Today a legendary sitarshop has ceased to exist. Hari Chand, now 77 years old, brother of the founder of this Paharganj based shop, late Kartar Chand Sharma, finaly has definitively closed down the shop. After 50 years, an almost everyday dedicated handicraft in professional sitarmaking came to an end forever. So be it. There is no way back, there are no successors…
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.
Tony Karasek, an american performing artist and technician with 30 years experience in instrument repairs and maintenance has finally made his first sitar. He writes:
“Due to increased market demand, the quality level of Indian instruments currently being produced has suffered significantly. (I made a living for years repairing them in California). Recognising this fact, I moved to Pune, India with my wife and family in April, 2003 to re-establish the high quality standards for instrument production. My intention is to produce a line of Sitars and Tanpuras based on those of the mid-20th century.”
After this adventure, he resides in Charlotte, North Carolina and made his first own handmade sitar. It took about 18 months and 3 rewrites to produce the “Karasek Sound Domestic Custom Sitar Number 1”. Tony writes about it:
“The priority was first and foremost – sound with finest quality materials, components, joinery and consistant fit and feel. To that end, this sitar came into being. The body is made of mahogany with padouk wood trim. Indian rosewood pegs, Arizona grown gourds, delrin bridges and faux tortoise shell trim finish off the rest of the instrument. Internally, there have been many new innovations that have not only produced a far more solid instrument but greatly enhanced the tone and resonance.”
I would love to see and feel this unique and most promising instrument in real and play it. Meanwhile for me there are only a couple of impressive pictures to see, and a youtube demo. All the above pictures are from Tony. You can find more of them and also a lot of very detailed and unveiling info at his website Karasek Sound here.
Another young and dedicated Ashok Pathak sishya came to me with this old Hiren Roy sitar. The question came up again: Can you add an extra cikari string to this precious vintage sitar in order to meet the Balaram Pathak Garana style specifications?Since I am not so much in favour of starting to drill holes in old and valuable instruments, I decided to introduce an alternative way. Just as I did before with an old and beautiful Kartar Chand surbahar, I proposed to use the first tarav kuti to mount the 4th cikari string (high SA). This sitar came with 13 tarav strings. So then now 12 are left, which finally should be a good compromise…?
Doing so, the workflow is highly reduced to the making and installing of a new cikari pin which can hold 2 cikari strings & re-organising the existing cikari string positions and adding an extra cikari string slide on the jiwari. Also the original last cikari string post (high SA) has to be replaced by a new pin.
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 time I returned from India with rather mixed feelings. My best friend, and sitarmaker – teacher Hari Chand is seriously considering to get retired. He is now nearly 77 years old and suffers from pain in his hands, his knees and other joints. The daily trip from his house in Dashrathpuri (near Dwarka sector) to the shop in Paharganj (easiliy 1 -1,5 hrs one way) takes more and more of his spare energy.
He’s built his last complete sitar in 2008. Since then he is slowing down and reducing his daily work. He was still doing some setting and assembling work on selected and checked Calcutta prefab sitarbodies but also this came to an end. Now only some basic sitar repair work remained. Also the frequency of his visits to his shop decreased to only a few days a week. Arriving in his shop sometimes at 11:00hrs only, the working day often doesn’t last long. From 16:00 / 17:00 hrs onwards he is getting ready to return back home. The visit to his shop becomes almost a time-pass picnic only…
The flourishing days of Kartar Chand & Hari Chand are now long gone. Both brothers were very dedicated in making first quality professional sitars and they are famous for their unrivalled repair work. They are very closely related to the other world famous New Delhis sitarmakers family Rikhi Ram. Late Kartar Chand Sharma has been learning the skill from his uncle Rikhi Ram Sharma and Sher Mohammad in Lahore, 1943.
Ever seen these low, rigid and robuste wooden tables with a vice ?
It’s a clever and easy idea… to provide your universal bench vice with a stable and ergonomic base. It makes this handy basic tool so much more versatile. It’s a very useful tool for lots of sitar (and other -) work. A no-miss for jiwari work (!!), parda making and mizrab making. Over-all convenient for general wood work – cutting / sawing / drilling / glue-clamp. Although in India hands as well as feet are trained to perform together in sitar making, this always available, never tired and always strong helping hand will become surely your daily friend.
This photo: Hari Chand on my workbench, Bierbeek 2000. Photo by Shivoham.
I’ve added a simple and illustrated “how to build” guideline to Maintenance / Tools – page. Or click here.
I’ve added a page to Sitar Making Links about this beautiful and unique sitar made by Alan Arthur Suits. He has sent me some pictures and info about the construction of this sitar. Click here.
Alan writes on his website:
“The sitar was built to concert level quality, using the highest grade materials and craftsmanship. The body is a natural gourd as is the top tumba (gourd resonator). The main body is Spanish cedar (virtually identical to Himalayan cedar or Tun wood). All the ornaments are real ivory recycled from 70 year old piano keys. The bridges are African blackwood, a species of rosewood, one of the hardest known woods and considerably harder than ebony, with rosewood feet. The pegs are turned of Bolivian rosewood.”
“The sitar plays with excellent action and has a truly superb tone with great overtones, sympathetic response, and a Nikhil Banerjee style jawari. It will fit in standard fiberglass sitar cases.”
Old Naskar so called “teak sitar…??” turns out to be a regular tun sitar. This sitar has been repaired from a loose joint and twisted neck. Also the tabli has been lowered and the neck has been finished in an open pore look with 6 layers of Danish oil. Almost full restoration… see pics after: