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 this music 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. I have decreased the models available to only 1 now as I'm quite satisfied with the makers I have doing their own thing.
What's about tablas? Tabla inventory has been up and down over the years and now I am having them just made to order. 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. I don't normally stock tablas as I don't like to pull straps when they go flat after sitting awhile. With the new ban on rosewood I've found better to make to order when I know what wood is being used.
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 some cases we can have some 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. The archives is mainly for reference only, it's not a lost leader type of thing although it does help a bit with google which makes up for my horrible programming skills!
Where is your store located? We are just outside of Seattle, WA USA. 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 imports of them. It's still possible we'll have a used one here and there but only if I can personally check the structure and fitting and adjust if needed. India Instruments in Germany is still carrying them and Musicians Mall/Bhargava(Ali Akbar store) might have a few. I'll eventually 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 and especially if they're old ones.
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....I tried Ayub again but it just didn't work out although I continue to keep in touch when visiting.
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 and I'm available for repair services if you need it. We occasionally will pick up good local used sitars and refit them but they are few and far between.
You repair instruments? I have been trained in jawari and general repairs in India and also do harmonium tuning and repairs. I also make bridges and other parts for many instruments. For major bodywork I generally recommend Scott Hackleman as he has the facility for such repairs. If you've been into a makers shop in India you'll see they have as setup with tools on the floor, I do it exactly the same way. Except I have a dremel tool of course, thank God!
What about your training DVD's? A big part of Rain City is the production of training materials and our own label for quality music. We now have many titles to help those who have talent but no access to a teacher. They're mainly geared to intermediate/advance player and we hope to produce more of them and in turn promote Indian Classical music. CD production has stopped as no one buys them anymore.
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 unless their fees are unreasonable of course 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 better 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. Naeem Sitarmaker, Mohan Lal, and Swaranjali 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. If you want a direct shipment it's usually advisable that I do it when on my yearly trip to India.
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? 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.
Is the instrument I see on the site the one you have? Some of the time on the more newer listings, 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? Yes, but they don't arrive that way obviously. It doesn't matter either way but one thing that is for sure is that it won't be in tune when it arrives. Happy to help you get going after you receive your instrument. A funny story about 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!! 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 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.
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! Naeems instruments have their 'final fitting' done here by me personally and it's an arrangement that has worked out well.
Can you pick me out a sitar when you're in India? I take regular trips to India 1 month 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 except for materials sometimes for my repair work here. Our instruments 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.
What's the difference in all the tanpura and tabla machines? The machines from Soundlabs and Radel have long been a staple for practicing for many years. They're less popular now due to the many software apps but still a viable alternative since they're so easy to use. Their clocks are very steady unlike some of the software apps which can be glitchy on the timing.
You need to know a few things before buying one though.
1. With heavy use the life of these is just a few years. They offer battery backup along with charge features but we don't recommend using batteries as many of the problems have resulted from using the batteries. As cool as they are it's still basic 80's technology. New revisions are constantly coming out but basically it's a reworking of the same architecture.
2. Radel and Soundlabs are a little different. Radel is generally a little darker sounding, both have their good and weak points. Radel often has more functionality such as tabla fills, etc.
3. The newest combination tabla/tanpura machines are very handy for practice. But with the extra function comes a sacrifice. In this case it's the volume, they're running 2 machines basically through one set of output circuits and speaker. So they're great for regular/lower volume acoustic practice but if you push them they'll get distorted or buzzy in the speakers. Please be aware of this. If you're needing a tanpura or tabla machine for concert type use then you're better off getting the separate machines which can handle louder volume.
4. All our machines are tested extensively in house, we offer 60 day return policy on them. They are never refurbished or drop shipped.
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