Early 1970, Michel Dumont (Canadian actor and artistic director for the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe in Montreal) 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 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…
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 started to remove every worn leftover hardware piece and glued all the cracks in the wooden body. There were many! And, even the tabli has completely come loose.
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.
Doing jawari & mounting new strings to conclude…
Note: this is a large female size (35inch) tanpura.
Sound sample:PlayBenares 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
In 2009, Hari Chand presented me an old sitar which has been originally made by him and his brother, late Kartar Chand, in the 1970’s. The sitar suffered severely from a loose joint due to “an unfortunate fall from a kitchen table”…, dixit the former owner. How peculiar that no other parts of the instrument were broken. Since the owner wasn’t interested in this sitar anymore I was the lucky one to receive it.
During the second half of this year I finally found the time to repair and fully restore this instrument. Here are some pictures about the more spectacular part of the process. For this occasion I installed my home-made steam injector again. It has been serving me well in the past (click here), although its use is not always completely without risk. The steam can be very tricky and cause severe burns quickly. But everything went well. As for the joint itself: the wood was split at 2 positions due to an earlier joint adjustment. That’s why I decided to insert a completely new piece of wood.
Now this sitar is completely repaired and carefully renovated, ready to start a new life. It is a very light weight instrument, decorated in a very refined and exquisite way. There are 20 pardas, 12 taravs and a high quality staghorn jawari. The sound is superb, bright and clear, with an incredible tarav response. Well-known qualities for all sitars built by these two excellent craftsmen-brothers!
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:
This early 70’s original Kartar Chand sitar just left the restoration booth. Complete body check-up and new polish has been done by late Kartar’s brother Hari Chand in New Delhi in march 2009 while I was there on a visit. The celluloid mother of pearl imitation parda lanes have been renewed. My part of the job was to refurbish the original pardas and fit them again on the new lanes. I also made and fit new stagghorn jiwaris for main strings and taravs. The original tuning pegs were used again but some taravkuti-holes needed a new bushing.
Note the very fine finger grips on these taravkutis and also the remarkable cherry-round tumba-shape which is very typical on all Kartar Chand’s sitars.
This sitar sounds amazingly bright and has a vivid tarav response. The meends play very easy and the instrument is very light-weighted.
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.
This old Rikhi Ram is having a problem: the joint got loose.
I handled the same problem before on another (left – handed) RR sitar. On that occasion I made a new joint which took a lot of work to make it fit perfectly. Now I turned an old pressure cooker into a steam generator which is used for removing and loosening the animal glue.
First step is to open the sitar :
Then I drilled a fine hole in the corner area of the joint in which the needles will blast their steam.
I add water to the pressure cooker and have the power switched on …