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Reply with quote  #1 
OK, I'm rather new to the details of sitar construction and theory. One of the things that strikes me about them is the choice of woods for the tabli, the way the grain is aligned (or not) and the shaping, together with all that added carved decoration.

Compared to many western instruments it differs quite a bit....OK, completely. Teak is a wonderful timber, but for a soundboard or belly it would be the last timber I'd choose for a guitar or a violin. Mahogany (tun) also. In the West we use such woods as spruce or cedar, or here in Tasmania, King William pine. These timbers are close grained, straight grained and quarter cut, joined on the middle for a violin belly. For the back and sides maple, or whatever, either with a two piece join on the back or like my present favourite fiddle, one piece and not quarter cut. Certainly not a giant bean! lol

So, why these choices in Indian made sitars and how does it affect the tone, volume and sustain etc. Do they do tap tests to determine how the belly will perform? (like fiddle makers do). There's no bracing, as in guitars, or indeed most other plucked instruments like a lute, an oud or a bazouki.

Sitars are just weird! But, bloody hell, they sound nice!

What happens when western timbers and technique are used to make a sitar belly and back (such as a multi strip back as on a lute or oud). Do they then sound awful with a braced spruce tabli?

The bridge is weird too and I don't mean the jawari. Any thoughts people, or experience with other makers? Sitarfixer especially.
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Reply with quote  #2 
Meh, it was just rambling at evening's end while putting up with too much heat for a Southern Autumn.

Also, I sure as hell hope I didn't give the impression of some sort of cultural or technological imperialism, or whatever. I'm just a retired guy, a trad Irish musician, not a western classical violinist; someone who has dabbled in repairs and instrument making over the years. In any case, my main instrument has always been uilleann pipes, together with whistle, flute, concertina etc.

I was just curious as to why the two traditions use such different approaches to construction. I guess I'll just have to buy Lar's latest offering on sitar construction to find out. Or better yet, get my librarian wife to order a copy for the non-fiction section. :wink:
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fossesitar

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Reply with quote  #3 
Quite a fascinating and arcane subject. An instrument is the sum of its parts, everything reacts with everything else in subtle and unpredictable ways, my guess is changing from a toomba (gourd) to a lute type back will make a noticable change in tonality, I had a sitar made this way that was a fine instrument but never quite sounded like a sitar. As for using quarter sawn spruce for the tabli it would be interesting to try but in general, after 400 years or so of development, the assumption I always make is they have had it all dialed in for a while GF
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #4 
Don't think I'd trust a 1/4 sawn tabli. I like the grain just where it is on a flat cut. I played a sitar that was a box production much like an acoustic guitar. Small size must have been a factor but the sound was decidedly "light", even lighter than the featherweight Rikhi Ram sitars of the late 40's - very early 50's. Sustain and ballzie resonance was also lacking. In general, the current design sitar is "dialed in" as "Fosse" points out accurately. It's the ongoing refinements of this basic design that needs to be addressed more than anything else.
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #5 
Oh yeah ! Sitar tabli thickness is around 1/8" - 1/4", depending on wood, maker, mood and time constraints. Bracing not needed. All the shops I've visited there tap test the tablis. The wood used is the wood available. Tun is the #1 choice. It's cheap plentiful and works. Teak, unless it's vintage Burma teak, is a true partial vacuum. Horrible stuff to work with ! Gourds work, are plentiful and cheap. I can't imagine the shops setting up the staves for a round back sitar like an Oud, Bouzooki, bowl back mandolin or similar. Considering the size and thinness (such a word?) of such a rig and the arm / foot preassure, it would collapse, I expect. The sitars I've made so far are of mahogany. Great stuff in all regards. I've got some spruce now and will be giving that a go.
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AllenDS

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Reply with quote  #6 
For what it's worth: the conventional wisdom in the acoustic guitar world is there's a trade-off between volume versus sustain. This is a big subject, so without even getting into the tone of different wood choices, here's an example: an acoustic guitar with a top made out of a fat slap of solid teak would sustain for a long time, but the volume would be too low to enjoy. My feeling is that sustain is really important with sitars, so we tend to favor harder, thicker materials. It's a whole different set of constraints.
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