QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS (or FAQ)
Why should I buy my Indian instrument from you? The web is inundated with Indian instruments and if you are new to Indian instruments you're probably overwhelmed with choices. Further complicating things are that most of them are listed as "Professional", you see them everywhere. Many come from one importer who enlists an army of resellers on ebay and elsewhere, you can tell from the same pictures everywhere. Most have not been fitted properly and will steepen the learning curve for a musician new to this music and the instruments. That is if they work at all.
In the US and Canada there have been only a very few sources for top end instruments and to be honest we are about the last one around. I will and have thrown away even instruments from the best makers rather than pass on a lemon. All makers will have a bad instrument occasionally or something will go wrong, we are committed to giving you the best instruments available in the world along with unmatched customer service before and after your purchase. "Good karma through right action" sums it up, it's the way we live and the way we do business. We rely on word of mouth, don't pay Google to shove our ads in your face and go to great lengths to get instruments that exceed the mediocre standards that pervade the world these days. We know all of our makers on a personal level as well as a business level and have a great respect for their tradition and contribution to the music we all love.
Can I get Srishti sitars in India or elsewhere? They aren't available in India although the person that does our fitting has his own label as well but a different setup for producing the bodies and carving. We regularly switch craftsmen to keep the quality high. Despite any advertisement to the contrary, new Srishti sitars are only available through Rain City Music.
What's about tablas? Tabla inventory has been up and down over the years and for a time was non-existent. So I stopped for awhile, the main reason was inconsistent quality. Anything that didn't meet the grade was thrown out, just like on our other instruments. Combine that with competing with people making them in their backyard (literally!) and just wasn't worth it. Fortunately now we have a solid connection with Vijay Vhatkar who comes from the most famous family of makers. I've spent a little time and a few trips getting to know him, he's serious and as good as his well known brother Haridas Vhatkar in Mumbai. Just what I was looking for! So if you're looking for something great, we have it. We utilize the skills of Tor Dietrichson for final pulling if needed before shipping.
Is the Sitar or instrument I want in stock? The active listings for instruments are regular models that we carry, past models that are no longer available are put in the archives section (see the next listing below about archives). Send us an email and we'll let you know if it's in stock. If it's not in stock then we'll let you know when it's expected. Most of the sitar models I carry are very limited and it seems like either there are too many or not enough! I generally commission a new model once the one in stock is sold, sometimes (like at the moment!) it catches you off guard but there's no rushing things. In the case where a sitar is not in stock but coming soon you can still pre-order it if you want it guaranteed. It's not a perfect way to do things but please understand this is not a mass production business and with only a handful of good makers left it'll have to do. We want you to get a great instrument, this often comes at the sacrifice of immediate gratification unfortunately.
The instrument I WANT is in the archives! In most cases we can have any of the archive instruments listings made for you unless it's a vintage instrument or a one-off, repair, etc. "Sab kuch milega" as they say, you can have anything if it's possible. Feel free to email me about it, there's no obligation at all.
Where is your store located? Our business is mainly internet only, if you wish to come look at a few instruments I'm happy to oblige as long as there's prior communication. The people interested in this music are far and wide and so having low overhead is essential to survive. A low overhead also ensures that we're not pressured to have lower quality instruments just to make ends meet.
Where are the Hiren Roys?! Over the past year we've been running at about a 50% defect rate from Barun and I have had to throw out several instruments. This is not to detract from his abilities, he's a great instrument maker however he relies on others to make his stuctures/bodies and his long time structure maker retired. This along with non-existent quality control has led to our canceling regular imports of them. It's still possible we'll have one here and there but only if it can be inspected before leaving India. I hope to resolve this in the future as much I'm able to do but it's not looking good. India Instruments in Germany is still carrying them and Musicians Mall/Bhargava(Ali Akbar store) might have a few. I'll do a detailed guide soon with details on what to look for including pictures if you're determined to find one. The best way to be sure is to go to India and order one and then come back when it's ready. Do be careful with websites from India claiming to carry them, odds are they're fake.
What's the story on RA Sitarmaker?! We've had them off and on since 2002-ish. Ayub Sitarmaker gained notoriety years ago when he was designing and making sitars for Tony Karasek. And while that venture was short lived, he produced some very nice instruments during that time and caused a sort of resurgence of interest in Miraj made instruments. The side effect of this was that some of the other shops began a race to the bottom as far as prices were concerned. To increase production and ensure a better profit many makers turned to pre-made cheap Kolkata bodies (about $50 cheaper) and you can guess from there. Even now makers come and go in Miraj, but most don't make it as the knowledge of making the structures and especially fitting is limited to only a few people....Ayub stopped exporting (having had enough fun) and mainly makes for the Indian market now using the Kolkata bodies. He has resumed his old style of work now at a very low volume and so we've resumed carrying them! He is and has been a good friend of ours all this time and happy to see what he's doing. Expect 3 or 4 per year from us. This is just a brief overview, look for a detailed article soon on the various makers and areas in India!
Do you have any cheap instruments? With our air shipping only policy it makes no sense to pay $300 to ship a substandard cheap instrument. In the rare case that one of our regular instruments gets damaged then we generally repair them and offer them below cost so that's another option for those looking for a bargain but a rare occurence. If your sole purpose is to get as cheap of an instrument as possible then we probably won't be of much use to you. There are a ton of cheap instruments on the web and you can try your luck I suppose? Please do your research though. We occasionally will pick up good local used sitars and refit them but they are few and far between.
You repair instruments? Most repairs are done through Scott Hackleman who lives nearby. Scott is a master luthier, fully trained by Kartar Chand in India. He's the only person we know of in North America who can make a sitar or tanpura from scratch, carvings, penwork, everything! His information/site is within the Rain City site and feel free to contact him directly or through us. We recommend and advertise him solely for your benefit and convenience and have no financial interest in the repair services offered by him. We occasionally do repairs for customers here who have bought an instrument from us if needed as well but it's limited to basic things like jawari, pickup installations, etc.
What about your new training DVD's? A big part of Rain City is the production of training materials and our own label for quality music. Our first video in the "Performance Sitar" series was filmed last year in India, we hope to work up to several dozen of them. It all depends on our customers liking them, we've set a reasonable price and hope that musicians would purchase them rather than copy from someone. Your support will enable us to produce more of them and in turn promote Indian Classical music.
The music label is to get good artists some exposure and also allow them to have a part of sales. Our artists get 50% of the profit, CD's recorded in the West give a much lower percentage, in India they usually get nothing!! I believe an important part of keeping this music alive is to help artists present their music in a way that benefits them. If it's all about money only then what's the use?
Can I learn Indian Classical music from a DVD? Highly unlikely! However, the DVD's will help you once you have established the basics. I'd recommend a few lessons from a good teacher so you know how to properly approach learning the music, holding the instruments, etc. If you're fortunate enough to live near a good and respected teacher then by all means please support him/them and use the DVD's to supplement your learning.
Why do you mainly air ship your instruments? Several reasons. First is that container (ocean shipping) is very damaging to instruments. Read more here.... With air shipping we basically eliminate long term problems caused by moisture and heat. Occasionally when shipping in the summer you still may get impressions left in the shellac finish depending on where you live. Shellac is very sensitive to heat unfortunately but is the only way the makers finish string instruments. Other methods have been tried but with poor results. I've recently noticed a competitors website that prominently features 'air shipping' on all sitars from Miraj. Ask to see the airbill as I've personally seen the ocean crates with sitars ready to ship in India, we'll show your our airbill anytime you place your order.
Do you ship internationally? . Yes! In many cases, shipping costs are close to the same to you as local US shipping. All Srishti, Radhey Shyam, and Naeem Sitarmaker instruments can be shipped direct to 'known' customers. Generally the same price as shipping in the US with the exception of certain countries like Australia which require fumigation certificates, etc. The 3 day return policy doesn't apply for direct shipments as it's not practical but a full guarantee that it will be proper and undamaged (other than maybe a few packing marks in the shellac) is there. Tabla shipments are the same price to Western Europe as the US. Other zones in former Eastern Europe will vary. Please contact us for details.
I want an instrument from a maker you don't carry. I can sometimes get them but it depends on which maker and I"ll have to order it and check it first which will take some time.
Do you carry Rikhi Ram instruments? I can get them from Sanjay Sharma still on custom order. We had to stop stocking them years ago, they've become incredibly expensive and have to be checked and packed by me in Delhi to avoid any issues. Given that their best sitar will cost about $3500 to get to our place it's just not feasible to carry them given the other makers quality that's out there, some of whom use the same exact structures. I do like the instruments from Sanjay though, he's a great fitter.
Is the instrument I see on the site the one you have? Some of the time, yes but with our regular models often I won't change the pictures. Small variations should be expected but not in a "bait and switch" way, etc. so please don't worry. If the designs or models have a significant change then usually the page is updated or I'll notify you prior to processing your order.
The layout looks different in my Firefox browser? The program used to make some of the website is from Microsoft and so certain elements won't show up as intended in Firefox. Please view the site using Internet Explorer if this is an issue for you and you'll see everything laid out exactly as intended. The website is mainly intended to be functional only, not win awards with its late 90's style, as I've been told. The ordering system is very secure and the information usually up to date but I'm not a great programmer. By the end of the decade perhaps we'll do a makeover once the best format is decided with perhaps a mobile site first.
Do you ship sitars tuned? Usually we detune them, just a matter of habit. It doesn't matter either way but one thing that is for sure is that it won't be in tune when it arrives. When I was helping Bharat of Sitarsetc.com out during his hospital stay, there was actually a customer who wanted to return his sitar because it didn't arrive tuned! How could we say no? It was worth the laughter I assure you....I'm assuming that kind of person is one in a million but thought it worth mentioning for your entertainment.
Should I buy a sitar in India? That depends, it you're going to India and want to try your luck of course you should go for it!! You won't find a Srishti though but there are shops in different cities where you should be able to find a sitar. For premium makers like Hiren Roy it may be difficult as they are usually made to order but in cities like Delhi there are a number of shops. Try the not so famous ones so you don't get ripped off and it's very easy to get a bad deal if you don't have any experience. If you're a real gambler you can try and order online but be aware that the odds are high you won't be happy and could end up with a piece of firewood with strings or a damaged instrument from shipping or both. And ordering via mail/internet from India leaves you no recourse if there are problems, yes they'll tell you "You can send it back, no problem" but the sad fact is that you'll pay up to $700 or more to do so with no guarantee that it'll even arrive. If you have no luck, we're always here....yes it's a little more of course but you know what you're getting at least!! Maybe I've been a little to frank here but it's an honest assessment based on years of experience.
When thinking of ordering online or (God forbid) buying one of the many ebay sitars ask yourself one question: If the quality and service is ok then why are there dealers in the US and Europe? It's simple, things don't always go right, we take the risk and make sure you get a good instrument that's ready to play so you can focus on the music!
Can I do a custom order? Of course you can however the policy now is that all custom orders be paid in full at the time of ordering. No returns. We've had to have this policy due to cancellations, please be sure what you want and we're happy to get it for you. Existing orders prior to this policy change are exempt.
Are Miraj instruments OK? The last decade has seen a lot of changes in Miraj after the popularity of instruments from RA Sitarmaker being chosen by Tony Karasek for his short lived adventure having instruments made for his label in India. Combined with the rise of ebay and the internet the rush was on to make as many instruments as possible and what happened was that the majority of the makers there trended toward importing inferior instruments from Calcutta and Lucknow. At times they weren't even fitted (had a few here that way even that went in the trash!). This in-county outsourcing is still the rule and there aren't as many craftsmen there as there used to be. Rain City Music (that would be me) after 2 years of discussion have teamed up with Naeem Sitarmaker of Bharatiya Tantuvadya Kendra who have an excellent staff of craftsmen still and are committed to keeping the Miraj tradition intact. I visit them yearly and talk with them almost daily and will continue to play my very small part in keeping them inspired and busy!
I noticed an extra bridge on the Srishti Calcutta special sitar? We offer this sitar and others from Srishti (except the standard) in an optional Nikhil Banerjee style. He had one made from Hiren Roy with an extra bridge close to the meru (nut) that he felt improved the intonation of the kharaj SA string. This sitar also had an extra gandhar string, combining the stringing styles of kharaj pancham and gandhar pancham (Vilayat Khan style) sitars. The story I have is that he gave up the extra string shortly after it was made but kept the top bridge. So of course I was asked to have one made and it has been fairly popular. Barun Ray of Hiren Roy graciously gave us the measurements of Pandit Banerjee's sitar resulting in an instrument with a 1 1/2 inch longer neck. This in itself improves the intonation of the kharaj sa string and so while we include a fitted extra bridge, we don't install it unless requested. Barun and his father both never felt it to be necessary and while we agree with them still it's there for those who would like it.
I saw your sitar from Radhey Shyam Sharma on another website? Well it was interesting to find this out for me too especially since the sitar is right here in Bonney Lake, WA next to me. After further research I found out there's business advertising both Radhey Shyam and Mohan Lal Sharma instruments from Varanasi and the owner is a foreigner in Varanasi getting pictures of sitars and listing them as inventory. If an order comes then they try and go get the sitar or one close to it in design but I have been told by both makers that this person has never bought any of their instruments so do be careful. If it's the ebony tun sitar then he won't have it as that was made for us here. We have a long standing relationship with both makers there from whom we regularly commission instruments and Rain City Music is authorized by Radhey Shyam Sharma and Mohan Lal Sharma to carry them. Both these makers nor myself obviously can't prevent enterprising individuals with a laptop and camera from advertising them and there are many proxies in Varanasi willing to help such people. If this is a direction that you as a customer wish to pursue then please do your homework as both of these makers have no control over this and don't want a bad name.
Can you pick me out a sitar when you're in India? I take regular trips to India 2 to 3 times a year but need to clarify on this subject. I don't go there to pick out instruments at all, it's not a shopping trip. They are all commissioned and built to certain specs. There will be a rare occassion where I'll find a nice instrument but it's usually by accident. Once I found a nice Rikhi Ram (new) and just happened to have an inquiry so of course it worked out but generally you won't find the best instruments sitting on a shelf in India whether used or new. My visits are only to check on progress, final fitting or to assist with shipping or just generally have a musically nice time as over the years I've become friends with most of the makers, some of who are very good musicians.
More to come!!
Just remember: "The money you use to buy musical instruments is not like REAL money. It's not the same kind of money you use to pay bills."
Dr. James Stewart ~ Ethnomusicologist