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How to do Sitar and Tamboura Jawari

By Brian Godden
Condensed excerpts from his book: Indian Instrument Repair and
All photographs, diagrams, and repair explanations are from works in progress, and are
© Brian Godden 1/1 /2000.© Brian Godden 1/1 /2000. Any reproduction in any media without
permission is strictly forbidden.

Jawari repair is a delicate procedure. I have been doing it for 30 years, and it took the first 10 of those years to learn
to do it right. I studied jawari in India in 1970 - 71 with many sitar makers including Rikhi Ram, Kanai Lal, and
with the late Hemangshu Roy. The subtle curves and tonal qualities of jawari cannot be described with words: it is a
fine art. An apprenticeship with a teacher, an understanding of the physics of sound, a comprehensive knowledge of
Indian music, and the tool skills of a dental surgeon are all required.
The tools required are: mill bastard files, razor saws .013” and .020” .025”, junior hacksaw, and regular hacksaw
blades, and a very sharp 1” wood chisel.
Other items include #0000 steel wool, and various grades of sandpaper. You will also need some instrument quality
alcohol based shellac for attaching the bridges to the sitar face.
It is impossible to describe all the techniques for these repairs, so I will only give outlines of the procedures.
Tambour jawari is less complicated than sitar, but the procedures are the same. The sitar sympathetic bridge usually
just needs the original shape replaced using the same procedures detailed below.

Jawari Styles
There are three main styles of sitarjawari which can be heard in the playing of the following sitarists:
Open jawari (Khola)--Ravi Shankar. Medium jawari—Nikhil Banerjee. Closed jawari (Bhand)--Vilayat Khan.
The surface curves in the diagrams below are exaggerated by about 50% so the differences can be seen.
Open Jawari (sometimes called soft jawari) has the longest vibrating area and the most buzzy tone. It has less
volume and the lowest action height.

Medium Jawari has a less jawari surface and has a clearer tone and more volume.

Hard Jawari has the smallest jawari area and the cleanest sound. It sounds more guitar like, and has the highest
action height.
The vibration of the sitar strings wears grooves in the jawari area. This causes the sound to deteriorate and the pitch
to become ambiguous. It is then time to do Jawari.
First we examine the surface of the bridge to determine how deep the grooves are, and inspect the feet of the bridge
to make sure they are properly shaped, and that the four corners of each foot are touching the face of the sitar. If all
corners of each foot are not touching the face, then this must be fixed before we start the resurfacing of the jawari.
The feet have compound curves: back to front, side to side. The only proper way to shape these is by careful filing,
although it can also be done by placing sandpaper on the surface of the sitar, then moving the bridge from side to
side. This second method, however, is not really precise enough.
The resurfacing of the bridge starts by filing across the bridge back near the string slots, and cutting down to the
same depth as the worn grooves in the front of the bridge. The idea is to replace the shape of the original jawari. As
you file, move slowly forward toward the front of the bridge, filing away material equally until you arrive at the
front of the bridge and the grooves disappear (easier said than done).
Next, deepen the string guide slots, using the correct blades for each slot. The trench, which travels across the bridge
and separates, the jawari surface from the string guide slots may need to be deepened. This is done with a hacksaw.
The fine adjustment of the jawari of each string is done with the chisel. It is usually the lower strings that require the
most adjustment. Holding the chisel perpendicular to the bridge, with the blade running the same direction as the
strings, you scrape side to side to correct the curve for the lower strings, until there is the correct growl and no
rattling (easier said than done again!).
There are many pitfalls in this procedure, as each of the bronze strings has a different tensile strength, and resists
being bent to a curve. The strings must contact the bridge correctly, without any gaps under the string. The thicker
the string the flatter the curve. The down pressure of the string must be toward the front of the bridge, and the string
guide slot must be on the same plane as the curve, or the string will be thrown off line and won’t sit flat down on the
bridge. This is a very complex procedure and difficult in the extreme.
The main playing string (MA) must have the correct tone unfretted, and maintain the same tone all the way up the
frets. This requires that the front edge of the bridge have a changing shape those forms a reducing jawari area as the
pitch gets higher. Be sure not to create any flat spots as these can make buzzy notes.
I am in the process of making a series of videos of the repairs for all Indian musical instruments. I will be selling
these videos on this web site.
I wish you luck attempting your own jawari, but I take no responsibility for damage caused by attempting to use
these procedures. If you want us to do your jawari in our workshop, you can ship your sitar to us at the address
below. Please phone to make arrangements before shipping your sitar to us, as we don’t accept unauthorized
Brian Godden.
All photographs, diagrams, and repair explanations are from works in progress, and are COPYRITE PROTECTED.
© Brian Godden 1/1 /0000. Any reproduction in any media without permission is strictly forbidden.

Silver Bush World Music

195 Ezra Avenue Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Email <>
Mail Order phone/fax: (707) 579-8432 or: (800) 383-8254
Thomas Marcotty

About this tutorial:
This is intended for people who need to work on the jawari of their sitars and need intelligent methods and
directions about exactly how to do this.
Forward by Manfred Junius:
From time to time the bridge of the Sitar has to be cleaned and its surface has to be brought back to its proper shape.
The sound quality of a Sitar depends much on the quality of the Javari. The following paper by Thomas Marcotty
explains how a Javari is made. The author has studied the secrets of instrument making in India with well-known
masters, and as a result of this his own instrument is always in perfect condition. The Western Sitarist can really
profit from the knowledge of Thomas Marcotty and his valuable paper.

Djovari: Giving Life to the Sitar by Thomas Marcotty

Indian stringed instruments like Sitar require a certain amount of maintenance to preserve their tonal qualities. In
particular, the bridge must be reground from time to time. In India specialists operating mainly in Calcutta do this
work. As the normal Western Sitarist cannot travel to Calcutta to have his bridge redone, the following article
provides some basic knowledge about bridge grinding so that the Westerner will be able to help himself.
The normal Sitar bridge looks like a little bench carved from softwood and covered by a white plate. Normally this
plate is made of camel bone or stag horn, but sometimes also of ivory or metal. The strings of a Sitar - and this are
the point to note-vibrate on a slightly curved surface. These curves, which are filed (or scraped with a chisel - ed.)
into the surface of the bridge, lead to the effect that the wires, when swinging upwards, are lengthened, and
shortened again when swinging downwards.

This slight change in string angle and compensating curve produces sounds enriched
with the over tones characteristic of Indian lutes. However, the pressure and the movement of the vibrating strings
will spoil the surface of the bridge after a certain time. The wires will dig their traces. The delicate curves of the
bridge will be ruined and the instrument will consequently loose its overtones. This can lead to even the finest Sitar
sounding like a very cheap occidental guitar.
The procedure necessary to revive the overtones is called “Djovari” in Hindi, which means, “giving life”. The
following description of the Djovari is given under the assumption that the bridge has been completely ruined and
must be replaced by a new one. This way the Djovari procedure can be demonstrated step by step.
When picking a new bridge the Sitarist should choose one provided with a thick surface plate able to stand the
Djovari several times. It remains a question of personal taste as to the material of which the surface plate should be
made. Ivory and stag horn produce a rather round and romantic sound. But the softness of these materials results in
only a short life of the bridge. Camel bone, and of course metal are of greater longevity, but these materials tend to
produce the sharper and rather twanging sound heard in the Carnatic music of Southern India.
1. To start the Djovari, the surface of the bridge must be carefully flattened. The best way is to pin or glue a sheet
of sandpaper on an even table, and to rub the bridge slowly to and fro. For control one should cover the surface
with thick pencil lines. When these lines have disappeared the bridge will be flat.
2. The Sitarist should now saw the large slot in the bridge. This slot must divide the musically operative part of the
surface from the little wall which will afterwards hold the strings. The exact depth and width of the slot are of
no particular importance, but it is advisable to stay close to the following measurements: Depth = 2 mm, width
= 0,5 mm, distance from the edge = not less than 3 mm to make sure that the wall holding the strings will not
split away too easily under the pressure of the wires. Skilled instrument makers simply fix the raw bridge in a
vice and saw the large slot with a relatively heavy saw blade. As this procedure requires some experience the
beginner is advised to make use of a very thin rectangular file.

3. Shaping the surface of a bridge is a rather simple task, but to achieve a satisfying
result the Sitarist should apply some methods of control. At this point of the operation it is therefore necessary
to divide the surface of the bridge into sixteen squares with a pencil.

This should be done with the greatest care and, if these lines should fade during work, they must be renewed at
4. The Sitarist should now provide himself with a larger rectangular file (4 to 5 mm thick, 15 mm wide, 150 to 200
mm long) in order to shape the squares 13, 14, 15 and 16 in a flat and even circular curve as shown in the
following figure.

The object of this operation is to spread the pressure of the strings evenly over this quarter of the surface, so that
the wires may properly communicate their frequencies to the bridge, and then from the bridge to the wooden
plate of the Sitar. The curve must start at the line dividing the squares 9 to 12 from the squares 13 to 16 and it
should end about 1,5 mm below the surface of the bridge (or 0,5 mm above the bottom of the large slot).
5. Next it is necessary to saw the small slots intended to hold the strings. The following picture shows the
distances from string to string for a Sitar with six wires (Vilayat Khan style) and also for an instrument with
seven wires (traditional style).
The slots for the thicker strings can be made with a normal small saw, and those for very thin strings can be
made with a knife whose edge has been blunted with a stone or a rough file. Please take care that the slots are
sawn deeply enough so that the strings touch the surface of the bridge along their whole length with even
pressure. Also beware of sawing into the now curved surface.
6. New bridges usually have longer legs than necessary. The consequence is that the distance between the strings
and the frets are also too great, the result being that the Sitarist could not play his instrument at the appropriate
speed. Therefore the legs must be shortened so that the distance between the highest fret and the first wire is
provisionally reduced to 10 mm.

To determine the correct length of the legs, the first wire (melody string) should be strung so that the Sitarist can
measure with a millimeter ruler how much he has to saw away from the legs. Should the legs be too short they
must be lengthened by gluing little pieces of softwood under their feet.
7. Once the bridge is cut to its provisional height the Sitarist should adjust the feet so that the bridge stands at the
correct angle.
This is done by stringing the first wire again and by filing the feet in such a way that the string firmly touches
the squares 3, 7 and 11 (fig. 3). The correct position is obtained when the string, touched lightly, produces a dull
sound, but a harsh and twanging sound when pulled strongly. During this operation the height of the bridge will
be diminished from 10 to approximately 9 mm measured again between the highest fret and the melody string
(see fig. 7).
8. The wooden plate covering the main gourd of the Sitar is slightly curved. Consequently the bridge cannot stand
firmly and will rock. To avoid this the feet of the bridge must now be filed in a transversal form.

After this the feet must be hollowed out a little so that the bridge will stand firmly on its four corners and an
optimal transmission
of the frequencies from the strings to the wooden plate is secured. By adjusting the
feet in the described manner the bridge will come down to its final height, being around 8 mm, measured
between the highest fret and the melody string (see fig. 7).
9. One should now shape the squares 1, 2, 3 and 4. This is the part chiefly responsible for the final sound of the
Sitar: As already mentioned in the beginning, the strings of a Sitar must vibrate on a curve in order to produce a
distinct sound enriched with overtones. But this time the curve to be shaped is not part of a circle. It is a curve
called a parabola.

To understand this one must bear in mind that the strings, when pressed down on
the different frets, reach the bridge also at different angles. If for example the deep P (Western G, if the Sitar is
tuned to C) is played on the first string, the angle formed by the wire on the edge of the bridge is very small,
because of the large swinging length of the string pressed down to the P fret. But when we play up the scale this
angle becomes larger and larger due to the graduated reduction of the swinging length.
We are, therefore, faced with the problem of designing a curve that will fulfil the
following conditions. First: The surface of the bridge must be shaped in such a way that the arriving string is
allowed to touch the surface at the smallest possible angle because only then can the wire vibrate on a
(theoretically) transversal plane, producing the typical Sitar overtones. Second: As this smallest possible angle
varies from fret to fret, the curve must be more round the higher we play the Sitar scale upwards. Frankly
speaking, the required curve-the parabola-cannot be ground by following theoretical ideas as outlined above.
Practically the Sitarist must say a little prayer and pin or glue again a sheet of fine-grain sandpaper on an even
table. He will now try to grind the squares I to 4 (see fig. 3) in a curve as parabolic as possible, by moving the
edge of the bridge gently over the sandpaper.

The bridge should be curved down about one millimeter by this time. The delicate
operation can only be done with great care. The Sitarist should, therefore, cover the squares 1 to 4 (see fig. 3)
with pencil lines again so that he can observe exactly where the sandpaper has worked and where not.
10. Once the parabolic curve has been ground the Sitarist should string the instrument and test it. To his despair he
will discover that some wires are singing properly and others not. Usually the second, sixth and seventh strings
are in order. But the third, fourth and sometimes also the fifth string produce only a dry and unsatisfying sound.
The first string, at that stage of the Djovari, gives satisfying results only in the lower frequency range-fret 1 to 5
approximately. This is due to the fact that the strings are suspended in varying levels at the upper end of the

To correct this the Sitarist must refine the parabolic curve, adapting it to the special conditions of each string.
This is done by carefully prolonging the parabolic curve into the (so far untouched) squares 5 and 6 (see fig. 3).
For this purpose the respective wire is removed from the instrument, and a few very light strokes with a small
file, directed in between the remaining wires, will do the job.
Please keep in mind that at this stage of the Djovari a mere 1/10 of a millimeter can work wonders.
11. Now a last problem has to be solved: The final adjustment of the first string. Here the parabolic curve,
already sanded (see section 9), will not work sufficiently because this string is played on all frets, and not only
on the lower ones. Therefore, the curve must be refined in such a way that the slope invisibly starts already at
the line dividing square 7 from square 11 (see fig. 3). It may end about 1,5 mm under the original edge of the
bridge (see fig. 11) or about 0,5 mm under the edge of the already ground parabolic curve. To demonstrate this
the final surface of the bridge is designed here in the geographer’s manner, making the hills and the valleys on a
map visible by the help of lines.

The revised curve for the first string is worked out properly when the string gives
an equally strong and colourful tone on every fret.
12. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to shape really fine curves even at a second try. To achieve a good result
the Sitarist should, therefore, control each string and its curve again and again,
• Either by blackening the string with a pencil or with ink (which must be completely dry before it is brought
in contact with the bridge) so that he can clearly observe where, and where not, the string touches the
• Or by removing the strings and then rubbing the surface of the bridge lightly with fine sandpaper. The
strings - strung again- will now leave shining marks on the rubbed surface. These marks clearly make
visible whether there are undesired unevenness in the respective curve muffling the sound in certain
frequency ranges.
13. Once this time-consuming job is done the Sitarist should take a soft black pencil and cover the bridge with a
triangular layer of graphite underneath the first string:
The graphite serves as a very efficient lubricant which can double the life of the bridge. Usually is not worth-
while lubricating the other strings, because they are not pulled sideways as frequently and therefore will not eat
away the bridge as fast as the melody string.

14. With the experience he has now acquired the Sitarist will not meet any problems when preparing the small
bridge designed to hold the sympathetic strings. The procedure is quite similar: First, the small bridge must be
flattened. Second: The surface should be divided by pencil lines for the purpose of control.

After this the squares 10, 11 and 12, and the squares 1, 2 and 3 have to be rounded in a very slight curve. No
tricky parabola is required here because the sympathetic strings are not pressed down on any frets. There is only
one point to be observed: The long (deep) sympathetic strings arrive almost horizontally at the bridge, but the
higher ones reach the bridge at a steeper angle due to their shortness.

For this reason the small bridge should have a little slope as shown in the following

Nevertheless it may happen that the sympathetic strings do not work properly in the
beginning. In that case the Sitarist should be patient: Sympathetic strings sometimes need a little time to learn
their duty. If they still remain mute even after some hours of intensive playing they should be re-inspected
following the methods described in section 12.
A Western Sitarist must not forget that performing the Djovari procedure is a relatively well-paid profession in
India. If he is not successful at once he would be advised to develop some Eastern virtues, namely patience, a
spirit of surrender and the feeling that time is not a limited quantity but an infinite quality: The perfect Djovari
is virtually a never-ending business.

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