Questions and answers (or FAQ)
Who are we?
Yes, allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Sergi, native of Barcelona and have been living in India periodically for more than ten years. Luthier, musician, designer and officially the owner of Sitarsencat. Practically speaking I work with several partners, this includes makers, dealers, luthiers, designers and musicians from a few different countries. Our aim is to offer you the very best of India and this is what actually keeps us a notable range of customers from USA to Japan, including India and China. Our customers are always highly satisfied who appreciate our passion and work.
Why should you buy from us?
So easy, unless you are buying a vintage sitar from us we do not store instruments for long periods of time. Most of the professional instruments shown in our site are not kept in stock. Once we get your confirmation payment we order your instrument. We work by this way for several reasons:
-Living in India allows us to be in constant touch with the makers so, this ensures that each and every sitar is exhaustively checked and inspected. Not until we are satisfied with the model do we personally ship the instrument. Other websites claim to sell stored instruments which are pre checked before shipping but the truth of the matter is they will not even have seen or prechecked personally the instrument in India before beeing it shipped so they just receive what they get by chance from the maker or dealer. As told before, living in India allow us to be in front of most of our competitors.
-The instrument's stain can be affected after long months of storage and thus lose part of its lustre.
-Jawari is working at its best when it has just been done. Hence unnecessary storage can affect the original sound of the instrument as well as the sound quality of the strings.
- Working on each piece individually allows us to modify/personalize each instrument according to our customer's desires. This makes your instrument unique. We will keep you updated throughout the whole construction process by sending you pictures and reports.
-No professional maker in India or luthier in Europe store their instruments, they are always made to order. Traditionally, this has always been the case when ordering a professional instrument and in Sitarsencat we follow this way of working too.
On the other hand, a close relationship between musician and maker is necessary to get a good instrument (i.e. sound quality). We are professional musicians working with professional makers and we will provide for you a top quality instrument. During the construction of your instrument our team will be in India from the very beginning to the very end.
At some time in the future some prototype or model could be in stock at our site. In this case please check our "offer" section, you will find the instruments announced there with a discounted price rate.
How long will it take for my instrument to be ready?
Nowadays we live in times of hurry where we wish to get what we desire instantly. Indians still live their life at their own pace and rhythm and the he phrase " dire dire" in hindi language which means "slowly slowly" is in fact a living daily presence in Indian culture, probably in India, more than any other place, “fast lifestyle” just does not work. To get a good result in any field one has to be patient, it is in fact the essence and foundation of any art and naturally India is not an exception.
The waiting time will depend on the model you are interested in buying. It can vary from 15 days to three months. Customised or modified instruments can require extra work from the makers as well as from our side. In any case we promise you the wait will be worth it!
What about custom-built possibilities?
Unlimited. We can combine dozens of materials with a wide range of designs to create a unique instrument. Bearing in mind that some of our partners are the finest craftsmen in their field and some of our most exclusive accessories are made out of India by highly skilled luthiers; this means that we can offer you an upgraded instrument impossible to find anywhere else. All your suggestions are welcome., you will receive the instrument of your choice.
Which is your main philosophy at Sitarsencat?
We decided at Sitarsencat that our main priority is top quality sitars. In order for this to be a reality we work with few makers which in turn will mean fewer orders. We want to focus on developing long term projects with our makers which allows us to keep familiar relationships with them but all the time maintaining high professional standards.
The quality of our instruments is not only the reflection of each maker's skill but also reflects the good relationships we have been keeping with them for years, thus the highly skilled craftsmanship and our good relationships brings our collective works to the top.
This point is so easy to understand; as musicians actually involved in Indian classical music we have tried dozens of instruments from many makers in India so we are able to offer you top quality sitars for the same price as low quality ones which are available in the net.
We are not interested to work commercially with our instruments and we refuse to increase our stock just to attract customers. Naturally, the larger the stock the less involved we can be in the construction process which would result in low quality instruments! At Sitarsencat we are only interested in the best and we only sell those professional instruments which we as musicians would play. Trust our experience in this field.
What is your concept of "professional"?
Simple, a professional instrument is one which can be brought on stage and does not hinder or obstruct the playing of an experienced musician because of its sound or construction. The musician will be able to express himself wholly freely.
How do you quotate your vintage instruments?
In quoting vintage sitars many factors are taken into consideration. This includes its age, condition, decoration, brand, sound and historical value. Even the price for sitars made by the same maker can differ; hence, prices can vary considerably from one sitar to the other.
We do not post prices in our site for the very reason that they can change. Generally a recently added vintage sitar at Sitarsencat will be quoted at the price we consider fair. If some model has not been sold after being stocked for long periods of time, its price will systematically go down to a maximum of 20% less from its starting price. If you are lucky enough to like a sitar on our site under these conditions you can make quite a good deal.
What are the actual myths and truths about the actual sitarmaking in India?
A truth today is that in very rare cases, if not any , sitars in India are built from the beginning to the end by one maker, generally the structure or body of the instrument is made by secondary workers . This is one of the reasons why old sitars are specially appreciated as in some cases the full instrument was made by the same man or family members. They would carve, set and decorate it as this is the case of the legendary Kanailal and Brothers.
Having said that, one should realise the actual work of the maker is the final setting of the instrument. Mohan Lal Sharma, Manoj kumar sardar, Rikhi Ram, Hiren roy, Nitai Chandra, Sengupta, Hemen , Radha Krishna Sharma,Naskar, Gurdial Singh or Radhey Shyam Sharma, just to name a few, did not carve a sitar body by themselves for decades, other people do this job for them. On the other hand, it doesn't mean they do not have the knowledge to make them, it is mainly a matter of offer and demand. In fact makers do not have the time to cover the demand so they are forced to buy premade sitar bodies from craftsmen, these bodies mostly come from the surrounding areas around Kolkatta city, which is known as the Uluberia area.
A myth - sitars made in Uluberia are badly made instruments. It is absolutely untrue!! This argument is usually used by some online sellers selling to unknowledgable customers. They do this with the aim to discredit an individual maker, if this were the case there would be no maker or online shop where one could buy a sitar .
Nowadays, all makers follow this way of working. Even if it is true that some of the worst instruments produced come from Uluberia and Miraj, it is also well known that some of the best carvers and makers are working/condensed in the Kolkatta area as they have an incomparable tradition in sitar making. An important part of the instrument's sound depends on the wood quality and skills of the artisan who makes the main instrument structure or body, as anywhere in the world there are good and bad suppliers. As a clear example of this Sanjay Rikhi Ram, who is regarded today as one of India's top makers is actually selling premade Kolkatta bodies, naturally he is setting the sitars.
Makers will rarely "confess" that their instruments are originally made by secondary craftsmen and not by themselves as this gives exclusivity and authenticity to their products. For example Sanjay Rikhi Ram's top and best sitars (which are sold under adjectives such as "Grand") and Nitai Chandra sitars come from the same body maker in Kolkata. Understandably all the prices are calculated according to the fame of the maker while technically they sell the same professional sitars i.e. the body; the exclusivity comes from the skilled setting of the sitars and of course, the label.
The truth is that the actual condition of sitar making in India seems a bit distressing. The tradition is progressively regressing from one generation to the other and even some famous makers have gone in decadence selling cheap instruments to increase their benefits from each single sale. Therefore it is not uncommon to find disappointed professional musicians not only in the west but in India too and furthermore through the passing of the years sitar prices have risen extremely high compared to the cost of living in India, reaching in many cases Western standards.
Fortunately today, there are still some excellent makers who can offer top instruments. However to actually receive a good instrument; this all depends on the relationship the individual customer has with the maker. Another determining factor would be the customer's own criteria and knowledge in the field.
So then, what is the actual work of the maker?
It can vary from one to another maker. Some makers stain their instruments and do the final adjustments of the instruments such as peg fitting and fretting. They also set the main and taraf bridges, upper bridges (meru and tar gahan) string holder (langot), chickari posts and jawari.
As previously stated, all the makers take part in the sitar making process differently and some are less involved in it than others. Some even have workers who stain their instruments and do those final adjustments for them. Very few know how to properly make jawari and to perform this procedure with satisfactory results the maker must be able to play the instrument and unfortunately not all of them are good musicians. In that case the help of a professional player during the jawari procedure is necessary to achieve the proper/wanted sound.
What about Miraj sitars?
Miraj is originally known in India by its tanpura making but recently has expanded to the international market through its sitar making. We do not deal with Miraj instruments but we have visited the city and its makers in the past. Nowadays very few are doing a good job, others who claim to sell sitars made by them are in actual fact just selling imported cheap sitars. Again others just do not have the knowledge to build top instruments and most of these lower quality instruments are exported or sold on ebay . Miraj as Uluberia is a place with mixed reports; you can get a good instrument or a creepy ebay travel sitar in a wide range of extravagant colors.As in most cases it will depend mainly from where you buy it from and your own knowledge in the field. A plus point is that Miraj have a good/artistic hand in the inlaying work as it has been always an art much related to tanpura making.
What is the policy on custom-built orders?
In the past we had only one bad experience where a customer decided to cancel his order just before the completion of the instrument. Despite this fact we feel forced to ask for the full payment of the instrument in advance for this very reason. Please understand a custom-built order involves the work of several people who will be investing their time and efforts to give life to your instrument.
Our aim is to create the sitar that you would personally like. We will work with your ideas as closely and realistically as possible however one must realise that western standards are quite different to Indian standards. So please, if you are looking for a western standard sitar, it is better for you and for us to look elsewhere as there will be no refunds for customized instruments.
How similar will my instrument be to the pictures?
The design will be the same but before ordering any instrument from us, you must remember that you are buying a musical instrument which is totally handmade. No instrument can be a replica from one to another. Just the wood in itself can vary slightly as every piece of wood has its own grain, pattern and color.
I would like to have a sitar design which is not in you website, can you build it?
Of course! In Sitarsencat we have our own designs, but we also accept new proposals. We will be happy to work with your design or any modified design of our own.
To build your personal designed sitar we just need you to send us your proposal. We will need pictures, detailed drawings or a photoshop design. Send it to us and we will inform you about the possibility of building it, the time needed and its cost.
Teak or Tun wood?
This is a personal decision. Our advice is that teakwood is a long term investment due to its main characteristics: teakwood is a beautiful, heavy and very resistant wood.
The main reason why teakwood instruments sound improves as they get older is for the sole reason that oil resides in it. Through the passage of years the oil slowly dries inside the wood causing the instrument’s sound to become finer and finer. Also as time passes the streaks in the wood become more defined.
The best answer might be to ask yourself what your needs and expectations are, and thereafter make a decision according to the answer.
Is it difficult to tune the sitar?
Some masters say tuning is as almost as difficult as to play it. If you are experienced in tuning stringed instruments then you are perfectly capable to tune the sitar, there is just the matter of many strings. If you are new to tuning, one can ask the same question for any stringed instrument!
All of the Indian stringed instruments have a second group of strings situated below the main ones. These secondary strings are called sympathetic or “taraf” in hindi.
The purpose of this secondary group of strings is as simple as ingenious: as its name implies, they vibrate in sympathy with the finger scaled notes. This means that when you are playing a note, for example, do (SA), those sympathetic strings tuned to that particular note will vibrate. This happens because the secondary strings receive a wave which is in their frequency so they respond by vibrating. This particular reaction of the taraf strings is what gives the instrument its beautiful sound; the sound which we are all so familiar with in Indian music. To enjoy this characteristic sound of the main strings and taraf ones the tuning has to be perfect.
I play guitar....I guess it'll be easier for me to play sitar?
Relatively. For the practice of some techniques of the left hand it can be helpful. However the right hand’s work includes many other techniques which have nothing to do with guitar playing. One must understand that western music and Indian classical music follow 2 completely different systems. The melody and rhythm structures in Indian classical music are completely different to western music. To play, understand and above all to feel the ragas of Indian Music on the sitar, this requires rigorous study throughout many years.
Which are the best strings for my sitar?
The wide variety of strings you will find in our web are perfect for all kinds of sitar. We ourselves use them.
For the main string (#012) we recommend Pyramid German strings. The quality of Pyramid strings are perfectly suitable being resistant and very elastic. You will easily be able to pull the strings. It is not necessarily a painful practice.
You can directly contact Pyramid through their official website.
Which specific cares are necessary for the sitar?
The first and foremost caution is not to expose the sitar to temperature changes. It is extremely sensitive to this and can affect its sound, we recommend that you always keep the sitar in its case after use. Secondly, it is an extremely fragile instrument; its sound box is a dry gourd. Attention! A little knock can be enough to crack the sitar.
Always carry it inside the fibre glass case, the best insurance for your sitar’s long life.
What can I do if my tumba breaks?
If, unfortunately, this happens, the solution will depend on how serious the damage is. Sometimes it is possible to fix it, but when the crack is too deep, big or complex, there’s no solution.
Occasionally in Sitarsencat we repair broken sitars restoring the sound almost as it was originally. The reparation costs will be determined by the damage caused to the instrument and the time required to fix it. In really complicated cases we will recommend you to buy a new sitar. If your sitar is broken send us a picture so we can advise you which action you should take.
Can one learn to play sitar and Indian music from a book?
If your aim is to learn Indian classical music properly, then our sincere answer would be no, there are no “quick methods” to learn Indian classical music. Although there are technical exercises that can help, it is impossible to learn from a book, one must learn from a guru, a master that knows the art deeply. The guru will guide you step by step teaching you first how to technically play the sitar which will naturally lead you to understanding and playing the ragas. Through the passage of time the meaning of each raga will be revealed, being the top most importance in Indian music. Indian classical music has been passed on orally all through the ages. The teacher plays and the student repeats, learning the family’s style or “gharana”, without books.
We are facing a music which, among many other qualities, ingeniously teaches the student how to play freely; melodically and rhythmically, maintaining at the same time the strict rules of the raga and the taal (rhythmic cycle). Simply speaking, one of the freedoms lies in beautifying, enhancing and extending the phrases. The raga is complex and has to be played correctly, emotionally and freely. One cannot learn these wonderful skills from a book.
The sound of my sitar has changed, what's happening?
The main cause for a sitar to lose its sound is due to the erosion of the main bridge. Unfortunately as in all sitars, after some time playing it, the bridge starts to erode due to the rubbing of the strings against it, this in turn causes the sound to open excessively and the original sound changes. When the sound is too open the vibration will be very strong, thereby destroying the original sound, the harmony and balance of the strings will be lost.
The solution to this problem is to sand the base of the bridge but one warning: To sand the bridge is not an easy task, it takes time and effort to accomplish this skill. Moreover every western sitar player should learn this skill in order to enjoy his instrument fully. You can find help in the internet as well as in specialized books. As a suggestion you could practice this skill on an extra bridge, learning how to obtain that particular wanted sound, it is basically a matter of time and patience, but we assure you it is worth it to learn this technique.
It is better to have a sitar where both the main tumba and upper one are big?
No, furthermore it could be uncomfortable for playing and could even affect the sound. The tumbas of our sitars are built according to its size, all medium-big, and in perfect balance with the instrument.
How many different sitar sizes are there?
The sitar has one standard size.
How long will the finger pain last?
It depends on how much and how often you practice. With daily practice, six to eight weeks is normally enough time needed to form a callus strong enough to play without pain. On the other hand, just one month without playing is time enough to make the calluses disappear and thereby forcing one to start the whole process again.
It is safe to buy a sitar in the net?
Of course, but not from every site!
Be always sure of the liability of the site you are checking. Any site which is offering products from incense and saris to instruments is probably not a good reference. Ebay and such similar sites are not recommended by us. Always contact the seller in order to confirm his knowledge about the product offered. Look for sites specialized exclusively in Indian musical instruments.