The Sitar Next Door

My neighbor and good friend Grant was rooting around at a nearby pawnshop yesterday. Being as inveterate an instrument collector as I am, his fate was instantly sealed when he found a sitar sitting therein, and he ended up going home with it.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Abby informed me “Mr. Grant has a weird instrument to show you,” but as one whose favorite Beatles music was written by George Harrison, I was delighted at what Grant’s find turned out to be. Originally intending only to drop by for five minutes and see the thing, I ended up trailing home an hour later after we figured out how to tune it (thanks to the Internet) and played Within You Without You, Yes’ It Can Happen, some improvisation in an eastern idiom, and then moved further afield to Maria and some blues (which worked predictably poorly).

The design of the instrument seems remarkable haphazard, with two resonating chambers, 7 strings that are played directly and are propped up with an odd array of splints and bridges, 11 sympathetic strings that aren’t played directly at all, but only vibrate in response to one’s playing the other strings, adjustable frets, and a little plastic swan that functions as a fine tuner. But even with, or perhaps because of, all that the sound is amazing. The way the string lies on the bridge gives a really interesting buzz to the sound, but the notes last much longer than one expects from one’s experience with a guitar. It’s an absolutely baffling and fascinating instrument; I’m delighted to have one next door!