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Andius

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Reply with quote  #1 
Guys,

My sitar is 3 years old (Happy Birthday :wink: ) and its really opened up and sounding so good. My question is, does a sitar improve for a number of years, then go into decline sound-wise? I refer only to the sound projection/tone of the body itself, not the jawari.

Nick, you mentioned about your 40 year-old sitar (neck built like a railway sleeper); has that maintained its tone/vibrationability (new word!) ? Any other guys here have experience of elderly sitars?

Just wondering if someday mine might sound tired; or what to expect in the future. Hope it stays as good or even better (greedy). Thanks in advance.


Andius
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rex@sitar.co.za

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Reply with quote  #2 
Hi Andius,

Yes, I've been told by other players that sitars do have a definitely lifespan, although I haven't been able to actually confirm this. There was some discussion a few months ago in another thread about this but I don't think we ever reached a conclusion. Strange that you never see really old sitars being played, like you see old violins played in western classical music. Anyone out there have any really old sitars that are still playable??

From my own experience, my Hiren Roy, after 13 years of heavy playing, feels like a different sitar from when I first got it new. Over the years it has developed a rich, complex liquidy tone with endless sustain and wonderful responsiveness which wasn't there initially. I suppose there are many reasons for this: all the components settling, the wood drying out, well maintained jawari, the player improving, etc. But I also wonder if there's a point when it may all start to deteriorate...??

- Rex
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sitarman

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Reply with quote  #3 
Rex, i'm another "13 year old HR owner- lefty in fact- not too many of those floating around! I totally agree with the assessment of improvement of tone, sensitivity, etc. I think all well made wooden instruments improve with age. I see no reason for it to get worse if the instrument is cared for- yes, there are centuries old violins and 70 and 80 year old acoustic guitars out there that keep getting better. However- the sitar has changed enormously in the last hundred years, and to compare a 200 year old one would be tough to do. Almost a different instrument.
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Anonymous

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Reply with quote  #4 
Tony K will no doubt check in on this subject at any moment. I think essentially what he will tell you is that the tabli gets better sounding as long as it maintains it's basic integrity (doesn't cave it) and the bottom toomba will also continue to sound better - as long as it is well sealed and doesn't become a sponge for ambient moisture. This is another good reason to protect the finish on the toomba and to not store a sitar with a humidifier. I've had 4 sitars in the shop for jawari in the last three years - all being 40 to 50 years old - and they all played and sounded great. Actually (plug plug) I've got a 50 year-old Kanai Lal arriving mid January which will be for sale.
Ho Ho Ho,
Keshav
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rex@sitar.co.za

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Reply with quote  #5 
Wow, sitarman, interesting coincidence!! I'm actually totally amazed by the difference in tone playability of my sitar after this breaking-in period. When I first started playing I never really believed the whole "the sitar will open up" thing people kept repeating, but it definitely happens. Josh mentioned a 5 year period.. 5-7 years sounds about right, and it just keeps getting better from there on out.

You make an interesting point about the development of the the sitar. Arvind Parikh mentioned to me once that modern sitars are far better designed and built than they were 100 or even 50 years ago and, apart from a few exceptions, would always recommend to his students to buy well made new sitars.

Another interesting story: a year and a half ago, on a flight, a the tumba got a nasty hairline crack, with a bit jutting out. I played it like that for 6 months... scary stuff!! Anyway, when I got the sitar back to Bombay I took it a Mr. Sharma at Sangeet Kutir in Anderi who is an expert at fixing cracked tumbas. He looked at it and said for me not to worry for, "a sitar tumba that is cracked accidentally and then repaired has an improved sound. But, only if the tumba is cracked accidentally - not intentionally." I smiled and said, "Oh, that's a nice story." But he looked at me very seriously and replied, dryly, "It is not a story, it's a fact!"

And, guess what..?? He was right. The crack was absolutely invisibly repaired any my sitar never sounded better!
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sitarman

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Reply with quote  #6 
Rex,
That has been mentioned several times on this forum. I would love to know if anyone has any idea how this would be valid. Of course, we all hope to never have to test the theory! Maybe it has to do with the fact that after wood dries out with time (especially a sitar that isn't very old to begin with) it changes and moves, so maybe the crack allows it to attain a more natural "position"? Then, when it is fixed, the stress of the expanded or contractefd wood is releved and it is more opoen to vibrating correctly? This sounds a bit presumptive, and I don't claim any technical knowledge on this, but after hearing several people comment on this, and now your story, I am fishing for answers. I have a theory of my own concerning the aging and "breaking in" period of a good instrumenent like the HR. Again, this is not based on Rocket Science, for I am not even close to others on the theoretical physics level. Have you ever seen, if you bow a piece of glass or thin sheet metal with sand spread on it, the sand takes shapes of sound waves along with the note being played? Or the reason why tarabs sound- sympathetic vebrations. Well, after years of having sound waves transmit through the wood, I believe the molecular structure is changed or alligned- maybe not enough to see if you examined a minute section of the wood, but cumulatively it is enough to "open up" the sound; enough to cause the wood to be more intune with the notes and, like well tuned tarabs, vibrate more freely. Just a bit of a thought.
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rex@sitar.co.za

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Reply with quote  #7 
Very interesting sitarman!!! Thanks for those thoughts!

- Rex
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povster

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Reply with quote  #8 
Well, after years of having sound waves transmit through the wood, I believe the molecular structure is changed or alligned- maybe not enough to see if you examined a minute section of the wood, but cumulatively it is enough to "open up" the sound; enough to cause the wood to be more intune with the notes and, like well tuned tarabs, vibrate more freely. Just a bit of a thought.

Very interesting thought there, Sitarman! I have long held this idea. Basically the sound does have to travel through the wood. It is not unlike a meandering river that, over time, gradually shift its position to accododate the current pressures and refelct the varying yelding of the bank soil.

I see no reason why sound waves travelling along a wooden instrument won't, over time, do something similar: cause the paths that the sound travels through to open more and more. Essentially the vibrations are both seeking the easiest route and also casuing the route to open with repeated vibrations. This is probably why wood grain andf wood types are do important, and why a well made instruemnt with the proper woods does respond so well to playing over time.

I recently acquired a 1999 Hiren #1 sitar. It was never played a lot before I got it but I played on it a lot and I have to tell you it is turning into something amazing. It is not the prettiest one to look at. But it feels and sounds amazing - even better than my formally favorite Hiren #1 I picked up new in November 2005 (I traded it towards my surbahar).

Would love to hear Tony K's take on all this!

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trippy monkey

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Reply with quote  #9 
Hi A



Couldn't say at the mo as it hasn't its strings on because I stripped it down to the wood & spent a week re-polishing its front part. Will report back when it's ready.

Let's leave inventing new looonger words to our friends -over-the-pond' eh :wink:

Nick
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #10 
Happy birthday to your sitar! Common consensus is indeed that wood takes time to open up for getting the good good sound. This is most obvious on new instruments. Teak especially. - - - - - - and yet - - - - I've just completed a 1/2 teak sitar for one of our distinguished collegues here on the forum. This sitar has a teak tabli and neck front. Everything else is tun wood and gourd. Within 5 min. of playing the sound started gushing out. 5 min. !!! Almost scarey!!! Seems to me that the great majority of an instruments sound is based on its original specs and dimensions. That tabli has to be spot on. That includes centered grain, even desity of wood across the entire surface, shape of surface, wether flattened for bassines or more arched for ring (think antenna dish), overall thickness and graduated thickness is critical. Tap testing throughout the shaping process has to be done. Same deal on the neck front, neck back and even the gourd. If all that is done properly, your sitar, even a $300.00 Saturday night special will sound great.
Ageing of the wood is a factor, consensus supports. No arguement from me. My very first sitar from 1969 is still a top contender for sound king and it wasn't any kind of custom ordered concert masterpiece. Just another shelf item that just happened to be made with the above mentioned features all in place. At what age an instrument eventually goes past its prime - I have no idea. I picked up a 1950 ish Kanai Lal tabli from Kartik Seshadri years back. He say it had died and was replacing it. Sounds fine to me but then, everybodies ears are different. I think that as long as an instrument has been built with the best materials and best techniques and technology and is lovingly maintained, it will last well into your next life or someone elses coming up.
Interesting situation now with sitar building. The technology is there to really create some good stuff. The shop owners and staff, overall, it seems, are still of the opinion that the market won't notice, appreciate or want to shell out for these improvements so the same old crap continues to be produced, quick and cheap. Now rebadged instruments from the sweat shops of Benares and Lucknow are creeping in to fill export market demand. It is essential to check the actual instrument from a prestige maker to be sure you're getting what you are paying for. I've got the pics to prove that point. Scarey stuff !!! The older "vintage" instruments were for the most part made when there was still pride in craftsmanship and family tradition. If todays tools and technology were around back then, who knows what super instruments would be available. That technology is here today but none of the makers want to apply it in a way that would make a better instrument. Too much time wasted. My shop also has this attitude. From a business point of view, it makes sense. When the concept of the big picture and long range projection has been established, then overall improvement will pick up. Once I showed my shop rats their name and text of praise on internet shop sites, things changed. Even the firewood sitars, their main staple has gotten better.
So there! Amazing how I ramble! Anyway, that's my take. Counting the days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Joshua Feinberg

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Reply with quote  #11 
hey everyone,

interesting thread. my experience in sitar and in western instruments leads me to this conclusion- the tabli will get better and better as it ages. ive heard of people building new sitars around old tabli-s for this reason.

but the neck will only last you about 40 years give or take. the length, and construction (hollowness doesnt help structurally), string tention, but worst of all-pulling all take their toll on the neck. as it starts to bend and bow, you can take it to a good shop and they'll be able to whip you up some frets that'll compensate for it for a few years. but in the end, the neck is doomed.

if the sitar is aged without tension though, i bet it would sound awsome. i think the ideal sitar would be a nodu mullick, kanai lal, or hiren roy sitar which just sat unstrung in a closet for 50 years. after 3-5 years of break in that would sound amazing!

best,

jf

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beenkar

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Reply with quote  #12 
Quote:
Well, after years of having sound waves transmit through the wood, I believe the molecular structure is changed or alligned- maybe not enough to see if you examined a minute section of the wood, but cumulatively it is enough to "open up" the sound; enough to cause the wood to be more intune with the notes and, like well tuned tarabs, vibrate more freely. Just a bit of a thought.
I would agree with the theory that after playing the instrument there is a re-alignment in the wood fibre, sap and molecular structure to accomodate the vibration modes of the instrument. That is why it is advised by all instrument makers to play new sitars with strong strokes so as to cause the re-alignment in the wood fibre, sap and molecular structure. Once this happens and then the instrument seasons naturally the vibration modes of the instrument becomes "etched" on the instrument fibre and it plays loud even with lighter strokes.
I have worked out a nice little experimental thesis on it. But more about it later.

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AM

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Reply with quote  #13 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joshua Feinberg
hey everyone,

interesting thread. my experience in sitar and in western instruments leads me to this conclusion- the tabli will get better and better as it ages. ive heard of people building new sitars around old tabli-s for this reason.

but the neck will only last you about 40 years give or take. the length, and construction (hollowness doesnt help structurally), string tention, but worst of all-pulling all take their toll on the neck. as it starts to bend and bow, you can take it to a good shop and they'll be able to whip you up some frets that'll compensate for it for a few years. but in the end, the neck is doomed.

if the sitar is aged without tension though, i bet it would sound awsome. i think the ideal sitar would be a nodu mullick, kanai lal, or hiren roy sitar which just sat unstrung in a closet for 50 years. after 3-5 years of break in that would sound amazing!

best,

jf


Is the neck bend irreparable?
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Lars

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Reply with quote  #14 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AM


Is the neck bend irreparable?


In India the neck is usually replaced if it's bending. It's repairable with heat/bracing otherwise but has to be taken apart and heated and/or planed. It's a bit of work....

Lars

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SitarMac

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Reply with quote  #15 
I love popping by and seeing questions that are 13 years old still being discussed! What happened to the forum?!?!
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