I just saw a picture of a sitar (an Indian stringed instrument) with pegs throughout its neck. I searched a few websites, but I couldn't understand them well.

Can you please explain to me about these pegs? How do they work? Are they attached to strings?

enter image description here

2 Answers 2

  1. The inside of the neck is empty. Each peg goes in and out through two holes on opposite sides of the neck and is held in place by friction.

  2. In the middle of the "fretboard" (below the frets) are little holes from where the sympathetic strings go into the neck and around the tuning peg. The little holes in the fretboard are lined with a bone ring, so the strings don't touch the wood and can play freely.

  3. The sitar has two bridges, a high one for the main playable strings, and a second smaller one below the high one for the sympathetic strings. The latter go from the small bridge on one side to the small holes in the fretboard on the other side.

  4. The sympathetic strings are all the same gauge, and their different lengths allows them to be tuned in the desired scale and still have more or less the same tension.

  5. These strings run BELOW the frets and resonate when the main string is played. Sometimes players also play all the sympathetic strings directly, with a single motion, using the little finger just in front of the bridge. This sounds like when you run a finger all over the piano keyboard from right to left (high to low). Many sitar players maintain a long nail on their right hand's little finger just for this purpose, while all other nails are kept short. That long nail is also useful to play individual sympathetic strings when you tune them.

  6. Tuning those strings takes some practice but if the pegs and the holes are well matched, and you learn how much force to apply, and when to stop turning, then it works quite well. Note that you typically have to retune those strings before each new piece you play, to fit the raga (scale) of the next piece. (Usually only a few strings have to be retuned, e.g. the thirds, to fit the new scale, but at the same time the player will also check all the other strings so they are all well tuned)

  7. The frets above are kept in place by a tight string that goes around the back of neck. This allows you to move the frets to fit the raga (scale) you want to play. For example, there is only one fret in the position of the minor and major 3rd, so you can move the fret to have either a minor or major 3rd in the scale.(*) The peg holes are placed strategically in between the places where the frets will be tied (because otherwise you cannot move the fret string over a peg)

  8. The material for the bridges and the rings around the sympathetic strings is often deer horn, sometimes perhaps other hard animal bone.

  9. There can be up to a dozen sympathetic strings, and they will be tuned to the scale you want to use, with a few extra notes above and below. For example, if you're playing a C major scale, the strings may be tuned like this (Low to high): C B C D E F G A B C D C

(*) Q: But what if sometimes I want to play a note that doesn't have the fret? A: You use the previous fret and pull the string sideways, just like bending strings on a guitar. It's common on the sitar to bend notes up to a fourth or a fifth above the pitch of the fret.

P.S. I lived a few years in India and I had a few professional sitars custom made, including two experimental ones, made entirely in wood and using guitar tuning pegs instead of the traditional ones. Unlike many other instruments that get better with age, the pumpkin gradually loses strength and brightness as it ages. Sitars are awesome and there is a world of enjoyment awaiting if you go into it even only half seriously...


Yes, they are for tuning strings that are not directly played. These additional strings are sympathetic resonators. They vibrate in resonance with the primary strings and add to the sound.

The pegs don’t use gears, their stability comes from friction between the peg itself and the hole. Essentially the same as violin pegs.

  • 2
    I'd just add that unlike the violin, the strings do not go over a nut and then to the pegs, but rather go through holes into the hollow neck, where they are wound around the pegs. Nov 12, 2021 at 15:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.