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Posts: 2,233
Reply with quote  #1 
Hey all,

I am just wondering what your experiences are with traveling by air with your sitar.
I am traveling to Boston in a few weeks and I want to take my sitar, but I have never flown with it. It is in a fiberglass case (The best one from AACM.)
I am very nervous about traveling with it.
I will be so crushed if it gets smashed.

Any tips?
Have any of you traveled with your sitar enough to be fairly comfortable with traveling?

I have always taken guitars with me and have only had one issue, but that was me not loosening the strings which caused the neck to crack.
I should buy a travel sitar, but for now I just have to choose one and go.

Any advice is appreciated.

Posts: 221
Reply with quote  #2 

My sitar(s) has seen quite a bit of flight time. In fact, this morning, I arrived at Newark from Kolkata via Delhi, and tonight I fly back to SFO. I sometimes have some mild anxiety, but for the most part, the case does its job and I am less anxious then I used to be. But there is still that twinge of nervousness, and I don't expect to ever feel 100% at ease because in the end it all comes down to luck. Doesn't matter what kind of case you use, catastrophic damage is always a possibility. And frequent flying certainly takes its toll on instruments.

The most important thing is that your sitar DOES NOT MOVE in the case. RR cases fit their sitars like a glove, and I don't need any extra packing. But if yours has any give, pack it with t-shirts or thin towels. I don't loosen the strings, as I was told it is not necessary. But some poeple do. Some people will go even further and say that you should take off the bridge and the pegs and dissamble the entire thing. I think that is overkill, but its your instrument and you should do what makes you comforable. Also, don't pack wire coils, mezrabs or plyers in the little compartment (if your case has one). That stuff tends to look funny on X-ray making it more likely that the TSA will physically inspect it, possibly damaging the sitar when trying to take it out. I have gotten fewer TSA slips after I started keeping that compartment totally empty.

I use an RR fiberglass case, and that is the only off the shelf case I would ever start to trust for flights. But it isn't foolproof. After a rough landing once, the main string peg got slammed into the headstock, embedding the white tip into the faux fur and pushing in the peg a bit too far into the headstock. No real damage was done, but now I wrap the top of the headstock with a bit of bubblewrap. Other than that, I don't need to pack it specially for air travel, though I duct tape the hinges and latches, as well as the various chips in the shell I find after every flight.

But those RR cases are pretty tough. I probably have told the story before about how about 10 years or so ago I was sitting at a window seat watching luggage being loaded onto the 737 I was flying on. Then i saw my sitar, and the baggage handler placed it on the loading belt. When it got to the top, it hit something and rolled down the belt, hit a suitcase and fell off onto the tarmac. For that coast to coast flight, I was pretty sure I was going to have a corpse on my hands, but when I arrived, I checked it the moment it got off the conveyor belt (yes, they sometimes come out on a regular conveyer, sometimes on the oversize conveyers, and sometimes they are hand carried out) and it was totally fine. Just lucky I guess.

And then there was the shooting X-ray at JFK. This thing shot the sitar cannon-like through an X-ray built for oversize bags. The baggage (sitar in my case) goes through the thing at speed and is stopped by a padded wall. I am totally not joking. When I saw this I freaked and asked to see if my sitar got smashed. They said I wasn't allowed!! This was a few months after 9-11 and people were being a bit cautious, but what transpired after I asked to see the instrument is almost comic. They said once it goes through security, I was not allowed to touch it. I begged, because I had a concert and the only way if I would know if there is damage is if I could play it and knock on the tumba. But they weren't about to budge. Finally, a security "chief" took the sitar out , held it out two inches from my face (albiet from behind the velvet rope) and let me "examine" it. I haven't seen that crazy shooting X-ray machine before or since. It must have shot up too much valuable property.

Good luck on your flight!!


Posts: 674
Reply with quote  #3 

I think the only way you could rest somewhat at ease was if you had a rectangular Anvil case custom made and packed your sitar in its fibreglass case into that.

I have a really good fibreglass case, which is encased in a padded "bounce-bag", but I know I take a big risk everytime I check it onto a plane. I got a cracked tumba once on an Air Canada flight. The contoured shape that most fibreglass cases have look good but can only offer superficial protection. Basically, any kind of twisting force on the case will pop it open, and if something heavy is dropped onto it in the wrong way the case will flex inward and snap the sitar. A big weakness on all cases I've seen is at the tumba end - this is ususally pretty flexible, and if your sitar is packed too tightly here and the case is jammed into something at that end, the tumba will shatter (I'm pretty sure that's what happened to me.) Also, the baggage handlers prcocess thousands upon thousands of pieces of luggage a day, and despite all the assurances from the check-in staff and all those fragile stickers, no one really cares. I watched in horror as a bag of heavy golf clubs was flung onto my case... and this was in the "Fragiles" area.

So I think a rectangular bomb-proof case, like Anvil, is the only safe way to go. I've been pestering Pelican about this too, and they told me a few weeks ago they have large case in the works that will be long, wide and deep enough for a sitar. They didn't say when it would be out though.. but I'll keep pestering them Maybe you guys can do the same, then at least they know there's a market (

- Rex

P.S.. yes, I considered a tavel sitar years ago too, but sitars have such individual personalities that practising on a different sitar is almost like learning to play from the beginning again. I've just had to resign myself to travel with Hiren Roy, despite all the risks and hassles... she's my baby

Senior Member
Posts: 1,452
Reply with quote  #4 
Great advice from Haldamos.....if you use a RR sitar case double check that there aren't any screws poking through where the hardware mounts. For average travel (not air) it's fine but when subjected to extreme travel the screws will gouge the wood on your instrument. But otherwise a great case, nice thick fiberglass. Also the MMC cases from Kolkata are good.....and his main point about make sure the sitar doesn't move in the case is spot on, I'll add that make sure also that the sitar is not too tight in the case either or you'll get a cracked gourd. Reason is the cases do flex a little bit under pressure and there has to be a little leeway for this.

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Senior Member
Posts: 2,487
Reply with quote  #5 
As Haldamos said, a nice tight fitting fiberglass case is good. I just went from California to Massachusetts (about 3000 miles) with my Hiren in a tightly fitting case, getting some intensive lesson time with my first teacher (Peter Row). From California to Massachusets I detuned the strings. I did no extra packing (jeans, undies ops: etc) amd it arrived in perfect condition. And it was opened for inspection as there was a form residing in the case informing me that it was manually inspected. Upon reciipt of the instrument i removed the form.

On the return trip I left the sitar tuned. I missed my return flight due to bad weather and the instrument went on without me to California on an early morning flight. The first flight I could get put me in California at about 11:30PM. I got my instrument from the holding area and opened it up right away. Again, a residing in the case informing me that it was manually inspected was there.

But it survived totally intact and in excellent condtion.

Dasani - the official bottled water of ICM
Panini - the official bread of ICM
trippy monkey

Posts: 4,281
Reply with quote  #6 
I think most here will know of my gripes with India Post about sending sitars to the UK from there.
Most of the ones in the pressed card type had damage of some kind, usually the toomba. I DID have a broken toomba in a fibreglass case but THAT case was a shitty one & all the other FB cases were great. I just couldn't buy the case before I left India. I'll order several when I arrive in Varanasi, next time so they'll be ready in time.

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