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Evan Grubbs

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Reply with quote  #1 
Alright:

I am an aspiring experimental luthier. So far, I've built two electric violins, the shittiest balalaika in history, and I'm currently building a tamboura.

My tamboura is make from a gourd I had sitting around (a basket gourd sawn in half from a banjo my dad tried to make years ago), a piece of pine for the neck, and a piece of plywood for the top on the gourd. The neck isn't hallowed out, and I don't know what that's going to do for the sound, but I'll post clips when I do to compare to people who legitimately know what one sounds like.

Anyway, I'm looking to build a sitar out of obviously horrible parts, but I'd just like to do it for my own fun. I'd like to know the measurments of a 3/4 sized sitar or possibly something smaller. In the abscence of that, the measurements to a standard sitar would do just as well.

I have a few questions as well about the real functionality of some pieces:

Does the neck really have to be hollowed out, or is that just for the tuning pegs to hold the sympathetic strings in?

If the neck is hallowed out, does there really need to be a plate on the neck? Would it work just as well if the sympathetic strings had their own little raised nuts to get them to the same level on the little bridge?

The sitar I plan to build will have six playing strings and 11 sympathetic ones -- On all the sitars I see like that, there are only 5 strings on the head, while a few larger tuning pegged strings are on the neck -- why is this? Is it just because the tension would be too much and the neck would crack?

And one last thing -- I don't really have access to an lot of teak -- what other woods could sitar be made from?
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trippy monkey

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Reply with quote  #2 
Interesting little project.

I can already hear/see some forumites throwing their hands in the air or running off screaming
I, for one, would loooove to hear the outcome or even just SEE it. 8)
Plywood for the tabli?, for such is it called. A non-hollow neck will most certainly affect the sound.

For any of us that have a good time threading taraf/sympathetic strings through a hollow neck & try to catch them inside to pull them out trough the side hole would like a solid neck so the string only has one direction to go.LOL

The side pegs are for the chikari or rhythm strings which are always shorter than the rest as they are pegged 3/4 & about 1/2 way up the neck. Tension relief is always a good idea. A well made sitar wouldn't normally break or crack unless dropped/pushed.

Any wood could be good. Try that tonguetwister after 15 pints. Except balsa of course.
Teak & toon/tun are nearly always used because of sound quality. Though they still have to be made 'right' to sound at their best or later on in their lives. South Indian Veenas are made of a more solid Jackwood & have the weight to prove it.

I hope you get some replies from other 'woodies' on the forum for a more practical view.

Nick
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Surbaharplayer

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Reply with quote  #3 
Not hollowing out the neck wil not only affect the sound, but will make the instrument totally unplayable because it won't balance. I have a surbahar with a neck that was too heavy: you could play it for 5 minutes and your arms would give in because you were lifting the instrument instead of playing it.
Tun would be a good wood. Latin name in Cederla toona, or red cedar. My guess is if you can't get the real thing there will be many substitutes.

Remco
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Evan Grubbs

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Quote:
Originally Posted by "Surbaharplayer"
Not hollowing out the neck wil not only affect the sound, but will make the instrument totally unplayable because it won't balance. I have a surbahar with a neck that was too heavy: you could play it for 5 minutes and your arms would give in because you were lifting the instrument instead of playing it.
Tun would be a good wood. Latin name in Cederla toona, or red cedar. My guess is if you can't get the real thing there will be many substitutes.

Remco
That would imply that I would play it like a traditional sitar (I'll probably make a surbahar someday too, if this all works out...). When I finish it, I already have a feeling about the way I'll hold it, which will be straight up, with the weight relaxing on my shoulder. I might also see if I can make the neck thinner or find other ways to cut down on the weight issue. I'd probably end up using maple for the neck, which would probably end up being stupidly heavy.

I can't wait for my tamboura to dry (I'm staining it right now) and to get my strings. I found a site online where a gentleman made a tamboura from similar materials as I'm using, but instead of a gourd, he used a cookie tin for the resonator. Here is the link: http://www.ehhs.cmich.edu/~dhavlena/tamboura.htm

I hope mine sounds half as good.

Thank you both for the input.
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AbdulLatif

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Reply with quote  #5 
Quote:
Originally Posted by "Evan
Alright:

I am an aspiring experimental luthier. So far, I've built two electric violins, the shittiest balalaika in history, and I'm currently building a tamboura.
I built the S*******T bano ever and it was quite an accomplishment because thats a low bar to limbo under, you are among the elite.
I can't respond to all your questions, but heres a couple of good sites. http://www.oddmusic.com/gallery/index.html
http://www.windworld.com/index.htm

Heres a link to a solid body, hollow neck sitar. http://www.karaseksound.com/

good luck and share your results please

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Evan Grubbs

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Reply with quote  #6 
Quote:
Originally Posted by "AbdulLatif"
I built the S*******T bano ever and it was quite an accomplishment because thats a low bar to limbo under, you are among the elite.
I can't respond to all your questions, but heres a couple of good sites. http://www.oddmusic.com/gallery/index.html
http://www.windworld.com/index.htm

Heres a link to a solid body, hollow neck sitar. http://www.karaseksound.com/

good luck and share your results please
I looked at the Oddmusic.com pages and the other pages as well, but I still would like to know the measurements for a real sitar neck before I go further, because if I try it, I will most definitely fail. Things like "how thick is the hollowed out part of the neck" are really important details that I'd need if I did make a hollowed neck.

And really, making an instrument is a so decievingly easy. Making a banjo, cumbus, shamisen, or any instrument with a "skin" top is just as simple as stretching a drumhead or skin over a circle of wood or a gourd and attaching a neck, which you can make out of a shovel handle cut in half. I'm planning to make a Saz that way out of a gourd and a shovel.
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coyootie

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Reply with quote  #7 
experimenting and figuring out how things work by hands-on experience is neccessary, I'd say, for learning how to make instruments. but part of what has always made instruments cherished by their players is their beauty.
I've seen some instruments in Africa and the Mideast that were very crudely made, and perhaps ugly, that could really do the job in the hands of a skilled player. But trying to make something as sophisticated as a sitar or a tamboura of plywood and pie pans or hard hats?
I've seen and been there,as far as newbies trying to reinvent the wheel:" oh epoxy must be better for gluing this bridge on a vintage Martin, it's much stronger than anything else". But 90% of the time, the makers who've been doing it for generations actually figured out how to do it very well.
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AbdulLatif

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Reply with quote  #8 
Quote:
Originally Posted by "coyootie"
reinvent the wheel:" oh epoxy must be better for gluing this bridge on a vintage Martin, it's much stronger than anything else". But 90% of the time, the makers who've been doing it for generations actually figured out how to do it very well.
Whaaa?! I made a Martin into a lawn mower AND that bridge/engine mount is still going strong!!!!!

Evan since what you really looking for are porportional measurements you should be able to scale the sitar measurements from a good photo. the other issues like thickness of the neck "Walls", Tabli, etc are basically dependent on the strength of the materials and the joinery and desired tone.
"And really, making an instrument is a so decievingly easy. Making a banjo, cumbus, shamisen, or any instrument with a "skin" top is just as simple as stretching a drumhead or skin over a circle of wood or a gourd and attaching a neck, which you can make out of a shovel handle cut in half. I'm planning to make a Saz that way out of a gourd and a shovel. "

I would have to disagree with this statement all together, The level of skill and tradition that goes in to the instruments you mention are the result of hundreds even thousands of years of collaboration between the Artists and Artisans who have had very specific goals in mind. My $2500. Romero banjo is far superior to a cigarbox and shovel handle. I still can and do support any efforts to create an instrument with whatever is at hand and appreciate folks who do look to the basics in design and construction.

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TK

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Reply with quote  #9 
This "woodie's" two cents:
A few things that haven’t been mentioned - when choosing the type of wood, make sure it doesn't have a high oil content. You wouldn't want to make the neck or pegs out of cocobolo for instance. Even teak is too oily, unless the wood is VERY old. Also, even if the wood is well seasoned, it should be left to sit for at least a year AFTER the neck and tabli pieces are rough-cut, to avoid the twisting or warping found in many new sitars (even $1500 “concert quality” sitars, he he).
Regarding the hollowed-out neck vs. solid – the dimensions of the (hollow) neck and the tabli/gulu/tumba assembly work together as a system to produce the quality of sound. Of course there are many other factors (thickness and shape of the tabli for example) that have an effect on the sound also. If the sitar maker doesn’t know how to “tune” this system, then it’s just a gamble as to whether or not the sitar is going to sound good. This knowledge is either passed on from generation to generation or, for the newbie sitar maker, “re-discovered” by experimentation.
Evan, IMHO if you are really into the sitar, you’d be better off buying a “fixer-upper” and refurbishing it, than building a plywood-cookie-tin monstrosity that MIGHT turn out sounding “not THAT bad.”
Better yet, if you really want to become a luthier, buy one of the acoustic guitar kits from Stewart-MacDonald. You’d learn how to make a REAL instrument and, assuming you have the skills and you take your time, you’ll end up with a guitar on the level of a decent C.F. Martin.
Man, I wish I had the time to build one of those…

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Evan Grubbs

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Reply with quote  #10 
In regards to luthering, history of instruments, etc...

I have no woodworking skills, in fact, no real skills at anything, but I've made a small balalaika which, although it's the size of a ukulele and has a box shape, rivals the sound of most balalaika recordings I've heard. There are things that are missing -- the body doesn't ring very well and there is little resonance, but I use it as an electric/acoustic instrument, so the "dead" sound is preferrable as it doesn't feed back. I took my two electric violins to a violin luthier, who explained to me what I did right, and what he would have done instead, but insisted that there's no real wrong way to make an instrument as long as it fits what you're intending to do.

The long developmental periods of instruments throughout the years notwithstanding, one with no skills cannot gather the ones necessary until he's spent many years practicing and honing his craft. I've been a "luthier" for about three weeks. Right now, my main focus is building as many "functional" instruments as I can in order to get the hang of each of them, and then go back later and hone my techniques. When I look at a Saz, for example, I see a long stick with a gourd shaped body. So, initially to start, why not use the exact same ingredients to make a functional "demo" of sorts, and if the mock-up I've created has any sort of legitimate musical use, then I could go back, buy the plans, bend the wood, craft the neck, and do it "the right way." If nothing else, I can slap some homemade pick-ups on it and correct the sound through a PA.

TK -- that is an absolutely amazing thing that I never thought of. To get the right resonance for an acoustic instrument, the wood has to be "tuned" just like a drum, in some ways. This is knowledge that I wouldn't have on my first sitar build, obviously, and possibly never, having never really played a legitimate sitar. But, for me, building this sitar would cost around $30.00 to $40.00 and from what I read about "student" sitars, could easily give me less trouble from the get-go. Obviously, it won't win any awards for sound quality, or it may not even resemble the real action of a sitar, but it would still be awesome to try.

And AbdulLatif - while I addressed this point a little bit above, I want to continue a bit, 'cos I've got nothing else to do while my stain dries:

To go and buy a $200.00 Deering "Goodtime" banjo, factory made from scrap wood, plastic, and a drumhead stretched over a circle with no back, is also not the same as your $2500.00 banjo. In fact, it's no better than, say, a piece of pine nailed into a tambourine. Being mostly broke, or at least, not having enough money to spend on "real" instruments, these are the kinds of things I would be required to purchase. Bottom of the line, "student" instruments. If it's possible to make a better instrument out of the same materials as these "student" versions, for less money, which sound the same if not better than the instruments they're based on, why not try it? I live in Indiana -- the closest indian instrument is resting broken in a pawn shop 100 miles away, for $3000.00. To acquire a "real" indian instrument, like a tamboura or a sitar, I'd be paying at least $500.00 to $600.00 to "buy," ship, and then later fix to have a playable instrument which still wouldn't sound "decent" to a legitimate player of that respective instrument. I'm really excited about making this tamboura, because I have a feeling that it's going to be a very functional and sonically pleasing instrument. While it won't be "authentic," would I even be able to make an "authentic" sounding tamboura even after two years of instruction from a master teacher?

And to wrap this up -- this is probably the best forum as far as helpfulness and constructive criticism that I've ever been to. You guys are great.
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Evan Grubbs

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Reply with quote  #11 
I finished my tamboura, and as planned, it sounds like a piece of plywood glued to a gourd with a pine neck.

I found a few real tamboura samples and it lacks the most in resonance and timbre.

It sounds like a tamboura if the basso tone was removed and the strings didn't vibrate eachother. I'll get sound samples up sometime so you can hear how bad it sounds.
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #12 
Oh Muh Gawd! Are you ever in for a learning experience! Mighty ambitious project. You will be wasting your time and energy working with pine. Try any type of hardwood except oak. I suggest mahogany. Other types of wood that 'might' work would include maple, cherry or just about anything that's not too oily and not exotic/expensive (much as I'd love to see a sitar made from Brazilian rosewood). Neck width is 3 1/2". Length from nut to bridge should be right around 34". Scale that down as you see fit. Soundboard width should be around 14" but go with what ever fits the gourd you have. You can either dovetail the neck joint or use a regular tongue - groove joint. A few screws or better - 3/8" tapered pins with glue to hold those two together. Neck and soundboard wall thickness can be from 3/16" - 1/2", depending on where you are. Side of the neck can be thick for strength. Soundboard needs to be graduated to keep the bridge from caving in. Frets can be made from a 3/16" brass rod cut, bent and slotted to fit. 20lb. test monofilament fishline will work for tying them onto the neck. #3 gauge nylon braid line is preferred but hey! Bridges, nut, tailpiece, etc. can be made from whatever is available. Even scuttled furniture from the Goodwill works. Great source for aged wood. Yeah! You'll have fun!
The front panel on the neck is essential. Without it and the neck will be all over the place. Work from photographs of sitars either through google image search, my website, eBay or the stalwarts here on the Western Front.

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