INDIAN MUSIC FORUM ARCHIVES: Sitar Forum: Chipped "paint"


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Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 09:57 a.m.

I bought my sitar as a "second" a little over a month ago. It is a cheaper model, not the cheapest "Calcutta Student" type, but similar.

The bottom toomba is a redish-orange. The reason it was sold as a second was because it has a couple of places where the "paint" on the main toomba was flaked off. These aren't really large spots, and I haven't really paid much attention to them, I just knew that one of these days I want to fix them. I'm certainly not knowledable on such things, but I always assumed that the finish was some kind of tinted shellac.

Anyway, I was looking at the spots last night, and note that the undercoat was almost black. I would have thought that if it was shellac, it would be applied directly to the gourd without an undercoat/primer. I'm quite confused. Could it be that the coating isn't a shellac at all, but perhaps painted on then waxed?

My brother tells me that I should just take a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to one of the flaked-off places, and see if it melts any of the surrounding area, as that would be proof it was shellac.

If its paint, it would be fairly easy for me to take the sitar to the paint store and have them mix up a small can of matching color. If its shellac, its hit-or-miss.

Any suggestions? Has anyone repair spots like this?

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 11:06 a.m.

That cheapo sitar I bought at the Pier 1 in Ft. Worth all those years ago had a top tumba made out of thin aluminum. The maker had brushed brownish paint, probably primer, on it, and then some kind of spray varnish. Worked OK to get it out the door. Of course, I replaced it with a real gourd just a few years ago.
Anyway, its possible your main gourd has a similar "primer" type paint applied to it. But its also possible that they did indeed use shellac over that. Either alcohol or mineral spirits (denatured methanol) will confirm that. I think your idea of putting on a bit of matching paint, letting it completety dry, and then brushing the shellac coating (french polish) over those spots should work. But if its not shellac, then a touch up of varnish or enamel might do the trick.
Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 11:32 a.m.

Alluminum? What were they thinking!!!! By the way, I was thinking about the Trinity Park over near Pier One, when it was the big "hippie" hang out. We use to have rock bands playing in the gazebo there. The city council, in a frutal effort to get us to stop hanging around there, abolished electrical music; ie, no amplification.

Well, we then started getting folk bands, and obviously everyone had to scrunch in a little closer, but it was ok. The point is, I just remembered this the other night, there was one sort-of ICM/folk fusion group; they had a sitar player that played standing up, with a strap on is sitar! And as I recalled, he was pretty good. Seems I remember reading that Ashwin Batish does that too, but I'm not sure. Just another one of those weird things that happened in Fort Worth.....

As for the toomba, my brother thinks I should patch the spots the best I can, then french polish the entire toomba, so the finish will match all over. That might be a little more involved than I want to get!

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 12:26 p.m.

Yeah, your brother's probably right. I went overboard with mine about 10 years ago and re-did the whole thing with varnish and stain remover (what a mess) and several grades of sandpaper and rouge. Took the better part of 6 months, working a little every day. But it was in serious need of refurbishing. And that crappy aluminum tumba got drop-kicked right out the back door! Grew my own gourd a while back, and then aged, cleaned, sanded, painted, and sealed it to replace the cheapo. But I used a water-based clear sealer called varithane on the entire sitar. That's what they use on bowling alley lanes, so I figured that would be pretty tough! And it is, still holding up after years. So, there's an alternative to shellac or varnish.
Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 12:53 p.m.

Oops, new subject alert!

How was it growing your own gourds? I've been thinking for a while of building an African marimba, which uses gourds for resonators instead of pipes (these are called Gylee or Balafones.) Anyway, if I build a large one, buying that many gourds will kill me! So I've been thinking about growning my own, but I've heard its not that easy. What do you think?

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 01:17 p.m.

Sand the tumba down. I cant stand that color you are describing, its an insult to every pumpkin on earth.

Sand it down to get the natural material out in the open and let it breath. (it sounds better to... or perhaps not...)


Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 01:38 p.m.

Jan, the final color I chose was a dark brown. Actually looks good on my old timer. I did sand it down and let it "breathe" for a while. That's a part of the curing process.

Billy, yes it is hard growing your own! Out of maybe 75 or so gourds off my vine, only one was big enough. Plus, they have a habit of rotting on the vine, and generally have to be propped-up by something. This was just an experiment, but it did actually work. So, I'm just a bit proud of it. I wrote this up for Peter Cutchey quite some time ago to spruce up his then-bare website, and then things took off:

Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 02:13 p.m.

Cool article. Looks like you planned it out pretty well.

For the balafone, I wouldn't need many of the big gourds, in fact, most of them would probably be 1/3 the size of a toomba.

There are about three or four millions sites on the Internet where you can buy gourds or seeds. One I know is at

It would cost about 13.50 for what I would imagine would be a good gourd for an upper toomba.

Jan--I might just do that, sand the whole thing down and shellac the natural color, maybe with a little tint in the shellac. Then again, that's a lot of work! Sounds like something my son could do.....

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 03:43 p.m.

There are actually quite a few people who use gourds to make instruments with. Here's some interesting info as well:

I visted with a friend of a cousin that lives just north of Waxahatchie on a small farm. She is really into making all kinds of stuff out of gourds. Turns out Texas has its own gourd society. Don't have their website offhand.

Yeah, for kicks and giggles, Ashwin does stand up and play sitar at his gigs. Really fast too. Don't know how it does it. I tried it once, but couldn't do it.

Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 04:11 p.m.

I'm pretty sure Ashwin doesn't use a strap on his sitar when he stands and plays......on his first video(where he goes into several different ways to hold & play a sitar), I think he puts one foot on a small stool and balances the bottom tumba on his upper thigh, holding it "down" w/ his right hand elbow.

I'll check the video out tonight and start a NEW post once I determine how he does it.

BTW....never seen him in concert, so what's on the video may differ from what others have seen live.

Me personally, I use the traditional half-lotus. Now if I could only beat this nagging right-hand pain/pins and needles feeling.....


Re:Chipped "paint" Jul 18, 2003 04:45 p.m.

Danimal: Are talking about your finger (mizrab), or your whole right hand?
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