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Posts: 421
Reply with quote  #1 
The matter of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee's 8 string sitar just came up again, allow me to shed some light on this.
Fact is, that 8th string is a myth.

Pandit Nikhil Banerjee used seven strings like everybody else who plays kharaj-pancham style sitar.
Main string, jora, pancham, kharaj and three chikari strings. The usual setup with standard tuning.
His sitar had eight main pegs but he never used the extra peg, it was empty. There was also no cut on the bridge for an 8th string.
If he ever used it it was only for a very short time. I know of no recording where a fourth chikari string is audible.
There are two possible reasons why he dropped that string, both equally likely.

The sound lost that Maihar Gharana flavour. Four chikari strings sound beautiful but are a trademark of other Gharanas.
This was an experiment and he found that the extra string was not helpful.
He did experiment with all kinds of sitars, at one time he used a sitar with a tumba shaped like that of a surbahar. He ultimately succeeded in creating his own elegant and powerful sound, using a heavy kharaj-pancham sitar with a thick tabli and strung with a No.4 (0.33mm) main string.
Tuned to D that combination can produce fantastic tone and sustain. The price is high tension, requiring a rigorous practice routine. Other players also used that No.4/ D setup, notably the great Ustad Vilayat Khan, but not on a kharaj-pancham sitar.
Removing that 8th string was the right decision. He found his own style and it did not need four chikari strings.
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee left us not only some of the greatest sitar music ever, he also established a definite style. His sound is out of this world and instantly recognisable.
You can hear it all the way to the Andromeda Galaxy.

The other reason may have been that it gets rather cramped on the neck with an extra string.
Alap was very important to him. Missing the kharaj string in alap is one mistake nobody wants to make. That fourth chikari string would have been very close to the kharaj string thereby increasing the risk of missing the string.
A kharaj-pancham sitar has enough strings as it is. Keeping it in tune requires constant attention. A single out- of-tune string can ruin a recording session. Pandit Nikhil Banerjee took great care with his recordings , maybe that also played a part. One less string to worry about.

I think he felt that, all things considered, that extra string was more trouble than it was worth.
I never asked him, I wish I had. But I am pretty sure his answer would have been 'I don't need that string'.
Thats the story.
It was not eight strings that made Pandit Nikhil Banerjee's sound, it was a very good sitar, a vision, ultraprecise tuning, blessings from above and an immense amount of practice.

I am very sorry if any 8 string dreams just went up in smoke. But that is how it was. I hope you can forgive me !



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Posts: 730
Reply with quote  #2 
Yes, I have heard the same, it was a brief experiment that failed, and I always wonder about these guys who claim to sell PNB model sitars since he never used it himself.

Los Angeles, CA
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