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That sitar-like sound!

Amit Newton Doha If you have had the thinnest two strings on your guitar emit a strange jangly sound, but never understood what was causing it, and if you think it's a problem, this one's for you. Believe it or not, some players make actual alterations to the set-up of their instrument to 'achieve' that sound. If you do feel it is a problem, it is a very common one (and not just with acoustic guitars) and is technically referred to as 'the sitar sound', for even though you may be playing a guitar, it almost feels as if you were playing the Indian string instrument sitar. It is problem that would fall into the category of string buzz and can be caused due to a variety of individual factors or a mix of all. We will discuss each of these at some length but first the basics. As we know, strings whatever their gauge is require space to vibrate freely to produce sound. Bigger the gauge (heavier the strings), more is the space required for them to vibrate freely, and vice versa. In the absence of this space, the sound that is produced ranges from that 'sitar sound' to a near muting of the strings. The factors causing this include: improper neck relief, improperly cut nut, saddle, or both, and rusted strings. Improper neck relief Neck relief is the optimum curvature in the neck of the guitar (see diagram) that gives space to the strings to vibrate freely. Too little is bad, as is too much. u9755? Too little relief Strings vibrate the most at the centre of their length (see photograph), or, near the centre of the neck. If there is too little relief (almost a straight neck), the strings may strike the frets while vibrating, hampering sound production (string buzz). u9755? Too much relief Granted that strings vibrate the most at the centre of their length, but that is not to say that they don't vibrate at all at their ends. If there is too much relief (see diagram), the strings, while vibrating, will hit the frets on the extremities of the neck, again causing string buzz. u9755? With a back bow A back bow (sometimes also referred to as reverse relief) is something which is also going to cause problems. Imagine the scenario of little neck relief and multiply it tenfold. The strings are bound to buzz. In all the above cases, a simple adjustment of the truss rod will help get the desired neck relief, improving playability and sound immensely. Improperly cut nut, saddle, or both The nut and the saddle are the two points which determine the vibrating length of the strings. If these two points are damaged, improperly cut too little or too deep strings won't sound the same and may have a variety of intonation and general sound problems. u9755? Nut cut too deep If the string slots on the nut are cut too deep (see photograph), and the strings are seated deep in the nut, string movement while vibrating is hampered, and thus sound production will be hampered. The only way to remedy the problem is to get a new nut and instal it. u9755? Nut cut too little In case the string slots on the nut are insufficiently cut, (see photograph) the hold on the strings is almost non-existent. While this raises action and deals with string buzz, but at the expense of tuning accuracy. To deal with the problem, one needs to take the instrument to a qualified repair technician, who will then cut the slots to the required depths. Ideally, you would want just the width if the string to be sealed in its slot. u9755? The saddle A worn out or broken saddle will naturally affect action (the height of the strings off the fretboard), bringing the strings down and causing string buzz. Putting in a new saddle solves the problem. Rusted strings This is possibly the single biggest cause of that sitar sound. And when I say rusted, I do not mean heavily coated with rust, even the slightest bit of rust can throw the set-up out of sync. As an example, let me say that if you are using .013-.056 inch thick strings and a speck of rust creeps into the thinnest string, the thickness at the rusted spot is likely to go up to .014. Just .001 inches is enough to cause the sitar sound. Change the strings and your instrument will sound wonderful again. Also, it is best to carry on with 'best practices' to clean the guitar strings before and after use, and to play it with clean hands. Strings will still rust, no matter what but your effort will lengthen the life of the strings. This is also why it is recommended that strings be changed at least four times a year, if not more. The more regular players need to change strings every week! Next: Cutting out feedback To comment, compliment or criticise, write in to

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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