More than 30 years ago, a musician from Quebec City, Canada, came to Auroville with the aim to live there. Today, his name is Nadaka (he refused to tell us what his birth name was), and for the past four years, he has been developing a guitar to play Indian music.
“You don’t decide that ‘today, I’m gonna build an Indian-style guitar’. Modifying an instrument is all about R&D and the practical application of it, which is still going on,” explains Nadaka, who has performed in India, Europe the US with musicians, including Vikku Vinayakaram, Ganesh-Kumaresh and the Basavaraj brothers.
To create his dream guitar — Geet-taar as he calls it — Nadaka worked with a local carpenter whom he trained from scratch to understand the focus of the modifications.
The standard Spanish or steel string acoustic guitars are tuned in a way that do not really work for Indian music. “Even for Western music, standard guitar chords are always a bit out of tune in a way that cannot please a refined ear.
“The first obvious thing is to change your guitar to an open tuning in fifths — Sa Pa Sa Pa Sa Pa — or fourths — Sa Ma Sa Ma Sa Ma — as you will find on most Indian string instruments, the Tanpura being the best example,” explains Nadaka.
Other modifications required woodworking skills, the main one being scalloping the fingerboard — carving the wood out between the frets — that will allow the flexibility to pull the strings freely to play the Gamaka (a classical Indian music term meaning ‘decorative notes’) and other subtle nuances.
Additional Chikari strings, which are two additional open strings played with the right hand only (tuned to Sa and Pa of the upper octave) used to create a great variety of rhythmic patterns. can be good addition for Jhala (fast-paced conclusions of classical compositions), as you may find in the North Indian sarod and sitar or for tanam (marking the Tala) in the South Indian Veena.
“The complex feature of my instrument is a mobile fret system. This gives me more flexibility and the possibility to reach the correct shruti within each raga.”
“Four years ago, I started work on the guitar with a talented local carpenter. The aim was to attain perfection in design and detail, with no compromises in the process. However the cost of making this instrument has been huge and the process at times seemed to take forever. At this point, I cannot even put a value on this unique instrument. Once complete, I will see if a version can be developed for production,” he says.