This page provides an overview of the making of sitars. One point should be kept in mind; sitar-making is a very individualized craft. Every craftsman is going to have his own individual interpretation. Therefore, the techniques shown here must be considered to be but a sample.
The terms too, must be taken with some caution. India is a land of tremendous linguistic diversity. If a mango is called something different every hundred miles, we certainly expect the names of the parts of the sitar to show a similar diversity. With these points in mind let us look more closely into sitar-making.
Sitar-making is a very traditional craft. Virtually every city has craftsmen who deal in this commodity. Like the other crafts, it is passed down from generation to generation; in this manner the apprentice learns the techniques form an older, more established craftsman. The one point which continuously comes through is that it is a very manual process.
The basic parts of the sitar are shown in the illustration below:
You can zoom in on the previous illustration for a clearer understanding.
The tools used are generally simple hand tools. Hand saws, rasps, hammers, and similar tools are the norm. Power tools of any kind are generally not used.
The glues, paints and varnishes are usually made from scratch.
Glue for instance, is usually saresh; this is a mucilage which comes in brown sheets. It is mixed with a small amount of water and kept over a small fire. There has been a recent introduction of synthetic glues into the craft, but still mucilage is the preferred glue.
There is no varnish as we think of it in the West. The traditional varnish is actually lacquer. Lacquer is a mixture of laq (a tree gum which has been partially digested by insects) and alcohol. Occasionally chandresh is added to give more of a sheen. Paint is made in the same, way except pigment is added to the mixture.
The fasteners are very interesting. Metallic nails have very little use in the craft of making the sitar. Screws are sometimes used. The most common fastener is actually a small tack or nail made from slivers of bamboo. These tacks may be anywhere from 1/4 to one-inch in length. The are made by slicing the outer skin of bamboo. Only the outer skin is used because it is the strongest. In a typical sitar, metal fasteners such as nails or screws can be counted on the fingers; but there are hundreds of these bamboo slivers used. (If your sitar ever breaks the gourd, you can see scores of such bamboo nails on the inside.
The neck is based upon six pieces. There is the major portion of the neck, this is known as dandi. There are three front plates, and two camel bone bridges (ard patri). These are shown below.
The patri are the two bridges at the top of the neck. The word "patri" literally means "leaf" and may be applied to any flat leaf like object. One will find other parts of the sitar also referred to as patri.
Fabrication of the patri is simple. First, rough bridges are fashioned from camel bone. These are shown below:
These bridges must then be finished. Cut holes in one of the bridges to allows the strings to pass.&nmsp; The other bridge is notched to allow the strings to pass over them. These is shown in the picture below.
The taraf mogara are the small grommets made of camel bone that are glued into holes on the neck front plate. They serve to strengthen the hole so that the strings do not bite into the wood.
The gullu is the wooden cowl that joins the neck (dandi) with the gourd (kaddu). It is hollowed out of a single piece of wood. This is shown below:
The gourd (kaddu) forms the bulk of the resonator (tumba). This is a large, hard gourd, roughly 14 inches in diameter. There are two ways that the gourd may be cut and mounted on the sitar. The most common has the base of the gourd running perpendicular to the face (tabkadi). This would be cut as shown below:
Another way which is sometimes used, is to have the base of the gourd running parallel to the faceplate. This style is considerably less popular. It would be cut in the fashion shown below:
The tabkadi is probably the most important wooden piece of the sitar. It is made from a single piece. It is very important that the grain of the wood run in the direction of the tabkadi. It is also very important that this wood be free of knotholes or other imperfections.
The tabkadi should be neither too thick nor too thin. If it is too thin, the sitar will have a very loud sound; unfortunately it will have a very poor sustain. If the tabkadi is too thick, the instrument may have a good sustain, but a very low volume. If everything is correct, the sitar will have a loud volume and a good sustain.
The tabkadi is shown below:
These decorative leaves are usually made of wood and glued to the gourd, just below where the gullu attaches. They are purely decorative and are sometimes left off the instrument.
The tardani mogara sometimes referred to as kili are the posts where the strings attach to the base of the sitar. The name "kili" literally means "nail" while the term tardani mogara literally means "the jasmine blossoms that hold the strings". The term kili is so named because the posts somewhat resemble protruding nails, while any of the camel bone protruding bits may be referred to as mogara (Jasmine blossoms). These tardani mogara are fashioned from camel bone as shown below:
The tail mount is a piece of wood that attaches to the base of the gourd (kaddu). This forms a strong base in which the tardani mogara are placed for the attachment of the strings.
The kuntis are the tuning pegs; a sitar has two types. There are larger pegs for the playing and drone strings, and there are smaller ones for the sympathetic strings.
There are three common styles of large tuning pegs. These are the lotus pegs, the fluted, and the simple. These are shown below:
Lotus Kunti - The lotus peg is considered to be the finest peg. The presence of this peg is often a visible indication that the great care was taken for the whole instrument. This is usually found on the professional quality sitars. A lotus peg is shown below:
Fluted Kunti - The fluted peg is not nearly as refined as the lotus version. Although one sometimes finds professional quality sitars using this style, it is often an indication of a middle grade of instrument. A fluted peg is shown below:
Simple Kunti - The simple peg is often an indication of a student grade instrument. Although there is nothing wrong with this style, it is often an indication that there has not really been a lot of care taken in the fabrication of the instrument. A simple peg is shown below:
Taraf Kunti - There are also the smaller pegs for the sympathetic strings. An example is shown below:
The mogara are the two post that raised the chikari strings above the neck. The name "mogara" literally mean "jasmine". It is so named because the posts somewhat resemble the blossom of the mogara. These posts are placed in holes that are drilled in the side of the neck as shown below:
The tumba is an optional part of the sitar. It appears to be a relatively recent addition. Even today it is not universal. There are a number of styles. Sometimes it is made of a gourd (kaddu) and sometimes it is made of wood (lakadi). Sometimes decorative leaves are applied (patri). A common method of fabrication is shown below.
Opinion is divided as to whether the purpose of the tumba is to affects the sound, whether it affects the balance or whether it is just decorative. It is quite likley that it serves all three purposes.
The main bridge, often referred to as the ghoraj or bada ghoraj, is one of the most unique parts of the sitar. It is composed of two parts. The major portion is wood. However the most critical section is the bone plate, often referred to as the jawari. The preferred material for this plate is antelope horn (barah sinha). However over the years the antelope from which the horns are obtained has become an endangered species. This horn has therefore become hard to obtain. The most common substitute is camel bone. Camel bone produces a material which is surprisingly similar to elephant ivory (hathi ka dant).
The relationship between the wooden bridge, the bone plate, and strings is shown in the figure below.
Notice that the bridge has a very characteristic curve to it. This is extremely critical and it takes a lot of experience to be able to produce just the right contour.
Although sanding the bridge to the correct contour is very difficult, the basic concept is quite simple. The bridge works very much like a guitar that has a warped neck. The overtones of the sitar are produced by the rattling of the strings against the bridge.
This has just been a brief introduction to the bridge
The sympathetic strings also have a bridge. This has a contour similar to the main bridge. Both the main bridge and the sympathetic bride are shown in the photo below:
The parda are the wire frets on the sitar. They are composed of metallic rods bent to their characteristic shape (see below).
A good discussion of tying the frets is to be found at: Perfect Third Music's Knots
There are a number of approaches to stringing the sitar. The various approaches are inextricably linked to the desired tunings. The following links deal with this subject:
When one is stringing the sitar it is usual to have one or more beads to assist with fine tuning of the instrument. A normal bead and a swan-shaped bead are shown in the photograph below:
Go to ""Tuning the Sitar"
This page is just the barest introduction to the craft of sitar making. However we hope that you will at least get a feel for this interesting subject.
© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney
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