Recording Studio: Sitar

The Sitar is the most popular melody instrument in classical northern Indian music today. It is a very prominent recording studio instrument. Together with the Surbahar and the Tanpura, part of the family of long-neck lutes. The large resonance box is made of a dried pumpkin; – neck, cover and a possible second smaller resonance box are mostly made of Tun wood, an Indian variety of teakwood. Metal strings made of steel (bass strings also of brass or bronze) run across two bridges made of bone. The frets are movable by cords that are tied to the neck and are also made of steel. Depending on the special features of the Sitar (full decoration, plain decoration or Sitars in Vilyat Khan style) it is more or less lavishly decorated with inlaid work of celluloid. It makes for a great decoration in the recording studio.

Recording Studio: Two Sitar Categories

The Sitars that are being made nowadays can be divided into two main categories. One group complies with the so-called “Ravi Shankar Style” (Kharaj-Pancham) in construction and features, the other group orientates itself to the Vilayat Khan Style. On both forms of Sitars, different musical styles are played. Sitars in the Ravi Shankar style usually have 2 resonance boxes, 13 sympathetic resonant strings and 7 playing strings. 4 of the 7 playing strings are played as melody strings and comprise 4 octaves. Both can be found in the recording studio.
The Sitars in the”Vilayat Khan Style” (Gandhar-Pancham) have only one resonance box on principle.There are 11 sympathetic resonant strings and 6 playing strings, 2 of which are played as melody strings over a range of three octaves. The design is unsophisticated and decorations and inlays are sparse.  There are many recording studio examples of this.
The central element in tuning a Sitar is the keynote which can be selected individually and is usually between c and d, often c sharp, depending on the desired sound pattern.
Tuning in Ravi Shankar style (Kharaj-Pancham) (recording studio favourite)
2nd string (Jure) – tuning to the keynote
4th string (Kharaj) – tuning an octave lower than the keynote
6th string (Chikari) – tuning an octave higher than the keynote
7th string (Chikari) – tuning two octaves higher than the keynote
5th string (Pancham-Chikari) – is the fifth over the keynote
3th string (Pancham) – is the fifth in the lower octave
1st string is the main playing string (Baj) and is tuned to the fourth
So, if you have chosen c sharp as the keynote, the following tuning results: f sharp, c sharp, G sharp, C sharp, g sharp, c’ sharp, c” sharp.
The sympathetic resonating strings (Taraf) are tuned to the applied scale. The longest resonating string is tuned to the keynote and then you tune from the lower seventh upwards to the high third. An especially important note in the middle octave can be tuned twice.
Tuning in Vilayat Khan style (Gandhar-Pancham)
The first two strings are tuned exactly as in Kharaj-Pancham style (see above), neither is there a difference for the two Chikari and the Pancham-Chikari strings. Instead of the two low melody strings Pancham and Kharaj, however, in Gandhar-Pancham-Sitars only one additional Chikari steel string is used. This string is tuned either to the big or small third. Thus the complete tuning of the playin strings with c sharp as keynote looks like this: f sharp, c sharp, f, g sharp, c’ sharp, c” sharp. For the resonant strings the tuning usually starts with the seventh and then goes up the scale to the third in the high octaves.