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The Rover

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Reply with quote  #16 
I would like to use Keshavda’s remarks (and his notion that because Pd Manilal Nag is playing a certain brand of sitar, than it must be great) as an opportunity to bring up some points that have oft rankled me regarding shopping for sitars…I will digress, and some of these points may have been made before, but please indulge my rant.

First off: It is no matter if you are an Indian from the cultured gullies of Calcutta or some white guy from Kansas City. The odds are you will not walk out of Rikhi Ram’s shop (or any other sitar maker’s shop) with the finest example. That’s because we simply don’t have access to them.

Consider for a moment that sitars are comparable to diamonds. Out of the many examples, only the top 1 or 2 percent are really gems, and amateurs can’t tell cubic Zirconia from the real deal. Sitars are pretty much the same. No two are alike, and only a fraction of the ones made are really great instruments. These few instruments are usually put aside for serious artist and those in that circle. They don’t hang in the shop waiting for a home. They have been selected early in the process as potentially good instruments and “groomed” for a discerning owner. (Unlike diamonds, these can later turn out to be duds as they mature--only time can tell if a sitar will be really great) Some may see this as “elitism” but this only makes sense! Would you spend time and effort making a fantastic instrument only to hand it over to someone doofus who can’t appreciate it? It’s like giving a ‘57 Strat to CC Deville! (look him up if you don’t know who that joker is). Would you give a Stradivarius to fiddler in the Dixie Chics? Would you ship a great sitar it to some schmoe in Long Island with a fat wallet and an itchy mouseclicker finger? Um, no. The truth is that although many will pay for the “finest” sitar, most sitar players will never probe the limits of their instrument, and they will never be able to fully take advantage of a finely built sitar. But our ego’s tell us otherwise.

This brings me to another point. How can any serious musician buy a sitar over the internet? I understand that opportunity to go and select your baby is rare and may never come, but tone and playability are the only two things that matter to me, and those two things are impossible to assess online! They things vary greatly from sitar to sitar. I don’t think I would even buy something from a shop here. I know it’s not always possible, but it would be ideal to be able to play several instruments and see which one suits you. Plus, odds are that they are better than the ones stocked stateside. Would Rikhi Ram or Hiren Roy send the good stuff to the U.S.? Or would they hang it in their local shop? Just my opinion. I could be wrong.
Quote:
JK Sengupta in Calcutta will sell you his absolute top of the line, full decoration double-toomba sitar with fiberglass case for less
Looks play no part in how it plays ore sounds. Therefore, why care about decoration! Tone and Playability matter most. I’d rather not pay for frilly non-functional decoration that hurts your arm as it rests on the tumba, but that is my preference. I personally like the VK style for its pure functionality. No frills, just tone heaven. Never could stomach the shrill twang of RS style instruments, unless it was NBfied.

Of course, it’s all about demand and supply. Fairly or unfairly, westerners have had the reputation as a “mark” put on them because they are relatively rich and (perhaps) wouldn’t know a good sitar from firewood and simply buy for the name. However, Indians are NO DIFFERENT, and plenty get taken. After all, both westerners and Indian’s can be label crazy. They want the “best” sitars, even if they don’t know which end is up. They fetishize them and collect them and do all sorts of silly things. So this vanity drives demand and makes it possible to charge higher prices. So how can you blame Rikhi Ram for selling stuff at a higher price when stupid people will pay for it anyway? You can always find people willing pay big bucks to play the same isntrument as a star. Plus, if Rikhi Ram has cornered the market on the Ovation Sitar, then he has the right to charge whatever people are willing to pay. Let someone else produce a cheap knockoff!

Someone please correct me if I am wrong, (Tony, Keshav) but from what I have heard, many famous sitar brands basically out-source the manufacturing of lower grade instruments. They are massed produced in a few places in India, shipped to Calcutta or Delhi or wherever to have final fit and finish, then badged with the house label and sold accordingly. (This is why the bones of so many instruments are terrible even if they look pretty).
Quote:
Manilal Nag gets sitars from Sengupta and many of the top player in Calcutta do as well.

That really should not impact anybody’s decisions. Many top artist play Rikhi Ram. Big deal. The sitars these top guys get are not off the rack. They are finely made tailored examples. These are instruments that normal people don’t have access to. You can’t convince me that Mr. Sengupta puts the same time and effort into the sitars he sells to Joe Shmoe, and the sitar he made for Manilal Nag. The same goes for Rikhi Ram. However; I have played dozens of off the rack Rikhi Ram instruments, and they are for the most part, superior to the off the rack instruments from other “top”makers. But none compare to the “private reserve stock” sitars that I have played (from various makers). I haven’t played a new Rikhi Ram (meaning one made after 1999), so I don’t know what is going on recently. But if you are lucky to have access to that reserve of fine instruments by any brand, go with it. Brand shouldn’t matter. Of course, there are stinkers here and there regardless of brand, as that is the nature of the beast…

In an episode of the Cosby show, Theo was playing a beat up old trumpet. He was sounding horrible, and blamed it on his trumpet. Then came along Dizzy Gilespie, and he took a turn at tooting the old horn. And of course, he was amazing. I saw the same thing happen with a sitar student. He was complaining about his sitar, when the Ustad got fed up and grabbed it. He played a few lines, which sounded amazing, and handed the isntrument back to the bug eyed student. “Sounds fine to me” the Ustad deadpanned.
Which proves that the sound is as much in the fingers as in the sitar. So play your instrument, whatever brand it is. Play it well, and the rest will follow.

Well there is my rather long raving rant of a theory. And it is after all, a theory (albeit an informed one), so Comments/Criticism/Corrections are welcome.

R O V E R

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theRover
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Anonymous

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Reply with quote  #17 
As to who gets the artisan’s best work . . . there are degrees or grades of “best”.

I have seen pieces in the showroom at Rikhi Ram (Connaught Circle) that were an absolute travesty. And of course there is Bhishan Das’ top stuff and several grades in-between. For all the ego strutting and puffery that comes out of the RR shop – I would say that they have no business selling the lower grade work. Not at their prices.

BTW – I never said that JK Sengupta would ship his best work. He doesn’t do international shipping. You have to go to his shop and pick it out. It is important to note, that he builds far fewer instruments than Bhishan Das and the customers definitely gets the advantage of the benefits of limited production. And again, his prices are not jacked up for the snob market. His prices reflect fair value and are what is considered to be affordable for local musicians. Bhishan Das’ prices are absurdly over the top, as are those of Paul & Co. I do agree that there are a lot ignorant status-seeking types who are practically begging to be ripped-off. When someone phones my shop and asks for a Paul and Co. and insists on this brand and no other – they inevitably turn out to be middle-class Mercedes Benz driving dilettantes who can’t play. At least with Rikhi Ram – if you buy a low-end instrument – it will really be several grades above the usual firewood.

“How can a serious musician buy over the internet?”

I don't consider this a serious question. There are lots of dedicated players out there who live two or three days drive from the nearest Indian music shop. They may be blue-collar workers putting in 6 day work weeks, for whom it simply isn’t practical to drive to California or New York to buy an instrument. I’ve sold instruments (over the internet) to a number of the top people in the business such as Rick Rubin, and many of the musicians who tour with Ornette Coleman, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Waits, David Sanborn, James Taylor, Tom Petty, Beck, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful to name just a few. All are top players and serious as cancer. I think it’s misguided to mock someone just because they buy an instrument over the internet.

Re: Looks . . . while one does not buy an instrument for appearance only – visual esthetics that are pleasing enhance the playing experience tremendously. That’s so obvious that I can only think you would remark on this just for sake of provoking comment. I’ve been playing guitar for over 40 years and have instruments that I’ve owned just about forever. Still when I take my 33 year old Guild D44 with maple sides and back out of the case – it make me feel warm all over - and don’t you just know – that the better I feel – the better I play. Beauty inspires. Do you think Ravi Shankar doesn’t take pleasure in the appearance of his instrument? Was Nikhil Bannerjee vain because he played a highly decorated sitar??? Musicians have always desired beautiful instruments because, amongst other reasons, musicians are showmen. Otherwise Ravi Shankar might as well show up on stage in ripped jeans and a t-shirt.
Peace,
K
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #18 
It's ugly, the business end of all this sitar stuff. I refuse to haggle, negotiate, whatever. That means both buying and selling. I've walked out of hundreds of purchases when it comes to that. When I bought my Rudra Veena from Kanaii Lal back in '76, I asked the price, got it and payed it. Rather than insult the instrument or the makers, I payed the set price. "Paying respect", you could call it. I'm painfully aware that this haggle issue is expected, revered and elevated to an art form that demands expression, especially here in Hell. Just a matter of personal preference, perhaps. I choose to go the fixed price route. I have enough grief to deal with as it is. Why add to it fighting over price. Why add to my frustration in knowing some hole behing a counter is laughing at me, my inept bargaining skills or my presumed lack of knowledge or custom. I've got better ways to spend my time.
The instruments I make here are unique in that they are made one at a time. I'm no big player and don't want to be. Instruments that get my badge fitted have been personally approved. The ones I've rejected (6 so far) end up being sold to a local hole who farms them out to the USA under a different label. I continue to enjoy the writeup these instruments get on that website. Having seen and played a sweatshop sitar from Benares with a RR paintjob and black badge, I shuddered. I also realised the shop got a ridiculous profit from it. Good business in up front terms but jeez, how do those guys in G block, Connaught circus sleep at night??? Designs are stolen outright from me. I, at least have the sense to give credit where it is due. Most designs are based on the grand stuff from the 1950's by the Calcutta wiz kids. The did it! Made it real!
This "Ovation" sitar by RR - got my paws on one some months back. Cute axe - for what it is. It's a traveller that's wired for sound. Compact. Plays fine. Sounds better than one who knows would expect. Electrics - horrible but that's what's available here in Hell. Same with the tuners. I'd love to see a set of Schallers or Grovers on one of these sitars. A decent pickup and preamp would be welcome as well. Finish is typical RR paint. #600 and higher grade sandpaper is available here in Hell. I don't know why the shops can't take a few minutes and hit the wood one more time. I had to train my shop in Miraj regarding this. Also the concept of a sanding block. That is - putting a level sanding surface on the wood being sanded. Traditions die hard here. Look for the shortcuts on even the "finest" instruments. Hiren Roy a few years back put out total crap. Disgraceful stuff. Plastic fittings all rough cut. FIle marks everywhere. Plaster and paint on the gourds. Baboo nails layed flat under varnish. All this for a bargain $2,500. Amazing what a label can do to a price tag!!!
OK! There's my rant. You guys take care !!

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Anonymous

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Reply with quote  #19 
"When I bought my Rudra Veena from Kanaii Lal back in '76, I asked the price, got it and payed it. Rather than insult the instrument or the makers, I payed the set price."

Indian circa 1976 was a very different place from India 2006. The business has changed radically. Sure, I understand how mentally exhausting the process can be. A big part of the equasion is ego. And for my part . . . I'm a New Yorker - and not being taken advantage of is part of the New Yorker's genetic code. As to respecting the maker; respect is a two-way street. A lot guys who were at one time very humble despite their standing in the business - became tremendously avaricious. Ignorant tourists gladly willing to pay two and three times the real value - woke many of these guys up to possibility of overcharging. And big money is very seductive. Hence the assembly line. I guarantee you Rikhi Ram wasn't churning them out 25 years ago like they are today. When the quality goes down - so does the buyer's respect. Were I buying from Tony or JK Sengupta - the possiblilty of bargaining wouldn't enter my mind.
Peace,
Keshav
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coyootie

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Posts: 490
Reply with quote  #20 
having traded all over the [3rd] world for most of my professional career for what, 35 years, I have NEVER been in India ,especially, when it was inappropriate to haggle with exasperating sellers of EVERYTHING. Note VERY WELL the Keshav Das posting about Vilayat Khan hammering him.
Without getting into a useless soapbox about bargaining in India as well as complete lack of quality control, or even some basic integrity, from most vendors----------- if you are the act following someone who has just paid ridiculous, inflated, special-stupid-astronomical price-for phoren, guess where that leaves you.
Tony, really, do you you think that in Hell they're giving you any more 'respect' because you're not haggling with them????
I totally understand how exhausting and debilitating doing biz in India is but haggling should be approached as a not very pleasant but neccessary blood sport where I, the phoren person, am the naive victim, not the local canny seller who has traditions of generations of haggling( even the word 'haggling'has a queasy quality in English, nahin?)
that said, remember that India style haggling is NOT the tradition here in the West and you can be sure to get vendors p.o'ed if you shtupp too hard.....!
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The Rover

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Reply with quote  #21 
Tony and Keshav,

Thanks for your insight...as it comes from the trenches, i value your opinions.

I don't think NB was vain because he chose a decorative instrument. My vanity comment was directed to the label crazed. And the fact the VK chose a spartan design does not diminish his immense sense of showmanship and stage presence.

However, I stand by my words regarding purchasing over the internet. Of course, if the internet is used to get in touch with the builder, and actual conversation takes place, this is perhaps a better way to do it. I am really only refering to someone who goes to Rikhi Ram's (or whomever's) website, puts things in a shopping cart and checks out.
Quote:
I’ve sold instruments (over the internet) to a number of the top people in the business such as Rick Rubin, and many of the musicians who tour with Ornette Coleman, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Waits, David Sanborn, James Taylor, Tom Petty, Beck, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful to name just a few. All are top players and serious as cancer. I think it’s misguided to mock someone just because they buy an instrument over the internet.
These people, are, without question, top people in the business...the business of western pop music. If I needed a decent harmonium to layer into a multitracked song, I think I would be confident that a good harmonium bought from a reputed seller (Keshav, im looking in your direction) would suffice. But until Cyndi Lauper renders rag yaman at carnegie hall... well you get the drift. Serious as cancer? I agree 100%. These session guys are gamers. But playing solo sitar in the context of ICM is a different game, and it calls for a bit more of a researched purchase. I am not sure that I would not ask any one of the mentiond names for an opinion, unless they were in the business of playing sitar for people who can tell ragesri from bagesri.

BTW, im not mocking anyone, but perhaps a light hearted dig is fun once in a while!

R O V E R :wink:

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theRover
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Anonymous

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Reply with quote  #22 
"I am really only refering to someone who goes to Rikhi Ram's (or whomever's) website, puts things in a shopping cart and checks out."

I understand your point. My tendency when talking about folks buying sitars -is to automatically assume the folks in question - are those who participate in this forum. For my money the nickle & dimer, mouse-crazed ebay, miniature sitar buyers are not even in the picture. I think pretty much all the forumites are doing as much homework as possible. Of course no dealer is batting 100 on every sale with every customer - but clearly there are a few who try harder and those are the ones that gain the trust of folks. Over the years numerous testimonials from forum members have appeared here from people who've have done well - when putting their faith in Lars or Bharat etc. When someone gets to the point where they have gained the mastery to fully realize the potential of a top quality instrument and they've got stadiums of fans to please - then it's another ballgame And while Cyndi Lauper may not know bageshri from a bag of donuts - the musicians she employs - know quality. I reckon that forum members might derive a great deal of pleasure in the culling process while trawling through a multitude of different sitars from a variety of makers and finally choosing "that special one" that calls out their name. But my experience has been that when I've become fixated on a particular instrument - as played by my favorite maestro - I end up being happy with it - when I finally get my hands on it. In the end - I make it mine. I think this is true for most instrument buyers.
Cheers,
Keshav
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sitarfish

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Posts: 64
Reply with quote  #23 
Thanks again everyone who has replied to my post!
I've heard from a number of peaple who've commented on the
cheap electronics in this sitar. what exactly is meant by that?
Does that mean that you didn't like the sound of it amplified, or
that there was too much noise? Did you still find it had an
improvement over over the sound of a regular sitar with a
contact pickup (which is what I'm presently using)? My main
reason for buying it is that I'm looking for a sitar that has a great
sound when amplified at loud volumes.

Also, did the pickup look flimsy, or was it positioned in such a way that
it could be easily repaired/ replaced?

Thanks!
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haldamos

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Posts: 221
Reply with quote  #24 
Hello All,

I had posted before about this instrument. As I stated earlier, I have an early prototype that was used by my ustad. I don’t recall when he got it, but I think it was sometime in 2003, and I’ve had it since 2004. I don’t know if they have changed the electronics set up since then, but I sure hope so, because the existing set up is cheap and frustrating.

The design is logical; a guitar type pickup set up like the bridge of a sitar, resting below the strings. It is mounted on two wood bases, much like the jawari. Depending on your stroke location, there is a chance that you hit it once in a while during heavy playing. The pickup mount on my sitar has come loose. I am sure it is partly due to my frequent flying with it (also my ustad traveled quite a bit with it as well) but I don't think it would have happend if they glued it better. One side has basically come unglued, and the pickup pops up hitting the chickari strings. Easily fixable, but annoying.

Now the electronics. I don’t know much about the subject, but I certainly know they aren’t very good. It looks like a cheap guitar pickup, two single coils set apart from each other. (Not aligned, and futher apart than a normal humbucker) If you run it through a very good preamp/ amp combo, it will sound ok. If you run it direct into the board for recording etc., it also sounds decent. I’ve used it for a bunch of direct recording/sampling projects, and it sounds serviceable. (Generally, it has been for people who don’t know much about the sitar sound anyway.) However, if you are running it through a guitar amp, not surprisingly, it sounds muddy and distorted. To get odd sounds, I ran it through a tube amp and lots of analog effects. For that purpose, it was great. One SUPER ANNOYING FEATURE: The pickup is tethered to a 5 foot cable terminating in a ¼ inch male connection. This is the most annoying thing about the sitar. In order to access even basic controls such as volume, one needs to put the sitar down, get up, walk over to the amp, adjust the volume, sit down again, and repeat the process until the correct volume is achieved. This is totally inconvenient when you are “jamming with western musicians” as the website says, or anyone else for that matter. When not amplified, it is bound up and looks ugly. Would it be that tough to put some on board volume/tone pots somewhere? Or perhaps just a ¼ female input like a guitar? Because the fixed length connection cable is a huge hassle if you are going directly to the PA or board in the middle or back of the room, you have to connect with extensions…and rely on the sound guys to adjust your volume/tone. This pretty much defeats the convenience angle with a regular sitar!

For direct recording purposes, it does sound pretty good. I have posted before that if my teacher, Ustad Shujaat Khan, used it while doing radio shows with Ghazaal. I think I have the NYC soundcheck performance. If one didn’t know that the mini was bieng used, I don’t think you can tell. If anyone is interested, (and if they can tell me how!) I would be happy to post sound clips from that broadcast. I can also take pics so you can inspect the electronics to see exactly what I am talking about. I think it’s a very fun instrument that is great if you travel for lessons or need to put down samples for an undemanding recording. It will obviously never replace my full size for situations that call for the best sound, convenience be damned. As these things go, sometimes the manufacturer builds something, but it’s the players/tweakers that mess around with it to best suit applications. (Think of what they did with synthesizers in the 70’s!) RR has their heart in the right place, and it’s a great starting point. Perhaps someone with expertise in amplification and electronics will bring it up to a level where it’s more usable rather than a novelty.

Best,

PH

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haldamos
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haldamos

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Reply with quote  #25 
BTW if sitarfish or anyone else wants to ever play one of these things before they buy it, I live in the NYC area and wouldn't mind people testdriving it. I need to have the thing jawaried though...even though its got a synthetic bridge, i think its time for a touch up.

Best,

PH

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haldamos
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haldamos

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Reply with quote  #26 
So sorry...one last point!

I think the instrument is made well (at least mine was)...sand I think smaller wooden tumba lends itself to amplification...so if you have a really good and willing guitar tech close by, they might be able to better transform this thing to a true electric sitar. They may need to do some routing and it may cost a some bank, but Im sure they could do a better job electrifying it. RR's pickup scheme is more of an aftherthought, and I noticed it wasn't even pictured or mentioned on the website. But then again, they could be cooking up improvements.

Okay, thats all...i think!

PH

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haldamos
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sitarfish

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Posts: 64
Reply with quote  #27 
Thanks a lot Haldamos. Your info was very helpfull! Most of my sitar gigs are weddings and restaurant type things, usually played through a guitar amp and I think this would be perfect for my purposes. I'm off to India this winter on a scholarship, and I think I'll pick one up then.
Bye for now,
Andrew
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haldamos

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Reply with quote  #28 
Andrew,

You're welcome, and good luck

PH

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haldamos
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Andius

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Reply with quote  #29 
Haldamos and all,

All this talk about pick-ups coming unstuck, etc. WHAT A TOTAL LOAD OF CRAP!.

There is nothing better acoustically than an UN-electrified sitar. If you cannot capture this incredible sound with a well-placed acoustical mic then any amount of "Electrical Tweaking" cannot do the sitar justice.

Look to your jawari! Begs another question: Should a sitar be used AT ALL in conjunction with other powerful massed electrified instruments? mostly not. RS and others tried, and sometimes came very close to suceeding . Full marks for them for having tried But the fact remains, the sitar is unfolded in all its glory as an instrument of natural wood/string/bone/ close mic and close audience.

Hmmmm!?

Andius
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