The sitar has an instantly recognisable sound:

I've always assumed that the characteristic 'lush background drone' that I associate with the sitar came from its sympathetic strings resonating with the plucked string.

But on Friday night when I went to hear the amazing Lady Maisery at the Cambridge Folk Club their violinist and banjo player, Rowan Rheingans, played one piece on what she called the bansitar, a cross between a banjo and a sitar.

The piece is Nottamun Fair on their first CD, Weave and Spin.

The bansitar Rowan plays is invented and made by her dad, Helmut Rheingans, and I emailed him to find out more. One thing that surprised me was in this comment (my emphasis):

The BanSitar has only 5 strings, no sympathetic strings, as did the original persian sitars (si tar meaning Three strings), the sympathetic strings where a 19th century addition, when steel strings where invented.

So his bansitar does not have sympathetic strings and yet it clearly has the sound I think of as characteristically sitar-like. What gives the sitar its characteristic sound?

  • 1
    There is another question that sounds like it may be a duplicate of mine: What causes this weird sitar-like sound? But it turns out to be about conquering fret-buzz on an electric guitar.
    – dumbledad
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 12:31
  • 1
    Haha! I showed up just in time to ruin your perfect 1000 rep! :) Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 18:10

2 Answers 2


In fact, the whole of Sitar brings up that sound! Seven main components that contribute to the quality of the sound can be identified as follows. To note, there are two bridges, not one, and there are three classes of strings, not two!

(1) Ghodi (the primary bridge): its curves and finish (2) Tumbaa (Pumpkin shells as Resonators): a second resonator at the upper end can enhance the sound, but it makes the sitar a bit heavier to balance (3) Mizrab (Striker) (4) Tarafs (resonating strings, or we can refer to them as tertiary strings) (5) Secondary bridge used for the resonating strings, (6) Primary Strings, and (7) Chikari Strings (Secondary strings), with them the main strings share the main bridge.

The sound quality changes upon variations in these.


Sadly I think this may be a duplicate of the question Altering the sound of a guitar to match a sitar.

But before this question is closed as a duplicate I want to nip in with an answer I just got over email from Helmut

Most people think that the sound is created by the sympathetic strings, but it isn't. It's the bridge, a wide, slightly curved piece of bone upon which the strings bounce off, that is responsible for the sitar sound. Sympathetic strings merely enhance the sound, add depth and colour, as they do with viola d'amore, nyckelharpa etc.

Wheat's answer to the other question covers both the sympathetic strings and the sitar-like bridge added to guitars to make them sound like sitars, and Kevin's answer even mentions the bansitar.

  • 2
    Playing technique also influences the characteristic sound of a sitar. Indian instrumental technique places high value upon being able to perform the same kinds of ornamentations that are used in their vocal music, specifically bending/microtonal effects.
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 14:54

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.