What Sitar to Buy – A 15 Point Sitar Buying Guide

When it comes to buying your first sitar, or a third one, a few questions come to mind. This article answers to most such questions that may arise when you go to buy a Sitar. Before you read further, there are a few things I would like you to do:

  • If you are a first time Sitar buyer, I’d like you to read my article about the parts of a Sitar to get some knowledge about what the instrument is made of, and to better understand what’s written in this blog.
  • Sign up to my email list and get latest updates on new blog posts.

Unlike most other mass produced instruments, in Sitars quality can plummet just to increase short term profits, therefore you need to be sure of what you’re buying and know the specifics of whether you’re getting what you’re paying for. Buying a Sitar in person supersedes every online purchase however, if you do end up buying one online, take note of the following things to look for in a Sitar to take your purchase from normal to excellent.

I will first begin this article with guesswork on how you may have been inspired, and the types of Sitars prevalent in Indian Classical Music today. Following which will be a 14 point list of things to consider and look for in a good Sitar. Followed by a conclusion and help topics. Feel free to reach out if you need any help buying a Sitar. I charge a USD 25 per guidance fee.

Examine, play and connect with the instrument before you take one out of the store. If it’s tone does not sit well with the artist inside you, you might end up never playing it.

Types of Sitar

The instrument Sitar comes in three types. A Kharaj Pancham and a Gandhar Pancham, and Flat Toomba Sitar sometimes called the Travel Sitar or an Electric Sitar. The Ravi Shankar style of playing involves the Kharaj Pancham Sitar while the Vilayat Khan style of playing involves the Gandhar Pancham

Key differences include:

  1. A second resonation toomba in the Kharaj Pancham Sitar
  2. An extra main string in the Kharaj Pancham Sitar making a total of 7 against 6 in the Gandhar Pancham Sitar
  3. The two styles differ from the flat toomba sitar in resonator (toomba) material. In a flat toomba sitar, the resonator is made of wood while the other two sitars have a gourd resonator.

What to look for in a good Sitar

  • The first thing you should be doing is visually inspecting a Sitar. There should be no cracks in the sitar body at all. It’s made of wood and any cracks could mean that the wood used is weak or unseasoned.
  • When inspecting the Sitar visually check to ensure that the Fretboard is built of a single piece of wood. Poor or cheap built sitars will use multiple pieces of wood joint together to make a fretboard.
  • The Toomba should be aligned with the fretboard. There should be no forward, backward, right or left tilt in the fretboard with respect to the Toomba. If there is a tilt, leave that Sitar behind.
  • Look for white or other (ivory colored plastic, or wood) marquetry around the sitar. If there’s too much, It will not be a very long lasting sitar since the marquetry digs into the already thin wood around the bridge of the Sitar compromising it’s strength.
  • Look for a hand polished wood Sitar. Only the Toomba of the sitar is painted with Enamel since it’s made of gourd. Any sort of enamel paintwork anywhere on the sitar except the Toomba should be considered a no-brainer. In case of electric sitars also called travel sitars, the toomba should also be hand polished since it’s made of wood.
  • A grommet encircles the sympathetic strings at the entrance into the fretboard, the grommet is called ‘Tarab ka Mogra‘. Cheap sitars usually miss these small things and eventually, the Sympathetic string eats into the wood.
  • Toomba does not necessarily need to be very round, it’s made of gourd and can be a little disproportionate here and there.
  • In case of an electric travel sitar look for quality string tuning pegs on the Sitar. Most cheap travel Sitars will come with low quality plastic tuning pegs that will not last very long.
  • Sitar tuning is done with wooden pegs (Khoonti) which are not geared therefore not very accurate to achieve perfect tune. To do this, there are beads at the Langot of the Sitar. Any sitar missing beads will barely ever stay in tune.
  • Check for string action. A very high string action is not very comfortable to play. It is however different for both sexes. Females need a lower string action than males. Also keep in mind that smaller sitars do not have a very high string action, if they do, avoid them.
  • Stay away from very huge Sitar if you’re a beginner.
  • All frets should be made of Brass. That’s how purists like it.
  • Check for Tuning Peg slippage when bending strings, if that happens, the pegs are small in size. Get bigger, better fitting ones.
  • Look for a Sitar with optimal fretboard width according to your hand. Do not buy a sitar that has a wide fretboard for you. Sitars come in different fret widths. You could find such options with good luthiers.
  • Buy a Sitar in teakwood if possible. it lasts longer. If not teakwood, go for toonwood.

What not to Buy when buying a sitar

I would recommend staying off Amazon, Ebay, Gumtree, Olx, and such classifieds websites for Sitar Deals.

When buying in India, stay away from cheap sitars anywhere below GBP 150, USD 220, or INR 18000

When buying anywhere outside India, do not buy a Sitar just because it’s cheaper than the average Music store price in your area. For instance, USD 350 could be the minimum buying price you begin looking at.

Some good examples of what not to buy:

  1. Advertised as Ravi Shankar Style, Images contain Vilayat Khan Style – 1
  2. Advertised as Ravi Shankar Style, Images contain Vilayat Khan Style – 2
  3. Read the Reviews on this

Conclusion

A Sitar’s tone may vary based on the type of wood used, tuning of the strings, type of strings used, type of bridge materials, tuning of the bridge and so on. If made well, all these things come together to make a marvelous instrument. In the end, it comes down to what suits your playing style. Sit with your sitar seller and experiment playing with the instrument for about half an hour or maybe an hour if schedule allows.

Good Luck.

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