Sitarmaking

The Insular Sitar

This is a longer-term project, and will take many months and hundreds of hours to complete. This sitar was commissioned to have a look similar to the Insular style of illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, more specifically, the Book of Kells:

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I was more than happy to oblige. I have always been fascinated by this style of art, and the chance to combine it with my passion was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Right now, I am in the layout phase, deciding where everything will go:

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With these kind of projects, I’ve found that it’s easier to plan this part of it on paper rather than a computer. Because the majority of the sitar will be hand painted, it really comes quite naturally to plan it out with good ‘ole pencil and paper. In researching the style, I found that the monks would often carefully plan out the design on a wax tablet, making a bigger version which would then be copied meticulously onto the vellum at a sometimes minuscule scale. While the finished products have a sort of twisting and organic quality to them, most were laid out and measured using sophisticated geometric concepts.

After I have completed the basic layout, I will do a test run on a wooden top I have carved out, just for this purpose. I will use it to test the final design, as well as the paints. Gouache will be used for the illuminated parts, along with 24k gold paint. The wood underneath will be visible in parts, which will be clear coated before the paint is applied. This will give the effect that the designs are floating above the surface, and make it more luminous looking.

I will post more blog entries as this progresses. As this will take as long, if not longer than a real illuminated page, you will get to see a very slow progression towards the finished sitar over the next few months.

The Feed!

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Technology can be exhausting. You post to this or that social network, and you might hear from one person this way, and another that way. So, I’ve been working on getting this feed up and running as an easier way to post things. Despite Carbon having many fans on Facebook, less than 2% even get to see that content, as they limit the visibility of business pages in order to encourage opting for “promoted” posts. It’s expensive, and annoys fans. Additionally, what’s the point of posting ideas, pictures, or thoughts when they will either be hidden from readers or evaporate into the ether after a few minutes? So I figured I would have a permanent place for this stuff. I will probably show a little more human side of the business here, and write in a much more personal style. I hope you find this a more interesting alternative to the sometimes mind-numbing experience of social media.

Well, I’m going to get back to work. I’ve been working on putting together the body for a sitar going to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. It should be a fun project. I look forward to seeing how they want it to look!

Bracing

Sitars, like most other instruments with sympathetic strings, suffer from a dilemma: the top must be strong enough to support the tremendous pressure of so many strings, but thin enough to resonate. Too thick and it doesn’t vibrate; too thin and it won’t last very long without cracking or separating. This is where bracing comes in.10502065_787779577965038_5672833372698314897_n

Even though carbon fiber is stronger than steel, it is not completely rigid. It has some flex. Balsa wood inlayed with strips of carbon fiber is surprisingly strong and rigid; so much so you can construct an airplane out of it. It’s also very resonant. When laid in a lattice pattern, the top will vibrate with many different vibrational modes, giving it a rich and complex sound.

Here, strips of balsa are cut and fitted before the outer shape is cut to the outline of the tabli. It will then be shaped to the curve of the tabli, glued down with resin, and the carbon fiber strands will be laid lengthwise across the strips. Once cured, it’s practically strong enough to stand on, and weighs only two ounces.