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.
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.
Sound sample: PlayTanpura 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
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)
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.
This old Hiren Roy sitar, brought to me by Arnoud E. needs new pardas and some small repair work. Arnoud provided a full set of new pardas made by Hiren Roy Company, but some of them were made too short. Thus I decided to reuse a selection of the old pardas and fitted them at the end (the last 4, nearest to jiwari).
Also some body cleaning has been performed and together with new strings and fresh jiwari this sitar is ready for another life… finally almost a complete restoration.
German stringmaker Pyramid has made some special strings, suitable for “electric” (working with electro-magnetic pickup) full size sitars. They make brass wound polished strings for laraj & kharaj 0.55mm (.021) & 0.74mm (.030) and heavy kharaj 0.92mm (.036). And also brass coated steel wire ranging from 0.18mm (.007) to 0.38mm (.015), good for all other strings such as tarav, cikari, baj and jora tar.
I ‘ve ordered and tried the brass flatwounds for laraj & kharaj and brass coated steel wire for jora on my SAS-01 and SAS-02. The brass flatwounds sound very good, brilliant and accurate but a little more harsh than I am used with the bronze flatwounds from India. They are also not as flat as their bronze indian brothers. But the latter are very fragile. The bronze winding breaks easily while playing heavy meend. I don’t know (yet) how strong the pyramids are. The brass coated steel wire behaves quite similar to the full steel jora string. There is a noticeable improvement to the jora tar tuning problem but the overall sound volume remains the same. I had hoped that by using this brass coating the volume difference between baj and jora tar would become less. There is only a very small improvement. The only solution seems to be the fitting of a thinner jora string. Or, maybe someone can make me some bronze coated steel wire instead of brass coated ??
After more than one year of extensive and regular playing by my friend Chico, the ivory jiwari doesn’t show too much wear. This material is even much more resistant than horn!! Although it doesn’t feel as hard as horn, it is definitely much tougher.
Note that the jora string caused an almost bigger cut than the playing string…? (click on the photo to zoom in)
See the making of this unique billiard ball jiwari here.
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.
Watch this video, made by my friend Denis on 29/05/1997 at my home in Bierbeek. At that time I’ve been inviting Hari Chand for the first time in Belgium and we temporarily turned the living room into a small improvised sitar workshop.
On this video Hariji is doing jiwari and I am watching carefully. Join us…
Today I added a small article about “doing jiwari” to the maintenance page. This seems for so many an insurmountable task, for others it remains a sacred secret on which sometimes insiders make profit by doing or pretending that this is only to be touched by a lucky few.
Of course it is not an easy task to do, and surely it is not a good idea to experiment with your one and only finest staghorn jiwari immediately but look out for a piece of cheap camel bone, leftover ebony or fiber and make your own ghodi from scratch. It might take some time, but once you succeed to create a good sound with a self-made jiwari… a new world opens.
Doing jiwari is a question of practice. No written rules exists on how where and when to start filing or sanding. Just take your time to gently create a slow but steady, exponentially inclined curve. At regular times, create a finishing stroke with fine sandpaper and try out on your instrument. Remove it again and work further, step by step.
If you should ever see the jiwari which came first out of my hands 15 years ago, I think you will never alow me to even come close to your sitar… 😉