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Posts: 2
Reply with quote  #1 
Hello All and Thank you for this Forum!

After years of dreaming!
A few months ago I started searching for a sitar.
To make a long story short, I'm now a proud owner of an electric (maharaja?) sitar. (And a borrowed unplayable Normal sitar.)
My main concern is the play-ability of the electric instrument.
I know that this is not a highest quality instrument but it's not so bad either,
And with some adjustments I believe I can get to a much better results.
Which leads me to my question about strings action/height.
Right now the Main playing string (MA ?) is 11 mm away from the last fret on the right.
Does that suppose to be the distance?
Although I am accustomed to Guitars Basses and Ouds the most,
I don't expect the action to be like those.
I know that the distance is a big element in the sound and sustain of the instrument but 11 mm is way too high for me...
If in some way i'll manage to modify that (I have a few ideas) what would be suggested the lower action/distance to reach without compromising the sound?
I'd love to hear you ideas or any other suggestions...
(Just to clear that my approach of playing this instrument is unorthodox and experimental and is like my approach to all the many instruments I've learned myself to play in my life. I respect all of them and keeps the costumed learning and technics to a later stage when I'm comfortable with the instrument)

Thanks you!

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Posts: 1,564
Reply with quote  #2 
I had a similar background (guitar/bass) when I first started playing and it took me a while to realize that the high action is the design, not a bug. Hard for me to quantify right now whether 11mm is too much (I'm sure Tony or some other folks can clarify) but I will say, it's a lot more than guitarists expect and are used to...

Hey, from the old days on this forum:

Lars mentions 10-12mm being the norm, so yours might be setup just fine. Dropping the action is likely to have ill effects / lots of chance for failure, and unless you have a jawari guru down the street (mine is a few hundred miles away) you have the chance of spending more to fix a botched bridge job than you paid for the instrument, so I'd be careful before taking a hacksaw to those bridge legs...

For the price of the "maharaja studio sitars" I've seen, if that's what you ended up getting, it's likely the instrument will have some challenges, but much of what you might initially consider to be "unplayable" about it may just be the nature of the instrument, which does require a different approach than guitar/bass/lute. First time I touched a sitar, it was a professional's instrument (giving a workshop) and I thought it was unplayable too, at first... It sounds like your action may be fine, which is good, because adjusting it properly is the job for someone with a lot more experience (nothing like the easy adjustments on guitar...).

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Posts: 2,223
Reply with quote  #3 
As a rough guide, I find that the Ma string should be about a pinky finger thickness above the last fret.
If you can slide your pinky finger between the highest string at the last fret, you should be OK.

The thing most guitarists don't realize when they first pick up the sitar is that it is played in a completely different way from guitar.
When playing three notes going up the neck on sitar, you don't play 1st finger, 2nd finger, 3rd finger.
You use your index finger for all three notes, unless you are going to go the other direction on the note after the three, then you use the second finger at the top note.

If you play the sitar with a guitar style left hand, the action will see FAR too high.
When playing with the index finger only (kinda like using a slide), the action can be higher.

By the way, I have played one of those Maharaja studio sitars.
Might be OK to start out to see if you really want to play, BUT I think you will be really surprised when you play a real sitar.
Those cheap studio sitar do not sound anything near a real sitar, even an inexpensive one.

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Posts: 2
Reply with quote  #4 
Thank you for your kind and detailed answers.

I value it greatly!

As I revealed only yesterday that I bought the sitar from someone who doesn't have a clue or cares for the instrument,
While assuming it's in a normal readiness (that was too optimistic...)
I should point out that -
1. The strings are at least 2 years old (or more)
2. Probably haven't been played for a long time.
3. All the sitar strings are probably not tuned properly
4. There's a chance that it's not even the right gauge for the string (s)

As I wrote, I don't expect any similarities between the guitar and the sitar.
I am definitely not easy on the hacksaw and will always prefer making reversible mods/changes
especially when i'm at the start of the journey with an instrument, first I want to know its nature.

It took me years to finally make an alternate tuning on the guitar that I wanted to try.
And even more years to apply my own made alternate tuning on another one.

Now that I understand that this sitar action is normal I will know my starting point,
if eventually I will choose to use the other method of action changing that I thought of...
(I am starting to feel that maybe this is not the right place to share or consult about that idea, but maybe I've got the wrong feeling...)

Another issue I would like to hear your thoughts about is that the MA string doesn't buzzes as the other strings, and it's quite clear ringing.
I guess that the whole feel, sound and also playability of the strings will change if they are too high & stretched according to the new info I've got about the sitar.

I will check and adjust all these first to be sure, before examining the Jawari with an expert if the problem persists...

Thanks & all the best to you!
yussef ali k

Posts: 322
Reply with quote  #5 

This is just ONE opinion.

Interesting Q, & U may read the 'Sitar Scale Length' thread on this ICM NewB's forum so there are varying opinions here.

That action is indeed a drag, I mean, Indians say & accept 'It takes 20 yrs to learn the sitar' & the thing is nobody REALLY cares about action chiefly because the stalwarts also don't seem to care.

I've sampled no more than 6-10 stalwarts' sitars but I remember the playability in all these was noticeably better than yer average shop sitar ... but not much the action itself (these people start listening to ICM before they're born & learn at the feet of the previous stalwarts ... yes, they overcome string action w/ hard practice but also have the BEST learning anywhere).

Playability stuff is of the player final responsibility, personal touches at least as much as in the maker's hands earlier, at construction stage.

But if one manages to take action down to, say, 5 mm - then at least 5 years it'd take off from those 20, that's my belief. OK, it seems impossible from what we all see.

You may find interest to peek at Sitar Factory from Belgium.

& please care to report your findings as you go, svp.
Have fun,


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Posts: 1,564
Reply with quote  #6 
It is an interesting question...shaving action down by half at the top fret, I wonder what other problems that might expose though...the frets are so unique compared to western instruments, I have to think the higher action is in some part compensatory (if that is a word) for the way you have bent, arching frets that would be almost impossible to get perfectly aligned with a very low action to avoid fret buzz or dead spots...on top of all that, the frets move! And the other factor is how it might affect meend...if you halved the action height would you (on a typical instrument) start choking meends sooner at various points on the neck? I don't know myself, hence the question mark, but that's the kind of thing I would wonder/worry about.

To me action height is one of the least of the challenges with the instrument...usually on the high frets (where it is more pronounced) I am grabbing the string at Re or Ga and meending it pretty heavily, and at that point you're less "fretting" and more using the fret as its own little fingerboard of sorts, playing across the fret. It's not the pushing down on a string that kills your hand, its the pulling across (at least for me!).

I would schedule yourself a nice bit of time with a new set of strings to replace the ones on your instrument, plenty of resources online to help you get it tuned right. Maybe just the top strings at first. First time I tried replacing all 21 strings on my first sitar I came out of it rather bloodied after several hours (boy, those small gauge wires like to impale your finger tips!). Also, if you want a good solid crash course, has some good DVDs by Indrajit Banerjee that should help you get some basics under your belt. Good luck!
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