INDIAN MUSIC FORUM ARCHIVES: Sitar Forum: Who can you trust?

 

Author Message
Jette
Who can you trust? Jul 26, 2003 09:45 p.m.


This was taken from the Yahoo forum. I have a MPS Rose Petal from Buckingham, which is 'okay'. I am starting to wonder who can really be trusted. I trusted the owner of Buckingham at the time to pick me up a concert level sitar from a "genius of a sitar maker." I am starting to wonder if Mangla actually made my instrument or if it was shuttled off to one of his "lower" workers??? Any thoughts?

<<<Hi, First of all, on Hiren Roy, when he passed away in 1992 his son Hemanshu took over, he also was quite well but he passed away in 1999 I think, correct me if I am wrong. Right now Barun Roy is in charge of all operations over there, and he is looking for quantity over quality, so expect poor quality materials. The Radha Krishna Sharma story is the same and Rikhi Ram is poor quality because now that Ravi
Shankar endorses their instruments, they feel they have some sort of right to get away with selling crap. The truth is, there are many fine makers out there who work for shop owners, for instance a friend
of mine Shahid Ali is probably the best sitar maker in Miraj, and also made my rudra veena for me. If you are interested in his
instruments let me know, I think people should learn about the quality of his instruments as they are outstanding. Another good place if they are still open is Mohan & Company in Calcutta, however I have not seen any of their instruments recently and fear that they may have closed. Manoj Kumar Sardar does good work if you ask him personally, but I would steer clear of Mangala Prasad Sharmas instruments, unless you know it was actually made by him and not his workers.

Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 27, 2003 01:15 a.m.


I'll give you my humble opinion and thoughts on the subject. This is something we all have thought about from time to time.

At one time, HR&Sons made the best "off the shelf" sitar out there, but the title of "the best" is wide-open right now. There are many competitors that make very good sitars, but nobody seems to be clearly above the rest. Reputations are established by word of mouth, and Mangla, HR, and Rikkhi Ram are all good examples of this. They all have made crappy sitars now and then, but they have the ability to make a "dream" sitar as a custom job per your specs. All you need is cash (wasn't that a song or something??).

As for MPS, Mangla himself made his sitars for the first two years of U.S. marketing and imports. Sitars made during that time were very good in quality. But it is possible this is no longer the case. One Indian can only work so fast before quality fall victim!

So, one day, there will be a new "best" sitar maker, but these things take time. Keep an eye on the professionals and what they play. Those people tend to make or break a maker.

Jeff
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 27, 2003 10:55 a.m.


A guy I took a few lessons from in Philadelphia played my MPS Rose Petal and he told me it was one of the nicest sitars he's ever played. He lived in India for awhile and he had the opportunity to play many a good sitar over there. His main sitar I believe is an old RKS which to me seems far superior to the newer ones (I have two).

Maybe this guy on the Yahooooo! forum just got a lemmon, But! Buckingham shouldnt have let it slip through. Now did this guy get his MPS from Peter C. himself or after his passing?

I think my MPS is top notch but I'm sure there is something nicer out there, so I'm condemned to search for what in my mind is the perfect sitar. I went thru this same nonsense with electric guitars years ago and then with acoustic guitars.

Who can you trust? I guess you cant really trust anyone a hundred percent.

Remco
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 27, 2003 04:13 p.m.


Last week I had the opportunity to buy a Rikhi Rham sitar on the internet. I called my teacher, who plays a R R to ask for advice. She told me to buy a GOOD Rihki Rham. Sitars are handmade instruments, if the maker has a bad, you're out of luck. When buying an instrument ask your teacher or someone with experience to have a look at it. I believe all the makers out there are capable of making a good instrument otherwise they would be out of buisiness pretty quick...
I play a Hari Chand sitar, when I brought it away for repair the guy told me it was a very nice, well built, well playing instrument, my teacher made the same comment... guess I'm lucky....

Peace,

Remco

Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 27, 2003 06:02 p.m.


Had Indrjit Banerjee, my teacher, play my teak Mangla when I last went for lessons. He thought it sounded and played good (but not as good as his aged HR, of course). I bought it directly from Peter C there at his house in Austin, and he did put in the time to tweak it. I can't say anything about the practices of the current owner of Buckingham as I have no idea who that person is anymore.

Remco, good advice to get your teacher to check out a potential sitar first. There are junk sitars out there, some with famous names. The only real difference is the famous names don't make lemons, but they all sell seconds and even thirds. They will tell you up front that these sitars are not their best, and they sell for less.

I don't know Jeff. There has to be some level of trust out there, or this is a crap shoot in the dark! All I can say is a good dealer will have a good return policy if you don't like the sitar. Stay away from one who does not!

Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 11:34 a.m.


This is a hard to answer question. I almost wish there was such a thing as a sitar consultant, who you could pay to find the best sitar in your price range with the features you want, etc. But in our arena, perhaps that's what the few retailers do. I don't know, you might be able to find a cheaper sitar at one of the no-name places, like the ones that also sell clothing, but isn't it worth the extra to buy from someone that will inspect and tweak the sitar, and has a return policy (even if you have to pay shipping back?)

Over the last few weeks I've built a level of trust with Lars, based primarily on his helpfulness, and he has likely won my business for this help. Perhaps there are other dealers out there that may deliver the same service; I know Buckingham used to, but indications are they may be imploding (too bad, since they are only a couple of hours drive from me.)

Obviously, a good sitar is a serious investment to a lot of us; even a "student" sitar can be quite an investment to some of us. But I think it is well worthwhile to pay that little extra, because in the long run, you likely will have saved a lot of worry and pain.

On a side note, I am planning on buying a sitar in the next few months, probably in the $600-800 range. This will probably be the most I can afford (and even that's up in the air), and I doubt I will be able to buy another sitar, at least not for a few years. I'm still not sure if I will be able to play seriously enough at this point, but I do want to get a better one than the one I've been working on, to give it a serious try. So I really don't know what to start looking for. I see a lot of people talking about a lot of sitars, many of them out of reach for me. Serious suggestions would be appreciated.


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 12:49 p.m.


Lars has a Radhey Sharma pro model in your price range right now on his web. Its always a good idea to buy a sitar that the established pros are known to use, and this is one. So........plug for you Lars!
Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 02:26 p.m.


You may be right. Also, I actually sort of like the idea of no upper toomba. I'm not that strong, even in my right hand, and I think the extra weight may wear me down faster. Even though I haven't had the opportunity to play the sitar I have now, I've kept the upper toomba off mainly for convenience while tweaking it, and may leave it off.

By the way, on Ravi Shankar's Full Circle album, he introduces one of his tambura players as Ajay Sharma, and said he made the sitar Ravi was playing at the time. Is the same maker?


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
DM
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 03:28 p.m.


The person Ajay Sharma is the son of Rikhi Ram and Sitar maker.

Regarding the general topic, this forum seems to have a tendency towards Sitar Etc. I believe that they are still not the top quality Sitars. They are great for the average Joe like us learning to play the Sitar.

The top brands Hiren, Hemen, RR, Manoj etc are still the top makers. Most of their good Sitars are already picked up by their local connections ie local teachers/musicians etc. The left over quantity is shipped to the US to be sold in stores here.

The only store AACM carried these top brands on a consistent basis, but you still have be lucky enough to get a good build sitar from a top maker.

There are many people whose names come up as "Sitar consultants" and they give the impression that they have some connection with Sitar makers and it seems like a good idea to go throught them. Even then it is hard to trust them unless you have had a personal recommendation from a friend you trust. You cannot go by internet bulletin board recommendations as some folks may already have some connection to that particular store/broker etc....

Unfortunately there is no standard rating for a Sitar and therefore it is word of mouth, who you know and if you can trust some body to select a Sitar for you.

A beginner Sitar player is is no position to judge the quality of a professional Sitar so many times does not know the difference.

Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 05:19 p.m.


Agreed that trust is absolutely necessary. If you are new to the instrument, it is best always go through somebody who has a lot of experience (teacher, guru, veteran sitar owner, etc.) in order to avoid the disaster stories, and get a decent sitar. But if you can't find this person, as I say above, make sure they have a good return policy. And if you go thru Ebay or the like, you are gambling, and all sales are final. Just awful!

Can a beginner tell the difference between a crappy sitar and a decent one? Yes, easily. Can a beginner tell the difference between an average sitar and a top model? Usually not, and that's why I recommend a beginner not start off with a "top" model.

Billy, the top tumba is mainly for looks anyway with most sitars. Only in some do you actually hear a sonic difference, and that difference is not real obvious. But the top tumba weighs less than one pound, so it doesn't add that much weight to the instrument.

Remco
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 05:20 p.m.


Also there is, I feel, a personal thing. In a few weeks time I think, the builder of my sitar, will stay in Amsterdam to do repairs for sitars. I asked my teacher if it was possible to make my sitar play lighter. The other instrument I play,the Chapman Stick, is an extremely light playing instrument. My switch to sitar was tough. But my teacher warned me and told me lighter playing instrument are usually weeker and softer in sound. So what do I choose for? I guess it a personal thing.....

Peace,

Remco

Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 05:30 p.m.


Remco, its always a personal thing, isn't it? We tend to bond with these things after a while. From my experience, sitars are a little different regarding weight and sound. The heavy and thick teaks tend to be weaker and softer in sound, while the lighter tuns with thinner tabli tend to sound much louder. That's with all else being equal. But I guess maybe I like the differences, so I have one of each.
Jeff
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 07:28 p.m.



DM (Jul 28, 2003 03:28 p.m.):

Regarding the general topic, this forum seems to have a tendency towards Sitar Etc. I believe that they are still not the top quality Sitars. They are great for the average Joe like us learning to play the Sitar.



Hi DM, have you had a chance to play a Srishti? And if so, what faults if any have you found in them? I am curious as to why you think they are just "average" sitars. Is it the tonality? Workmanship? Playability? etc,,,.

Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 28, 2003 09:33 p.m.



DM (Jul 28, 2003 03:28 p.m.):
Regarding the general topic, this forum seems to have a tendency towards Sitar Etc. I believe that they are still not the top quality Sitars. They are great for the average Joe like us learning to play the Sitar.

Well, that's part of the point, I am an "average Joe" just wanting to learn to play. Can I buy a quality sitar of one of the brands you mention in my price range?

Anyway, that's the whole point of me asking; I want to get varied opinions. I like Lars and he has been helpful, but if I find a better sitar elsewhere, with the same kind of customer I know I get from Lars, then yeah, I may go elsewhere. I will not buy a sitar elsewhere just because its cheaper, or even, if its the same price but a different brand that may be "better". If I don't have good customer service, and a return policy of some type, I'll pass. We all have priorities. I am far from rich; heck, if I had the money I'd buy a $2500 sitar or two, but no, I don't. In fact, I'm in the process of selling some items I hold precious to come up with enough to buy a decent sitar, and I'm still not sure I'll be able to. BUT, I have no qualms spending a little more to get what I want, if it comes backed by that great customer service. Others may pay less for a sitar elsewhere, but they may have the experience to deal with any problems they find.

Anyway, please keep the suggestions coming, but please, I don't want to know just the names of sitar makers, but I want to know where I can buy them so I can check out their return policies and service.

Many thanks!


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Lars
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 12:50 a.m.


"

DM (Jul 28, 2003 03:28 p.m.):
The person Ajay Sharma is the son of Rikhi Ram and Sitar maker. "

Correction, Ajay Sharma is the grandson of Rikhi Ram as is his brother Sanjay.

"Regarding the general topic, this forum seems to have a tendency towards Sitar Etc. I believe that they are still not the top quality Sitars. They are great for the average Joe like us learning to play the Sitar"

To echo Jeff here, have you played one? I don't recall selling one to a DM. Could this be the subjective opinion of a 'sitar consultant' as defined below? Sitars Etc. is a newcomer and so gets a lot of attention and I'm grateful for all the support but part of the reason is that I am friends with a lot of them but most do not own one of my instruments...


"The top brands Hiren, Hemen, RR, Manoj etc are still the top makers. Most of their good Sitars are already picked up by their local connections ie local teachers/musicians etc. The left over quantity is shipped to the US to be sold in stores here."

Manoj Kumar Sardar a top maker? You are the first person I've ever heard say that....Hiren Roy, Hemen, and RR have had their day and most musicians still play them EXCEPT that they are usually 20+ years old. An artist in India that wants to buy a new sitar almost always has it made for him and then waits until the sound matures before playing it in concerts.

"The only store AACM carried these top brands on a consistent basis, but you still have be lucky enough to get a good build sitar from a top maker."

I bought several sitars about 20 years ago from AACM, they used to be the only place to go then....

"There are many people whose names come up as "Sitar consultants" and they give the impression that they have some connection with Sitar makers and it seems like a good idea to go throught them. Even then it is hard to trust them unless you have had a personal recommendation from a friend you trust. You cannot go by internet bulletin board recommendations as some folks may already have some connection to that particular store/broker etc...."

So very true, you have to trust the person you're buying from and do your homework.... but with the advent of the internet it is now possible to get a much better instrument with diligent research!

"Unfortunately there is no standard rating for a Sitar and therefore it is word of mouth, who you know and if you can trust some body to select a Sitar for you. "

True again, and equally as good as having a good 'sitar consultant' (I like this term) pick a decent sitar for you is having one actually MADE (ala Srishti) for you instead of selecting one from a batch that has been hanging in a shop and then stuck in an ocean container for several months at 140 degrees and 99% humidity. (Try this at home folks, put your sitar or tablas in an oven at 140 degrees with about a gallon of water in a bowl and seal up all vents/openings. Bake without checking for 8 weeks, take out and enjoy!)

"A beginner Sitar player is is no position to judge the quality of a professional Sitar so many times does not know the difference.


"

Well, here is where I would respectfully disagree. Most would-be Sitar players are musicians already, often guitar players. That being said, they're sure to notice the difference between a top of the line Martin or Gibson versus a Walmart guitar.....there's my 2 rupees worth!

Lars Jacobsen
Sitar Consultant
http://sitarsetc.com
info@sitarsetc.com

Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 01:14 a.m.



Billy, the top tumba is mainly for looks anyway with most sitars. Only in some do you actually hear a sonic difference, and that difference is not real obvious. But the top tumba weighs less than one pound, so it doesn't add that much weight to the instrument.

Well, I do hear a bit of difference with the top toomba on, but not much really. Still, if you think about it, though the top toomba weighs a pound, that weight is multiplied by the length of the sitar and the angle you are holding it; this extra weight would add to the strain in your right hand holding up the sitar.

Its too many years since I took engineering physics and statics, so I won't even try to come up with a specific answer, just trust me that the actual strain is more than a pound.


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Jeff
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 01:37 a.m.


Lars, my next sitar will be from you. I've been in this instrument buying buisness for quite some time now and
I think I can tell the con-men from the honest types and from speaking to you on the phone and thru e-mail I think you are truely on the up and up.
The sitar market is a very narrow and slim endeavor even' I think thru internet sales.

And if your not honest and upstanding, word of mouth will get around quickly. Look at Mid East Mfg for example, would anyone but
a total novice purchase from them?

I think Lars here is trying to start up a good honest company, after all he worked on his web site for many months and even before that, has been very helpful to all of us with his knowledgeable answers to our questions

I would still like to hear your personal appraisals of Srishti,. DM. And why you think they are of average quality? Just because a maker is new on the market (Is Srishti new on the sitar market?) does'nt mean they're putting out sub-standard instruments. You gotta start somewhere.

And,,, If Lars does screw anybody on ths "forum" I think it will be posted right away,,. And for the couple of months he's been in buisness I havent seen a bad word about him or his retail product anywhere. And I'm on the NET almost every day looking at sitar sites, sales and etc,,,.

Jeff
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 01:44 a.m.


PS. Lars.
I love the tanpura machine.
Stephen
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 01:13 p.m.


Oooooo...I hope it is a temporary thing that this forum has almost entered the realm of FLAMING. I much prefer it when praises are given to those that deserve it and the negative comments are held in check. If we don't mention them then they will go unnoticed. It adds a very negative feel when people start bad mouthing one dealer/maker or another. I admit that I did post my feelings on string makers one time and was rapidly made aware that it came off as a flame. It would be nice if everyone would avoid making the same mistake as I and keep our favorite forum civil.
Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 02:26 p.m.


Agreed on not flaming anybody on a personal level. BUT, on the other hand, there are unfortunately companies out there that sell tourist-type sitars of substandard quality.
Speaking only for myself, I feel that this forum can serve a purpose by steering folks away from those companies, but you MUST provide valid opinions based on facts or negative personal experiences. Without that, it is only a flame and entirely subjective.

Yes, I have flamed two companies on here before. For the first company, the sitars they sell sound flat, and tend to fall apart with routine playing. Plus, the company is a major importer for a lot of retail outlets throughout the U.S., so these things are everywhere, especially on Ebay. That company is mentioned in this tread. There has been one person who disagreed on my opinion of the company rather strongly though.

The second company has a famous name. Unless you establish yourself as seasoned player to the manager,they will sell you "something" off their shelf at great expense. I have had personal problems with their customer service in returning instruments that were defective and did not meet the specs I gave. That company is also mentioned in this thread. However, I'm sure their top of the line instruments are exactly that, in both quality and price.

I think another purpose this forum can serve is to educate all on what to look and listen for to identify a quality instrument. After all, you can dress a pig up in pearls, but its still a pig (sorry, Miss Piggy...). I would like to see more veteran sitar owners and players to jump in here and give their 2 or 3 rupees worth on that! As I mentioned before, word of mouth can make or break a sitar-maker, and we would all like to have affordable, quality sitars.

OK....I'm off my soapbox now.

Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 02:59 p.m.


If I went out and spent $1000 for a worthless sitar from a company with a bad reputation, not knowing its reputation merely because someone who knew that reputation didn't post for fear of being imflamatory and uncivil, then what purpose has that "civility" served? I would have wasted a lot of money I cannot afford to waste, most likely my desire to learn sitar will have ceased, and my participation in these discussion would end. And I could be just one of many.

Yes, we should not flame without cause. Yes, we can and should be civil, good "netizens". But we should also be open and honest with our opinions of sitar manuafactures, models, and retailers, backed with any empirical data we might have.

Sure, a lot of it will be merely opinion, a lot could be based on a single incident or anomaly, but this could be resolved if more people spoke up with their own opinions. If one person posts that ABC, inc is a bad dealer, I would give little credence to such a statement.

If that person states ABC is a bad dealer because of x, y, and z, I would pay attention a bit more. But if two or more people say the same thing about ABC, then I will certainly sit up and take notice.

So please, lets be civil, but lets be open and helpful.Us beginners really need it!


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Pb
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 03:03 p.m.


Concerning sales, this forum is great. There is a thread on the harmonium forum where a buyer was misled (or screwed over) by a vendor and he posted to the Harm. forum. Very soon afterward the seller popped up with some excuse and there was (I think) an out of forum settlement made.

So, I think it would speak volumes if Lars hasn't been flamed in this forum for sitar quality/service, up to this point. (not sure how many he has sold to us though, but damn, I'll buy my next one from him too

Pb

Stephen
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 03:41 p.m.


Russ,
I agree with all that you have said. I'm just saying that, even though some of us have, under impulse, said things about certain makers/dealers that are quite negative. I'm thinking now that we'd all be better off promoting the good instruments and leaving the negative comments to private conversations. Our "favored sitar consultant" will be quite honest with you on the phone, but chooses not to air those views on this forum, we should all be following this example. I would suggest to new folks that want to be steered clear of the tourist brands of instruments to make a phone call to who they feel they can trust. I think that we're all aware of the demand that the www has made on the relatively small instrument making shops of India. Some of the haute views I've read don't really apply to the casual student of this music, just as a student of a few years doesn't yet require a $60K violin. After someone has put in about 28,437 hours of riyaz, perhaps it is time to shell out many thousand dollars and purchase that very rare instrument. I just wonder what happens when we build up a certain make of instrument, if that maker becomes so pressed to fill orders that the quality goes down. Remember the old saying, "speed, quantity and quality...pick any two".
Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 03:43 p.m.


There was also a flame over on the tabla thread not long ago from a dealer who sold flawed instruments and refused return. He also sell sitars. Anyway, all it took was some posting for all to see, and the seller jumped up quickly, offering publically to retify the situation (sounds like he did). So, word of mouth is powerfull!
Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 03:51 p.m.


Rectify the situation. My typing is really getting bad....

Stephen, yes that pressure on a maker can compromise quality. I think that has already happened with some of the older makers talked about on here. However, on the flip side of the same coin, knowledge of a big demand can provide the incentive to a fledgling new maker to get with it(eg, Shristi, Mangla, etc)and help supply the demand for a quality instrument at affordable prices. So, its a little good, a little not so good.

Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Jul 29, 2003 04:09 p.m.



Stephen (Jul 29, 2003 03:41 p.m.):
I just wonder what happens when we build up a certain make of instrument, if that maker becomes so pressed to fill orders that the quality goes down. Remember the old saying, "speed, quantity and quality...pick any two".

That's the point...if we only said good things about good instruments, dealers, etc., and all of a sudden, the quality or service goes down the pits, but no one wants to post negative comments, then based on those previous reviews, people may still be buying the garbage!

The immediacy of the Internet has helped in many ways to avoid such problems (though admitedly, it has caused many problems also.) We should use the Internet as the tool it is, but we should also understand that advice should be taken with a grain of salt.


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Billy
Re:Who can you trust? Aug 04, 2003 09:53 a.m.


I know the AACM store was mentioned before, and I imagine they would likely carry a consitent supply of good sitars, but a recent message on the Yahoo group surprised me: "In the US, I believe all Sitar importers import junk with an exception to AACM store though you need to get lucky for a high end instrument."

I'm thinking that this is posted out of ignorance, but it does bring the trust issue into play again. I believe I still trust Lars at Sitars, Etc., but it is scarey nonetheless.


Namaste',
Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Russ
Re:Who can you trust? Aug 04, 2003 02:01 p.m.


At AACM, the quality of their instrument is directly proportional to their price. Just be prepared to pay high prices for their stuff. You are paying premium for a "name"(maker and seller)here. They do not "dicker".

Due to the nature of the market, the quality of sitars imported to the states will run the full spectrum from crap to one-of-a-kind. That's why supplier trust and a little bit of consumer technical knowledge is what can make the difference.

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