The Perfect Sitar, The Perfect Finger Oil, and Other Myths
Jul 29, 2003 09:49 p.m.
Like everyone here at this wonderful community we call the Sitar Forum, I spent countless hours researching the very limited local options, and the very few Internet stores (sorry Lars, as you know, Sitars Etc. wasn�t around back then) to find the best quality instrument available to fit my circumstances. There were no 30-year-old Hiren Roys available locally and I couldn�t afford a trip to India to hand pick a new sitar. So I did the next best (crazy-ass) thing - I drove from Los Angeles, CA to Austin, TX to pick out a sitar from what I considered the best source available. Luckily, Peter had quite a few really nice quality instruments to choose from, and I was able to find one that satisfied me�at the time.
I spent many hours tweaking it and, with the help of some very friendly and knowledgeable people (many of whom contribute to this forum) got it up to speed. But even though I had a perfectly decent sitar in my possession, it still wasn�t �perfect.�
Then it started�THE OBSESSION
I still had a Jones for that �gem� that I just knew was out there�somewhere.
I think Jeff�s recent post (which actually inspired this novel) really sums it up:
��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.�
So, I set out on a quest to gain as much knowledge about the instrument as I could, so that I would recognize that �gem� when I spotted it. In the last year I have laid my eyes, and hands, on some of the finest, and most famous, sitars on the planet (and I know some others on the Forum have also.) I�ve seen the old masterpieces made by THE masters - the Nodu Mullicks, R.R.s, H.R.s, Hemens, Naskars, etc. I�ve also seen the new stuff - sitars made by this grandson, that grandson. Custom sitars made by Ajay, custom sitars made by Sanjay, etc., etc.
I�m not trying to brag here, I�m just trying to pass along some knowledge that I�ve been fortunate enough to acquire that might put some of my Sitar Forum brethren at ease.
So what did I find? Who makes the best sitar? What IS the secret of the Universe?
Well, what I found was - of all the wonderful instruments that I was able to inspect, they all had one amazing thing in common�
Not one of them was perfect!
So with this in mind I came to the stunning conclusion:
THERE ARE NO PERFECT SITARS! (I�m free! I�m free!)
Now I�m not talking about perfection as in a Jose Ramirez guitar. As a matter of fact there are only a handful of sitars in existence that even come halfway close to CF Martin�s standards of workmanship.
(Forget it, those are all taken, YOU CAN�T HAVE ONE.)
Now, if you are still obsessed with obtaining the best quality sitar available (without committing a felony) you basically have two options:
(A) Find someone who is willing to part with their 30-year-old gem, made by any one of the master craftsman who were alive back then; Hiren Roy, Hemen, Kanai Lal, R.R., etc. Of course you�ll have to be able to tell if its one of their �good ones.� Oh, and make sure it�s not more than 30 or 40 years old, unless you can afford to have a professional luthier maintain it for you.
Or, (I don�t think anyone has tried this yet)
(B) Travel to India and hire one of the several �young guns� to personally build your sitar. Make sure he is willing to work on just your sitar for the next six months (bring a lot of cash.) Before the work begins, you�ll need to find a 200-year-old manor and convince the owner (bring a lot of cash) to part with one of its 3� thick doors (for the tabli and neck.) Then take in the sites, or better yet, study sitar with the local guru while you supervise the making of your �dream machine.� The only problem with this option, besides the price tag, is there�s no guarantee that your Babu is going to be an outstanding sounding instrument. But it�ll most likely play well, and for sure it will be the nicest looking sitar on your block. Who knows, you might end up with a new �masterpiece.�
Unfortunately, there just aren�t enough �Option A� sitars to go around. Well, there�s always the chance you might stumble across your �gift from Saraswati� hidden away in uncle Natarajan�s closet, or hanging amongst the banjos in a pawnshop in Louisiana. Or, if you happen to be lucky enough to be a part of a cosmic event, someone just might come along and drop one of these gems right in your lap! LARRRRZ!!!
As for option B, I don�t think any of us are crazy enough to gamble on that one, although it sure would be a fun adventure IF you had the funds.
So, what are us mere mortals left with?
We either personally pick out the nicest sitar we can put our paws on (and can afford), or we trust someone else to choose one they think will be suitable and have it shipped to us. Or, if we can afford it, we do what most �pros� do - order a sitar custom built by one of the �top makers� and hope it turns out nice - another gamble.
Purchase the nicest sitar you can afford, and don�t waste precious practice time searching for that perfect instrument. You�ll probably find that you already have it. As Nikhil Banerjee said, �Respect your instrument, and he will respect you.�
Regarding the perfect finger oil�
It�s the same thing - we spend way too much time trying to find the perfect �formula.�
My friend Kenji, who is one of Raviji�s students, and was Ravi & Anoushka�s sitar tech/tanpura player for their last world tour, says that Guruji really likes WD-40, but nobody (Sukanya & Anoushka) can stand the smell. So he uses regular ol' baby oil. As for Anoushka, she just uses whatever her mother happens to put in her oil box. Currently, it�s machine oil, bought at the hardware store.
And all this time I thought for sure they must be using some �secret potion.�
Re:The Perfect Sitar, The Perfect Finger Oil, and Other Myths
Jul 29, 2003 10:53 p.m.
KK, you have truly ascended to the heights of a Lotus born one. You know, as I was at my 'day job' today, I could have sworn I saw what looked like an enlightened sitar addict floating through the sky surrounded by mulitiple rainbows and as I peered closer there appeared to be a card in his hand that said "MPS culture club"! And then I realized that it was an electrical arc from a live power line that I dug up.....
But you got it, no doubt.....
Option A: Too few of these sitars around anymore and Tun wood is a gamble after 30 years. Teak would be fine....I have a 45 year old HR teak which has a perfectly straight neck, etc. but after years of playing there are indents on the tabli which is OK but when you put a new bridge on it takes hours and hours to match the legs to the tabli surface. But yes, it dropped into my lap literally.....
I think in the future you'll see some other older sitars being used like some of the older Manglas, etc. as they become mature in sound...
After talking to Ken O'Neill today (uncle Ken)....he had made a point about serious clarinet players being able to change their own pads, cut reeds, etc. as do bagpipe players, on and on....it's the same with us regarding jawari or fixing the little piece of trim that comes up, etc. Part of the experience....
Option B: Have you been spying on me? Sanjay Sharma is making 2 sitars for me for yes, about the past 6 months.....only the manor was about 100 years old that he got the teak from. But what could I say? No? But KK, you've seen Mark P.'s sitar that had his touch and so just imagine the possibilities now that there are no restrictions with regards to the shop in which he was working in back then.....I think Option B is a good way to go and is probably even available at more than one place in the West but to go to India for 6 months would be great. Place your order and drop by daily, every day....hee hee....
And also KK, you have a gentleman name Scott Hackleman near you....do you know him? He can build a sitar, studied with Kartar Chand Sharma.
WD-40? Oh my.....I'll bet it works great, remember Louis who posted his favorite was 10-40 motor oil? And he wore condoms on his fingers while in the shower to protect his callouses? Now that's dedication.....my only concern would be health effects. I like Marico's hair & care oil from India, Indrajit Banerjee turned me on to that stuff but you can't find it in the West.
Re:The Perfect Sitar, The Perfect Finger Oil, and Other Myths
Jul 30, 2003 03:20 a.m.
You put this more eloquently than I did in my previous post.
It is all personal preference, we can go blue in the face arguing one Sitar maker/seller over the other but when it comes down to it is all about when you alone playing your Sitar and you fill that oneness with it.
At that point it all else is forgot and true appreciation of Sitar, music are obtained. Ahhh Nirvana....