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:

522

 

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:

IMG_0388

 

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.

Interesting fact of the day

Fact: market research shows that buyers of cheap musical instruments actually spend more than the average player because of repairs and replacement instruments. They are actually more likely to continue buying cheap models, resulting in a vicious cycle. They can sometimes own two or three times as many instruments over their lifetime as players who acquire a satisfactory quality instrument.

The old saying, “Buying cheap is expensive” definitely holds up.

Endorsements

Around once a week, I will get an enthusiastic email from a player who is very excited about our sitars, asking if we offer endorsement deals. We do not. Alembic, maker of some very nice guitars and basses, has summed up the reason very eloquently:

“The most successful artists can afford to pay for their instruments – but if we gave them endorsement deals the cost of those instruments would have to be recovered from customers who are far less able to afford it.”

We are acutely aware that our sitars are more than ones which can be found all over the Internet. Carbon fiber is an expensive material to work with, and there are many, many hours of work that go into each one. However, keep in mind that our prices are still around what you would pay from one of the finest makers such as Sanjay Sharma at Rikhi Ram. When compared to the $50,000 price tag of a professional quality violin or cello, sitars are a downright bargain, despite taking just as long to make and requiring the same amount of skill.

The sitar market has been depressed by the mass manufacturers who churn out thousands of cheap and/or useless instruments at rock bottom prices, and has driven many families who have been doing it for generations out of business. When you buy from a shop willing to undercut everyone else just to make the sale, it’s another nail in the coffin for the sitar market. It’s bad enough that there are literally a handful of shops left who can even make a playable instrument. Soon, they too could be driven to close their doors forever. If you really love the instrument, support the makers left that are dedicated to this esoteric art and buy a good one from them. You really could make the difference between a maker who can afford their rent, and one who must close the shop.

Quality instruments are made with great care, and always cost more. I’ve never yet found a sitar maker who could provide the finest quality and best service for the lowest price. Something to ponder: for your long-term happiness, which of those three would you be most willing to give up? Quality? Service? Or low price?”

Online store

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 1.09.11 PM

So, as I’ve been updating the site to include this feed-style news page, I figured I would put up another post about the new online store, so it doesn’t get lost. I’m sure you’ve already seen it along the top menu if you’re here, though.

One of the features I’m most proud of is the ability to customize sitar parts. Over the past 20 years I’ve been involved with sitars, I’ve always been disappointed in what dealers had to offer. If and when the time came to replace this and that on my first sitar, often what was available was not much better. It’s really why I got involved in building them: out of necessity. I felt that not only were the choices out there very limited, but also the quality of the craftsmanship was very subpar for what I was paying. So I started building them myself.

When you take a look at the variety and quality of aftermarket parts available to guitar players, that diversity allows each and every player to develop their own unique look and sound, which is something lacking in the sitar world. For the most part, sitars are homogenous across each gharana. Not that standards are bad; far from it. It’s just that there is little room for customization to make one’s sitar not only more comfortable and easier to play, but beautiful in the individual’s eye. After all, we are artists, not soldiers! No need for uniformity!

We each have a unique perspective on the music, and that should be embraced.

The Feed!

(null)

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.