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.
jawari ghoraj mounted…
jawari ghoraj with Cumaru top & Angelim Amargoso feet installed.
Added RE komal & DHA komal, 23 pardas in total.
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.
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…
See here the result:
One day I received a quite damaged and almost demolished tanpura. “Children have been playing with it…” was the comment of the owner. I wonder what game they have been playing, but it was certainly not a peaceful game. Or, at least at some time it went out of hands… as one can say?
The tanpura seems to be an old instrument, bought in Benares in the 70’s. It shows already some diligent life-signs, sensations and similar repairs. As such the gourd looks impressive. I will aim to maintain this mood. Just regain its spirit. That’s where it’s ever made for…
I restored some deco’s and took advantage of the situation to create some extra goodie carved into the celluloïd: an OM sign, in the middle of a simple repetitive circular design …
After that, some body cleaning and leveling has been performed followed by rough color matching. Mahogany as well as gulanagari red have been applied before, so I used it again now. Followed by a thin and fresh new protective shellac finish layer, treated with bee wax to regain it’s aged expression.
Note: this is a large female size (35inch) tanpura.
Sound sample: Benares tanpura
The scale (open string length) of this slim instrument is 90cms and it is tuned to F#.
The string set is
1: 0,41mm bronze string tuned to C#3
2: 0,30mm steel string tuned to F#3
3: 0,30mm steel string tuned to F#3
4: 0,56mm bronze string tuned to F#2
More than one year ago, an awfull sitar was brought to me. At first sight it looked like it was burnt, but actually it was only drowned for some time. This sitar was stored in a basement which has been filled with water due to an inundation. Only after some time it has been rescued and luckily it was protected by a good fiber case. All the strings and hardware got ruined. The damage to the tumba was horrible but the neck seemed to have endured the misadventure well.
I removed all the hardware and pegs and started to let the sitar rest and dry up completely for almost one year. Then, after some time, the tumba’s lacquer finish started to peel off. So, I removed everything which was hanging some loose and made a new build-up. Fortunately it was a decent tumba, sturdy and round. Then colouring and a fresh full-scale shellac finish finally made it look like a new… real good Srishti Musical sitar.
… without words …
Technical info on strings & tuning:
Baj tar: steel 0,37mm (N°5) tuned to F#2 (MA)
Sa tar: bronze 0,46mm (N°26) tuned to C#2 (SA)
PA tar: bronze 0,56mm (N°24) tuned to G#2 (PA)
Laraj: bronze 0,72mm (N°22) tuned to C#1 (SA)
Kharaj: flatwound bronze 0,92mm (N°20) tuned to G#1 (SA)
Cikari’s: steel 0,30mm (N°3) & 0.28 (N°2) tuned to C#3 (SA) & C#4 (SA)
Tarav’s: steel 0,28mm (N°2)
A tumba is made out of a gourd, which is a natural product. As it grows on the field, the shape becomes more or less irregular, as squiggly as nature can be. But in a musical instruments setting this isn’t always very usable or good-looking…
Thus here and there some cosmetics are necessary to give it a more practical, handsome round shape. To obtain this, in general, plaster is applied. But sometimes regular plastering isn’t adequate. When more than a couple of millimeters difference in levelling needs to be adjusted a heavier and stronger filler is needed. Then sawdust, wooden dust, water and woodglue are well mixed and applied prior to the plaster mixture.
Thus, when repairing the crack, more and more chunks of almost already pulverised wooden dust filler simply fell off from the tumba. Finally, almost the complete surface seems to be covered and more than 50% became loose.
In order to obtain a better bonding the plaster is mixed with woodglue as well. A lot of work…, a lot of drying time needed…, sanding, filling, drying, sanding, filling, drying, sanding…, fine sanding, sealing, colouring and finally the finishing touch with shellac.
Read more about tumba repair : click here
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 !!
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…