INDIAN MUSIC FORUM ARCHIVES: Sitar Forum: Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments

 

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Dave
Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 09, 2004 11:07 a.m.


As an employee of the Martin guitar company I�ve had the wonderful privilege to gain an appreciation for fine musical instruments. Companies such as Martin, Steinway, Selmer and many others are producing the best musical instruments they have ever fashioned.

In a post here I read an arguing dialog regarding the quality of some new Sitars versus old Sitars and I was reminded of a very commonly held false opinion regarding old guitars. There are many players who hold the opinion that old Vintage guitars are superior to brand new guitars� this opinion is mostly false. I won�t address products made by other companies but as far as Martin guitar companies� new upper end guitars� they have never been of a higher quality in 170 years. The quality of saw blades, sanders, finishing techniques, routers, etc� is incredibly superior to the tools of 20 years ago. Tolerances are within .001 of an inch now.

One thing old instruments have is age and that is very relevant to the tone of an instrument.
The good news though is: that brand new instruments (on the day they are built) will only improve from that base starting line. In 20 to 50 years, new acoustic guitars will have (in theory) a better sound than existing 20 to 50 year old acoustic guitars. Now with all this blobbidy blob being said I would like to share my early opinion of Sitars.

After closely looking at my Sitar (that I�ve only owned for a short while) I am amazed that this instrument could even be available to purchase for less that 10,000 dollars. Considering the amount of labor and engineering that goes into a sitar, they are an incredible value!

Anyone who has done any type of highly skilled wood crafting would have to agree that the sitar is an amazing feat of artistry and construction. We privileged few who actually own one should be very, very thankful that we have something that will in the future (most likely) not be available to the average incomed person.

Woods such as rosewood, mahogany, quilted maples and many others will at some point become so expensive that people who want a all wood guitar, piano, sitar, etc� will have to cough up some major dollars to buy anything of current quality. This scenario will happen, it is only a question of when will it happen.

I�ve told some of my friends that if an American company like Martin built a sitar like the one I own� it would be easily priced at 10 to 20 thousand dollars.

Enough commentary! If someone thinks a fine new sitar is not worth 2 or 3,000 dollars, they have not learned to really appreciate the incredible value of these amazing instruments!

Since the world is changing rapidly it would not surprise me to see the Indian satarmakers eventually deciding that their craft is worth much more than they currently are charging customers.

If I was King of the sitar industry� I would triple the price of all sitars being built today�including the �bad� ones.
So the moral of my philosophizing is: if you own a nice sitar, you are a privileged individual.

Love and Peace,
DaveJ

aanaddha
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 09, 2004 01:54 p.m.



Dave (May 09, 2004 11:07 a.m.):
As an employee of the Martin guitar company I�ve had the wonderful privilege to gain an appreciation for fine musical instruments. Companies such as Martin, Steinway, Selmer and many others are producing the best musical instruments they have ever fashioned ...
... Enough commentary! If someone thinks a fine new sitar is not worth 2 or 3,000 dollars, they have not learned to really appreciate the incredible value of these amazing instruments!

Since the world is changing rapidly it would not surprise me to see the Indian satarmakers eventually deciding that their craft is worth much more than they currently are charging customers.

If I was King of the sitar industry� I would triple the price of all sitars being built today�including the �bad� ones.
So the moral of my philosophizing is: if you own a nice sitar, you are a privileged individual.

Love and Peace,
DaveJ


Dear Dave,

I don't play guitar or sitar. I play tabla and pakhawaj. I also have a very high regard for fine instruments.
Three comments:

1."If (you were) King of the sitar industry� I would triple the price of all sitars being built today�" ..you would also likely make it impossible for many aspiring young musicians in India in to own an instrument. The fact that foriegners are willing to to pay more and more money for indigenous cultural articles of questionable quality is probably the largest factor in the speed of their demise.

2. The quality of an instrument is gauged by it's sound I believe more so than it's appearance - these two qualities are certainly related but not always in direct proportion. Also, the tonal qualities that you may appreciate in a guitar may in fact be unsuitable for a sitar. I do know for a fact that the best sounding tabla shells are hand chiseled - not turned on a lathe (which actually destroys it's distinct resonating properties) - so much for "tolerences" - at least in one category of instruments. It is also a scientific fact that because of the massive enviromental impact that polution has had on many rare hardwoods for example, the cell stucture is no longer the same or has the strength that the same species of wood might have had fifty years ago.

3. Steinway pianos made individually by hand are far superior to the pianos the company began making on machined assembly lines after World War II. The fine art of piano design and construction as a never recovered.

Sincerely,
Aanaddha

___________________

Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 09, 2004 04:10 p.m.


Aanaddha

I agree with your point regarding instruments sold in India�I would keep those prices as low as possible. But as far as instruments sold in wealthier countries, I would raise the price. A lot of people (plain ole consumers) in the west (just my opinion) have little appreciation for �things�, they buy them, use them and sell them or throw them away. Most people appreciate things more when they are costly.

Quote:
It is also a scientific fact that because of the massive enviromental impact that polution has had on many rare hardwoods for example, the cell stucture is no longer the same or has the strength that the same species of wood might have had fifty years ago.

I would love to hear more about this scientific study� can you provide any references or details?
Your reference to woods is exactly my point� there will be a time when in the future that high quality tone woods will be prohibit ably priced for the average person.


Regarding Steinway� I allow the piano experts to comment on current pianos versus old pianos.

As far as acoustic guitars� I know a little bit about them, I�ve studied guitar for 43 years and worked 23 years for the Martin company.

I�ll stand fully behind my comments regarding today�s quality versus the past 50 to 100 years.

Finally, your point regarding sound I fully agree with 1000% The tambre and tone of a musical instrument is truly its most precious aspect. But humans are visual people and they respond to the world visually. If something looks bad it is generally less appreciated that when it looks beautiful.

There is a reason for everything and the care taken in construction of anything shines through in (sometimes) abstract ways that are not initially appreciated.

Love and Peace,
Dave

Bad Ustad
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 10, 2004 09:06 a.m.


"If I was King of the sitar industry� I would triple the price of all sitars being built today�including the �bad� ones."
Oy Vey!!! A well intended but misquided statement from someone who has no notion of the realities of business ethics in India. Tripling the price of sitars at the dealer end in India would only encourage the making of crappier sitars. The more a dealer thinks he has you by the short hairs - the more BS he thinks he can get away with. Witness the rise of prices and demise of quality at Rikhi Ram in the last 10 years. My grandiose plan would entail the magical and painless dissapearance of too many wannabes and trophy hunters so the market would shrink. All the half-assed instrument makers would have to go back to making furniture (without strings). And the few remaining makers of quality instruments would have to learn again how to strive for perfection.
Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 10, 2004 11:15 a.m.


Well I guess you folks aren�t going to vote for me to become King of the Sitar industry!

Since I�m new to the world of Sitars, maybe someone can tell me what a bad sitar is?

DaveJ

AJ
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 10, 2004 02:00 p.m.


Greetings Daveji!

I'm sure these guys can explain to you much better than myself what a "bad" sitar is but just off the top of my head, it's an instrument that is so messed up (warped neck is the first thing that comes to mind, just like guitars......this is where the other guys come in, they can give you many more detailed descriptions of "bad" things that make a "bad sitar", "bad".....), that it's basically unfit to play and is better used as a wall decoration or as firewood.........!

I was lucky enough to have someone with much experience and knowledge explain some of these things to me and help me in my quest for my first sitar, which I love deeply and sounds really incredible to me, fits my personality, too.............(sitars are like people too.......each one having outward common characteristics, but very unique and individual qualities, as well)

You can learn alot here.........go back into some of the older posts, it's a gold mine of information and experience..........! We lost some of the really old stuff due to a server crash, I think it was either last year(?) or the year before(? getting "oldtimer's disease), but nonetheless, there are many great posts and answers to tons of stuff from people who have alot of experience with sitars and Hindustani Classical.

See you round like a mogra!
AJ : )

Bad Ustad
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 10, 2004 04:03 p.m.


Dear Dave,
Just to be sure - I would like to say, Welcome to the forum. I can be a little ascerbic and it was not my intent to be unfriendly. It is a shame that the American work ethic does not apply to the Indian music business. Nowadays there are so many American companies that turn out great guitars for much less money than the big three. Recently, a friend of mine bought a $300.00 copy of a dobro with, a built-in pick-up no less, that played and it played and sounded really terrific. I've yet to hear of a comparable story relating to inexpensive sitars. On the other hand - there is a guy in Cincinatti who makes simple two-stringed dhotaras and is asking $20,000.00. No, that is not a typo.
Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 11, 2004 09:59 a.m.


Bad Usted

I agree with your comments regarding quality and especially with certain low priced instruments. Last year I bought a Chinese made arch top jazz electric guitar (less that 300.00) it is simply an amazing instrument for the price. I had a great jazz guitar player friend of mine check it out and he just about fell off his chair when I told him it cost less than 300. He said "if you told me you paid 1,200 dollars for this guitar I would have said you got a great deal"

Anyway, I'm retracting my offer to be King of the Sitar industry... I leave that to someone more qualified

Love and Peace,
DaveJ

Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 11, 2004 10:03 a.m.


Whoops, sorry Bad Ustad... I misspelled your name in the last post.

A thousand apologies!

DaveJ

Jeff
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 11, 2004 02:36 p.m.


American instruments overpriced!?
Naaaw!!!! You gotta be kidding?
Seriously, I wont, I mean refuse to buy a "new" American made guitar anymore. Espeacially, Gibson, or Martin (sorry:-) Dave) I just think they're nuts for what they ask for them. Even most private builders ask way to much.
Sitars seem like a much better deal for the workmanship.
How much $$$$ in material does Martin, Gibson or Fender put into one instrument $200? $300? if that.
I know theres overhead, but $2000 for a basic acoustic, they're nuts with some greed thrown in. But I guess they're there to make money, right

Dave in all friendly curiosity Does Martin do any hand construction or is it all CNC now? I assume the bindings and hardware are still done by hand. What about the neck, tops and backs and etc,,, Are the kerfings installed by hand? I've never even played a Martin before, so I may be putting my foot in my mouth about this.
Thanky!

Oh yeah! Welcome to the forum!

barend
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 07:03 a.m.


triple the price of sitars.!!!You sure won't make any friends on this forum. I hope the sitar builders don't read your message. Of course I know that there is a lot of hard labour and craftmanship involved in making a good sitar. But you have to compare the prices to the rest of the prices in India. And I don't think someone who lives in a wealthier country should pay a lot more then anyone else. If that is the case the prices in India will raise accordingly and the local people can't buy sitars anymore.
Keshav Das
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 09:03 a.m.


I've been playing guitar since the age of 10 and have been horrified at the way greed has sent the price of guitars through the roof. In the 70's and 80's Japanese collectors started buying up pre-war Martins and Gibsons and every guitar that was supposedly strummed by Jimi Hendrix. Ever since, the prices of good guitars have been artificially driven to new heights that have no relation to value received. I haven't really played anything but Indian music in the last 10 years but still keep my stable of guitars. A month ago some trophy hunter type offered me a crazy price for one my beat up junky old Nationals that made my head spin (with greed). I didn't sell. I asked him why didn't he collect stamps instead?
Jeff
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 10:12 a.m.


If ya wanna really puke, take a look at Elderly Instruments web site. $125,000 for a old Martin D-45! Crazy! Even $10,000 is way to much for any guitar, brand new or old.

About 7 or 8 years ago I had the chance to see the Scott Chinery guitar collection. This guy had hundreds of guitars of all types and makers. Some did not even look playable and the currator? guy was pointing at guitars and saying this one was $80,000 this on here was $25,000 and so on. I almosted swooned from the amount of money this guy spent on these guitars, all I could do was shake my head.

He also owned the original Bat Mobile, it had a big puddle of motor oil under it.
When I was a kid I thought that was th coolest car around, then when saw it up close it was kind of funny and stupid looking.

Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 11:05 a.m.


Well I think I really ruffled some feathers here� but sometimes that keeps life interesting as long as it doesn�t start a world war. 

Handmade and Handcrafted terms used by any maker of anything is such a generic concept that it is comical to me. One definition of technology is any device (tool etc..) that extends beyond the hand. For anything to be truly handmade it has to be totally made by hand without the use of any tool.

Handcrafted is a better term but still leaves a person with a variety of impressions that may or may not be the case.

100 years ago Martin craftspeople used tools such as routers, planners, scrapers, drills and a host of other �machines� to build their guitars.

Today Martin uses routers, planners, scrapers, drills and a host of other machines to build their guitars. One huge difference exists now. These �tools� are vastly superior to the tools of a hundred years ago. End result, the tools are better and the final product is much better. For any woodworkers who doubt this please try this experiment. Take a century old brace and bit (drill) and by hand drill a 2 inch deep hole in a piece of wood. Then take an expensive modern precision drill press with a highly refined bit and drill a hole in a piece of wood.

Repeat this action 100 times.

I have a standing offer to by a beer for any craftsperson who can drill a hundred truer and straighter holes by hand versus the modern drill press.

There is a mysticism many times attached to musical instruments that springs from the magical tone, voice and sound of older so called �handmade� instruments. This magic comes mainly from two functions. Played in age and original design/component. In the case of old Martin guitars there are a number of completely amazing sounding Vintage instruments and there are a much larger number of average sounding Vintage instruments, including a few very poor sounding ones.

New mid price and higher Martin guitars are consistently good sounding instruments. Why? The design and basic spec that has been used for a century and half is still the basis for all brand new Martins. Some specs have been changed. Why? They are improvements over old specs and those improvements are for only one reason: to improve the tone, reliability and playability of the guitar.

So regarding new Martin guitars, the guitar that a consumer buys today is consistently superior in construction, design and common materials than anytime in the past. There is though one undeniable difference between a new Martin and an old Martin� age.

As with Sitars (as far as I know) years of aging and playing sweeten up good acoustic instruments. One rule though must apply here and that is the instrument must be good to start with before it can be great 40 years from now. If it starts out poorly, it will never become a great instrument in the future. If it starts out good, it will only get better with care and playing


part one of my post... whoops way too long

Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 11:06 a.m.


part two of my long winded post

As far as pricing� hmmm� this is touchy because money is a touchy subject. All I can say about the Martin company is that all of the employees are well treated but they are not going to be buying homes next to Michael Jordon anytime soon.. They have health care, they have unemployment insurance, they have clean and safe work environment and they make a modest living. The company is also financially prudent enough to insure that it can be around in 20 years to provide employment and instruments for future generations. This is a very good thing!

Here�s my feeling on the value of Martin guitars. For 2,000 dollars a guitar player can by an instrument that (for 170 years now) has appreciated in value, comes with a lifetime warranty and is generally considered to be the standard by which all good acoustic guitars are judged.

Or

For 2,000 a person can go on a vacation to Carribean, get rained on, loose their luggage, get shook down by security at the airport and come home with a mix of happy and sad memories.
Or they could buy a computer system that in two years will be worth 150 dollars.
Or they could buy a DVD system for their car, so the people in the back seat can amuse themselves while they drive to Grandma�s house. I think you get my point.

Musicians including myself seem to be romantics and that�s great, the world needs more romantics. But logic, science and technology should not be viewed as heresy by people who think the mythology of things is the truer reality of things. I try to leave much of my romantic mythology thoughts to my spiritual side and in turn learn and investigate logic and facts with my intellect versus my heart.

My comments regarding being King of the Sitar industry were (for me) my (probably warped) sense of humor. I�m not the least bit interested in being King of anything. My comments about tripling the price of sitars was totally ignorant. SORRY.

Here�s more of what I should have said. Since so many folks here at the Sitar forum have commented on inconsistent quality of new sitars, maybe an opportunity exists for all satarmakers to take a hard, long, look at how they do things. Maybe they could all (or many) improve their quality by incorporating better technology and tools� and yes this means they would have to raise their prices� sorry it�s simply a fact of life.

For those who think that this can�t be done, well that�s an opinion. I am of the firm belief that humans (anywhere in the world) with time and concern can do anything they set their mind and heart to.

I am optimistic by nature� I have occasionally seen through the maya

Love and Peace,
DaveJ

PS to those I�ve offended I apologize� I think I better shut up for a while and learn more about Sitars! Hey, I�m a passionate person and I love the instrument!

K.K.
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 01:54 p.m.



Dave (May 13, 2004 11:06 a.m.):

...PS to those I�ve offended I apologize� I think I better shut up for a while and learn more about Sitars! Hey, I�m a passionate person and I love the instrument!


Hey Dave,
Don't worry, you haven't offended anyone. Read some recent posts in the archives regarding the quality (or lack of) of modern crafted sitars and you'll see some ruffled feathers
And please, don't shut up! Asking questions, offering your opinion, and listening to other's is what this forum is all about
Regarding prices...yes that is touchy. IMO it comes down to how much you are willing to pay for a particular instrument.
One of my best friends is the priciple percussionist in the L.A. Phil. We were having a discussion about the price of djembes (an african drum) and he pointed out that some of the violinists in the Phil spend as much on a violin bow as you would on a really nice brand new car!

Remco
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 02:44 p.m.


At the moment there are two Rikhi Rham's. I've heard that Sanjay left his father to concentrate on more precisely built instruments, using modern tools. When I look at Lars' website there are a couple of fantastic looking instruments. The pegfitting looks extremly thight. When I look at my Kanai Lal surbahar some pegs are eh.... not really tight. (she sounds fab though). I've seen a repairman from Kartar Hari Chand work on my instrument last year using some archaic tools, looked very primitive, but the guy sure knew what he was doing. Also: I think we must not forget that a hunderd years ago Martin made 25 instruments a month, right now 25000 a month... (ehhh guess... ) so a lot of new tools are aimed at a more productive way of working rather than making a better instrument.

Peace,

Remco

Aanaddha
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 02:57 p.m.


"100 years ago Martin craftspeople used tools such as routers, planners, scrapers, drills and a host of other �machines� to build their guitars.

Today Martin uses routers, planners, scrapers, drills and a host of other machines to build their guitars. One huge difference exists now. These �tools� are vastly superior to the tools of a hundred years ago. End result, the tools are better and the final product is much better."
--------------------
Dave,
Please explain the terms "superior" and "better" in the previous context.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the origin of Martin's long-standing reputation built on the instruments that were "hand-tooled" one-hundred or fifty years ago?
I don't believe that the company completely modernized it's design and production techniques without using those "hand-tooled" instruments as models for sound quality, craftmanship, and even for the current tolerence standards.

Sincerely.
Aanaddha

-------------------------

Bad Ustad
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 06:12 p.m.


Ditto re: don't be offended. All thoughtful input is welcome here. Anytime someone says something that is insightful AND provocative - it wakes up the collective spirit of the forum. No doubt about it, Martin makes great guitars. I think for most of us the "evil" that is so hard to deal with, are opportunistic speculators and ridiculous no-talent, narccisstic, passive aggressive, dilletantes who compensate for their lack of talent or creativity by fetish-izing instruments they can't play and in the process, putting them financially beyond the grasp of actual musicians.
Jeff
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 13, 2004 07:04 p.m.


What BU said
Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 14, 2004 12:34 p.m.


Testing... something in my posting isn't working here...
Dave
Re:Endangered species ? � fine musical instruments May 14, 2004 12:52 p.m.


Aanaddha, you are very correct, Martin did and does use what they invented before to direct the design of what they do now. This is the way of most things.

The point that old Martin's had more handtooling is just that, they simply had more handtooling.

Here�s a little idea on modern tooling versus older tooling and how it affects quality. Many Martin guitar tops are about 1/8 inch thick. Making the top consistently of the correct thickness is the ideal of the design. 100 years ago this spec could have varied by as much as 1/64 to 1/32 of an inch.

If a guitar top is too thick, it won�t resonate correctly and the guitar will sound stiff and lack volume. If it is too thin, it will tend to be louder but may not hold up under the stress of the string tension. The end result is: Vintage Martins can vary pretty wildly in tone and playability. If a person has a �good� one they are fortunate. If they have one that�s not so good� sorry that�s simply a fact of old life.

The reality then of modern precision tooling on guitars is: When the design is correct in the beginning and the materials are correctly chosen for their tonal and structural nature and the �tooling� is as precise as possible, the final instrument will (in theory) be as best as it can possibly be. This is the case with new Martin�s versus old Martin�s.

The only deviation then really is that no two instruments are identical and some old and some new ones leave much to be desired as far as tone (this is usually a function of the tonal nature of wood). But more new ones are consistently good sounding versus the ratio of good sounding ones found in old production.

It�s a little like a game of averages but the advantage now is improving on what was learned in days gone by and not in returning to the past simply because it was a more poetic way to do things.

Love and Peace,
DaveJ

Martin currently builds about 55,000 guitars a year, but 25,000 a month probably overwhelm the craftspeople.

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