Sitar Lesson 6 - String Gauges used by some popular artistsby Ashwin Batish
Sitar Strings are a critical component to your sound and can be a personal choice although it is quite common for the beginning student to simply buy what is available on the market. Fortunately, my father loved to experiment on his sitar and this meant I had rolls and rolls of a variety of music wires to try out myself. These included a selection of steel, bronze, copper, and brass. Each metal offered a distinct tone. Apart from the nature of the metal used in the wires, the overall sound is highly dependant on the grinding of the sitar bridge surface which is referred to as its "Jawari" or its life'
Sitar gauges can change according to how a sitarist sees his particular application. Like guitar strings, there are string sets that can be slinky, light, medium or hard gauge. It might also be a combination of all of these.
What I'd like to cover here is the gauge of strings I use on my personal sitars. Realizing that this might vary from what is being sold out there, I'll let you decide what's best for your needs. But I've used this combination for over 15 years and have found them to be exceptionally reliable and very satifactory with my playing style.
The main playing string (Ma) is often the one that should be ordered according with each individual person in mind. In the case of my students, I tend to look at who's playing the sitar, their age, their strengths and weaknesses. Then, one has to look at the key you will be playing your sitar in. A lower pitch will call for a thicker set whereas, tuning regularly at higher keys will mean you need to fit light gauges on your sitar so they don't stress out your hand.
Physical size and strength are a definite concern in picking the right gauge. For a a child of 10 - 14 years I would recommend a slinkier selection which is easier on their fingers. If you don't watch out, the child can loose interest in the instrument as it can be a cruel experience on the fingers if the gauges are too hard.
Women should also look into installing softer strings on their sitars unless they show that their strength in pulling the meends (slides) is adequate.
The tradeoff between the slinkier and the harder gauges is the volume you'll attain with the sitar. Slinkier strings tend to resonate less than the harder variety. But the harder ones will tend to cut your fingers quicker unless you have calauses built up. There are two issues to keep in mind when you go string shopping.
For a solo sitarist the sitar tends to be tuned to one key and the player hardly deviates from this. This is probably the case with most classical sitarists. But even though the general tuning is in the same key, there is often a need to change the strings within the key. For instance in raga Marava, since the 5th note Pancham is not used the drone of the strings that are usually tuned to Pa has to be tuned to maybe a 3rd (Sa) above Pa, or Dha above Pa, or as some sitarists do, latch it to a clip so that those strings are put out of commission. But if the strings are tuned higher, they should be of a gauge that can take such a range.
When I was 15 my father started me off in the key of C sharp. the main string was gauge #1. As I got better and my calauses started building up (which is in about 6 months) he changed this to a #2 gauge. I was happy with this for a few years. One day he switched it to a three gauge. This I really enjoyed. I must have been about 20 years old and I was tearing it up ont the three gauge. The tension felt great. My calauses were quite thick by then. At about age 23, I decided to switch to a #4 gauge main string, and on top of that, I started to tune my sitar to a D! The instrument sounded really loud. But my fingers felt this jump in the gauge. I stubbornly kept to this for many years to come.
Today, I'm back to #3 gauge and I tune my sitar to C! There's a story to this and I will share it with you someday. But I like C. My other sitar is on C#. But I, as a classical and an accompaniment musician, find a need to have a capability to play within a range of B flat to D. So the strings I use will give you this range comfortably.
If you hurt, there goes your sitar practice! So watch out for this. It's better to get a little less accoustic volume and retain your interest in practice than to be stubborn and play the sitar with the harder gauges. Sometimes, if the action of the strings is unreasonably high, a slinkier string will still give you a decent practice whereas a thicker gauge string will be impossible to handle. I have been there. My own sitar has gone through some extensive re-working so that today the action is perfect. I have written about this issue in a previous lesson so I won't repeat it here. Enough said. Let me show you these gauges and metal compositions for the strings I prefer.
Ashwin Batish Classical and Raga Rock Style - Sitar String Gauges for the key of DThe strings I use are as follows:
(a high quality tone generater is recommended. We are presently selling the Seiko brand tuner and find it to be probably the best one you can use for this purpose)
Learn to play the sitar at home!Ashwin Batish teaches sitar by video. Two videos are now ready. Each is about an hour long. The first is titled "Introduction to Sitar" the second is titled "Begining Sitar Exercises." More tutor videos are on the way. Click here for more info