his wife Martine Mergeay (journalist and music reviewer at La Libre Belgique, Le Vif/L’Express and Musiq3) went to India to explore and learn about Indian Classical Music. They meet Ravi Shankar and purchase a sitar at the Rikhi Ram shop in New Delhi. They stay one year in Benares and face a profound study about raga in instrumental (Michel) as well as in vocal (Martine) techniques.
Last year (2020) unfortunately Michel passed away after suffering a long disease. His sitar remains alone…
It finally arrives on my table. It has clearly not been played on for a long time. The strings and pardas are rusted and there is a lot of dust on the body. The lacquer on the soundboard has been severely cracked and there is a dull and matte appearance to the whole instrument. The decorations are faded out.
Then I quickly started to remove all the worn parts and the pardas. The lacquer was well sanded and given a new layer of varnish. The decorations were then carefully and neatly scraped off. Then I cleaned and polished all the pardas and put them back on with new orange wires. The tuning pegs, too, were given a thorough cleaning and were given a good layer of fresh chalk. The original label was missing, so I copied it by hand as was common in those days. The sitar is also getting a new stagghorn jawari ghoraj and, of course, new strings. This extraordinary sitar is now ready for a new life…
And it is one of the best-sounding sitars I have ever held in my hands. The tarav response is exceptional and the tone is particularly well balanced. It is made of exquisite teak wood in an era when a new instrument was still built with great care and of course, by one of the most passionate and experienced builders in India…
This year I’ve completed 2 plexiglass sitars. They are 100% See-Tar cloned replicas according to the original Purbayan Chatterjee copy as seen here on this site. Sound sample: PlayPlexitar on AER Compact 60 amp
Comes with a solid AUER CP 12416 Protective case Pro with locks & wheels in beautiful “blutorange” (vermilion) color.
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.
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™)
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.
This sitar was made in the “Sher Mohammad & Sons Sitar Makers”- shop in Bansanwala Bazaar, Lahore 1940 – 1950 by early sitarmaker Sher Mohammed. At that time, before the Partition, he taught sitar making to, amongst others, Rikhi Ram Sharma and Kartar Chand Sharma. At Partition time, both Rikhi Ram Sharma and Kartar Chand Sharma left Lahore and headed for Delhi where they both settled their own sitar shop (only 800 m. away from each other). Rikhi Ram’s shop became world famous due to Ravi Shankar and the Beatles. Kartar Chand, joined by his younger brother Hari Chand, remained low profile and continued making high quality professional sitars at Paharganj. They developed their own style of sitars and got specialised in repair work. Amongst their main customers was late Pt. Balaram Pathak, and his son Ashok Pathak. In januari 1993 Kartar Chand passed away, and thus leaving the shop to his brother Hari Chand.