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There are many patterns of sitar, and not only the tuning and stringing but even the number of strings varies from player to player.


The word sitar means three strings, reflecting the instrument's ancestry, and reflected in the use of the top three playing strings for playing the melody. But in modern playing, the melody is mostly carried on the first string.


The tuning is in just intonation. There are 20 movable frets (occasionally 19), and tuning involves setting the fret positions as well as the string tensions. The intonation is an important part of the sound of the sitar.


Also important is the unusual bridge design. While most stringed instrument bridges are designed to minimise buzzing, the bridge of the playing strings of the sitar is designed to enhance string buzz. This produces a clipped waveform rich in harmonics, which enhances the resonance of the sympathetic strings.


There are from 18 to 23 strings in all, in two groups:


  • Six or seven playing strings above the frets, most commonly seven. These strings can all be plucked and fretted. They are further divided into melody strings, the first three playing strings which are the ones most often played, and three or four drones (chikari strings) which are playable but in practice are only played unfretted by a strumming technique.


  • Eleven to sixteen sympathetic strings (tarab strings) which lie beneath the frets, and can neither be plucked nor fretted. Eleven and thirteen are the most common numbers; Sitars from around Mumbai and Delhi for example tend to have eleven sympathetic strings, while those from Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal have thirteen.


The tuning pegs for the playing strings are those on or closest to the head, and are  larger then those for the sympathetic strings. Fine tuning of the more important playing strings is achieved using tuning beads between the bridge and tailpiece.


Scale length


Only the first four or five playing strings run the full length of the neck, the remaining two playing strings pass not over the head nut but instead over a single-string nut called a mogara post and thence to their tuning peg. The sympathetic strings are also shorter than the full scale length and are of varying lengths.


The full-length strings are about 88cm, a little over 34.5 inches, in scale length.


All tunings on this page are for the open strings, without making allowance for their length. While the two shorter drones may in theory be fretted, in practice this never occurs, so their pitches if fretted are irrelevant.




There is no standard tuning. The tuning depends not only on the type of Sitar but also on the player and the piece. Both playing and resonant strings may be retuned between pieces.


Student tuning depends upon the teacher, who may give different tunings to different students, tailored to their needs at the time. Some start their students on instruments with playing strings only.


Westerners often start on a C tuning based on Ravi Shankar:

Seven playing strings:

  • c ' ' - c ' - g - C - G - c - f

Eleven sympathetic strings:

  • c ' ' - b' - a ' - g ' - f ' - e ' - e ' - d ' - c ' - b - c '


This C tuning for the seven playing strings is also quoted for all four sitars held at the Tokyo National University.


Common tunings range from B tunings up to D tunings.


Ravi Shankar

Teacher of George Harrison and many other western rock musicians, Shankar did much to popularise the sitar outside of the subcontinent.


C# tuning

Seven playing strings:

  • c# ' ' - c# ' - g# - C# - G# - c# - f #

Eleven sympathetic strings:

  • c# ' ' - c' ' - a# ' - g# ' - f # ' - f ' - f ' - d# ' - c# ' - c' - c# '


( From:


http://www.buckinghammusic.com/sitar/sittut/lgsitar.html )


Ashwin Batish

Teacher and author of instruction videos of both stringed and percussion instruments.


Sympathetic string tuning for the Bilaval raga:

  • c' - c' - b - c' - d' - e' - f ' - g' - a' - b' - c' '


Sympathetic string tuning for the Bhoopali raga:

  • c' - c' - a - c' - d' - e' - g' - a' - b' - c' ' - d' '


String gauges

La Bella ST30 set:

Seven playing strings #1-.014, #2-.014w, #3-.022w, #4-.028w, #5-.009, #6-.009, #7-.009

Eleven sympathetic strings each .008


Electric sitar

The term electric sitar has been applied to two different instruments:


  • In Indian music, an electric sitar is based on the traditional sitar, with the same scale, stringing and tunings but with an electric pickup and possibly without the gourds used as resonators.


  • In Western music, an electric sitar is a solid-body instrument with the neck, stringings and tuning of an electric guitar, but with a sitar bridge to produce a buzzing effect, and possibly with up to twelve short resonant strings. Most significantly, the frets are fixed and in equal temperament. A particularly famous electric sitar of this pattern is the Coral Sitar, but there are many makers.


External links


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