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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #1 
I've been working on this sitar build for what is now over two years. Three tabli builds in along with shifted string positions and bridge replacements, I thought I had a finished product. Strung up, tuned and calibrated, it still just didn't quite have "the Latin for the judgin'". From the front the sound is great. From the players position, still a bit weak. What I have finally discovered is that the thickness of the neck, front, back and sides is just about as important as the tabli shape and thickness. This sitar was built to last long after WW III and in reaching that, volume was lost. I sawed off the neck front, shaved the peg side down to 1/4", the meend side down to 3/16" and the front and back to 1/8". Not only is the neck a lot lighter in weight but the resulting resonance and volume should be improved ten fold. I did side by side comparisons of numerous sitars and determined that notes played could also be felt by the fretting hand on the back of the neck as well as the obvious blast of sound. Rambling observations I know but all this should serve as picking points for anybody shopping for a sitar who can try before buying. Even a $300 'Kindling and Brother" sitar can sound acceptable as most I've seen are light and thin enough to stir up sound - after a good jawari, strings and a proper tune up, that is. Definately play the instrument and see if you can feel the notes behind the frets. Rambling. Tired. Outta here.
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fossesitar

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Reply with quote  #2 
You are to be commended, Tone, for your work ethic, your willingness to experiment, and for evaluating the results so honestly. Sitar is indeed, an interconnected system, change one thing and everything else changes....... bravo. GF
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Lars

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Reply with quote  #3 
Sounds like an adventure! A good topic of great interest, there's no shortcut unless really good aged/dried wood is used. 1/4 inch is right for mahogany at least on the tabli. Mahogany/cedar shrinks as it ages and hence the 'break-in' needed for Indian instruments whose makers have no access to kiln dried wood, too thin and the overtones are too much and the clarity of the tone gets muddy and you lose sustain. Sounds like a lot of work, hopefully you've discovered something great.

Lars

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CarbonSitars

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Reply with quote  #4 
I've found this is certainly true regardless of material. Too thick, and you gain sustain but lose volume and lower frequencies. Too thin, and you gain volume but lose sustain. There's definitely a "Goldilocks zone" related to mass for each type of material. On my first carbon fiber sitar, the walls of the dandi were quite thin, and you could feel the vibrations of the strings through your thumb. However, there was an unwanted boost in middle frequencies and a loss in sustain. The next wound up being a little thicker, with better results. I think I started out at the other end of the spectrum from what you are describing. Sitars are such complex organisms that experimentation is the only way to get them just right. Like cooking, one can follow the recipe from another chef and still wind up with something different, so only one's individual experience can guide one to create the best instrument with the optimal characteristics.
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #5 
"Goldilocks Zone" That's going in ! Love it ! ! ! So I got the neck finished inside. Another note I read regarding violin building - the surface inside should be planed, not sanded. Seems the wood cells carry sound better that way. Only comparison I can come up with is cutting flower stems at an angle with a razor blade rather than scissors before putting in water. Makes sense on a cellular level. This has indeed been a great adventure and a terrific learning experience. It's one thing to sit with the homies in Poontown and dig in with the chisels, quite another when home alone and building from scratch. The eventual (and soon) owner of this sitar has had the patience of a madman. What has been helpful there is that as an independant set of ears and with specific requirements, he's pointed out aspects of the instrument I would not have noticed. All good ! Appreciate the work ethic comment, Fosse. Parental programming - has to be. It can get in the way though when the project at hand is on the clock. We press on. Coffee down, cats fed now back to work !
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fossesitar

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Reply with quote  #6 
There are those in the acoustic instrument world who will not use kiln dried wood. I have never done any experimentation to compare kiln dried to naturally cured/aged wood, but I did buy into this meme - for one thing I use very little wood in my carbon sitars so the extra expense of naturally cured wood was more easily borne. For a while I was only using Lightning-Strike Englemann Spruce from Colorado - trees that had been felled by lightning and sat for 20 years or more before my supplier would seek them out and harvest them. Eventually the extraordinary lengths he had to go to, to obtain this wood became too much and now he offers air cured Englemann primarily for violins.

Certainly the shop I observed in Calcutta in the late 60s was aging their own wood (and toombas) for a minimum of ten years in a dark room which was open to the outside air through a small unglazed window with iron bars. All of this is endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, and it can be quite maddening to attempt to sort it all out - especially since each instrument is a law onto itself, and the final verdict will not be in until the sitar in question has been played - and played well - for a number of months or years....... GF
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CarbonSitars

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Reply with quote  #7 
I agree; the amount of variables that factor into a single instrument is maddening. Even mass-manufactured CNC routed instruments made by a company like Fender will differ to varying degrees.

From what I understand, there are a few measurable differences between aged/dried wood and newer wood. According to the book The Physics of Musical Instruments, extra moisture in wood can increase mass and have a dampening effect. This is compounded when dealing with hardwoods, so a piece of wood with a sufficiently low moisture content will resonate better than an unaged piece. However, just to add to the confusion, less dense softwoods can also dampen the resonance of a string. In addition, if the wood is too dry, this can also lead to poor sound because it will have to little of a dampening effect, leading to a thin, bright sound. There's no free lunch when it comes to selecting the right wood.

As for planing versus sanding, it is my understanding that this stirs up quite the debate in the violin making world. Some sand while others exclusively plane, while others use a combination. Planing can give a nice, smooth surface if done properly, but can wind up burnishing the wood if overdone, leading to a splotchy surface finish. On the other hand, sandpaper can impart scratches and tears upon the surface if not done down to a fine enough grit, which can also ruin the finish. I've never been able to hear a difference between the two, probably because there are so many other factors that can affect an instrument's timbre.

This gets me thinking; has there ever been a maker who has experimented with alternate tone woods? I've only seen a handful used, but am curious to see if there are woods other than the traditional teak or mahogany which have been used. Mr. Fosse mentioned spruce, which has been successfully used for hundreds of years in western instruments, but are there others such as maple or wenge? It seems like a neck made from a few alternating layers of these could increase the stability and prevent twisting, which many older sitars are prone to if not stored or cared for properly.
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Lars

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Reply with quote  #8 
There was (or is?) the Green Onion sitars, I don't know if he still makes them though. I believe the lighter colored one was Walnut if I remember correctly. Carbon fiber neck and body with wood on the face. http://www.greenonion.nl/instruments/fresh%20sitar/gro_instr_indian_fresh.htm

Lars

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CarbonSitars

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Reply with quote  #9 
Yes, I remember seeing those a couple of years ago while I was researching carbon fiber instruments. I almost wonder if they were some sort of conceptual design project or something, but weren't actually intended for production. The guy appears to be a sculptor and designer. Has anyone tried one of those out? I would be curious to hear what that particular combination of materials sounds like.
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Lars

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Reply with quote  #10 
He made them to order as far as I know and remember but its been years, about 10 maybe... There were sound samples but don't seem to be there now, I once got one of his synthetic acrylic bridges and it was really well made. Some of the members from the Netherlands may know more about what he's doing now.

Lars

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vbnautilus

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Reply with quote  #11 
The samples are still there, just hard to find:

http://www.greenonion.nl/instruments/fresh%20sitar/fresh%20features/samples/green_onion_samples.htm
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fossesitar

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Reply with quote  #12 
There has been a ton of experimentation on tonewood over the centuries in both the east and the west. In a general sense carved hardwoods like maple are used for the backs and sides of violins etc, with spruce for the "tabli". Hardwood in a sitar can build up excessive weight very quickly, also hardwoods - all other things being equal - will have a thinner, brighter, harsher sound. This will be more noticeable in the tabli than on the back of the neck. The combination of materials used will determine the final sound and sound balance. Each piece of wood is a law onto itself.

Like so many things sitar-related, if one assumes that 400 years of development has dialed in the details very well that is always a valid starting point for wood selection or anything else. There is a fairly broad consensus among fine acoustic instrument builders in the west (guitars, violins, etc) that kiln dried wood cannot measure up in sound quality to naturally air-dried tonewood although this would be extremely difficult to test in a scientific way.
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #13 
Like a camels back I've been working on this sitar. It weighs about a pound and a half lighter now. Years back Kartik Seshadri was tossing out an old Kanai Lal neck front ( one mans trash is another mans treasure - mine ). As it seemed too thin I didn't really consider it as a model. Realizing I'm working with a nice chunk of kiln dried select grade mahogany, the Kanai Lal specs would hold up fine. It's all back together now and will be strung up this weekend. I'm very optimistic the volume will be boosted.
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fossesitar

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Reply with quote  #14 
I did a little more online research on the kiln versus air dried meme. It appears (like so many other things) to have many layers of complexity, to wit:

1. Unless you live in Arizona (as I do), air drying may never get the wood down to the 7-8% moisture content considered best for instrument building.

2. There are several different methods of kiln drying and it apparently has come a long ways in recent years.

3. Getting the moisture out of the wood is apparently a two stage process involving "free moisture" throughout the wood and "trapped moisture" contained in the cells.......

4. In addition there is the sap which varies from wood to wood and may not reach the ideal state (tone wise) until it has crystallized. Perhaps this is one reason why very old instruments often have outstanding tone.

I love wood but when I look at all of this stuff it makes me glad I work primarily in carbon : ) GF
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sraman

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Reply with quote  #15 
Hi Sitarmaker, I have read your comments and I totally agree. There are several things that matter about a sitar; the look, build and above all the sound and playability. What shall we do about a finished product and how to modify it? The person who makes the sitar may not like the feed back from the customer. And without the feed back nothing could be improved.soman
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