by Craig Anderton
A good magician makes you think “Hey, that’s cool!” A really good magician makes you wonder how the heck they did that. Well, Ravish Sitar is a really good magician, because I really have no clue how they pulled this off—but it’s a remarkably clever processor.
Let's start with a little background. First, I actually know how to play classical Indian sitar. I had a friend named Bipin Desai who came from a prominent musical family, and his parents were devastated when he decided to forego carrying on the family tradition and become an engineer (you gotta love it...musician parents wondering where they went wrong because their kid became an engineer). But he played sitar extremely well, and taught me how to play because I just loved that sound. Well, this came in very handy during the 60s, when I actually played sitar on stage...so yes, I know what sitars sound like.
Second, I was one of the first people to play a Coral sitar, which of course lives on as an emulation in the Line 6 Variax. Because I played sitar on stage and the factory was close by, they brought one over to see what I thought. Well, it fed back insanely, and was totally unusable for me on stage...still, the concept was pretty cool. But Ravish Sitar is cooler, because it not only adds the sitar effect to any guitar, but does so in a grander, more impressionistic way that takes the sound into a more electronic dimension. Furthermore, what it can do with bass is novel, to say the least; although it can do sitar-like sounds, it's possible to tweak the combination of filtering, highly controlled distortion, and sympathetic strings to get sounds that range from a dark, reverby ambience to "growls" that wouldn't be out of place in a punk band.
If you'd like a brief overview before proceeding, the following "HC Quick Take" video gives you the essentials in about a minute.
This is a pretty ambitious effect. It no only emulates the sitar sound, making that available at the main output, but also emulates the sympathetic strings that are responsible for the sitar’s hypnotic background drone. There’s a separate jack for the sympathetic strings (Fig. 1); plug into this to derive a separate output (otherwise, the sympathetic string sound mixes with the main out).
Fig. 1: There are separate outputs for the Main Out and Sympathetic string output.
Three level controls (Fig. 2) let you mix the dry, sitar lead, and sympathetic strings.
Fig. 2: The three level mixing controls.
Two additional controls (Fig. 3) alter timbre for the lead and sympathetic sections.
Fig. 3: The Lead and Sympathetic string audio have separate timbre controls.
Also, there are two expression pedal inputs (Fig. 4). One controls the sympathetic string drone; when you push forward on the pedal, it not only raises the level but initiates a freeze function that keeps the drone, well, droning. The pitch jack allows bending pitch upward, and you can program the maximum interval in semitones, to a maximum of one octave (my personal favorite).
Fig. 4: The two jacks for expression pedals are next to the guitar/bass input.
You can’t program Ravish Sitar to compensate for different pedal polarities, so you have to choose one where the TRS plug connects to the wiper. The manual lists several supported expression pedals; I used the Boss EV-500H, which wasn’t listed but worked fine.
The most complex aspect is the drone programming. Although you can just use the presets, it’s also possible to create up to 17-note drones, including microtones (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5: Ravish Sitar has deep programming options.
Far from being a one-trick pony, Ravish Sitar offers interesting tonal tweaking options including decay, modulation (which has a vaguely filtered sound, like what you hear from tamburas), and filter resonance. When combined with the two timbre controls, there’s really quite a bit of variation—from a darker, almost “reverby” sound to a more biting, fuzz-type timbre.
In fact, it takes a little bit of work to get a “pure” sitar sound,. Of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like a sitar,which depends on a mechanical process to get its distinctive sound. But, Ravish Sitar does an outstanding job of conveying the sitar’s character.
The following audio example does the traditional sitar sound. This example uses a Gibson Firebird X guitar set for Les Paul emulation, and two different sample libraries—one for the tabla and one for the hip-hop drums. There were two tracks of guitar recorded into Sonar X1; one for the drones and one for the sitar lead.
Audio example of conventional sitar sound with drones and lead
The next example shows off just a taste of what Ravish Sitar can do with bass. This uses a custom BecVar bass (originally made for Chris Squire of Yes, but I ended up with it...long story, but I consider that a happy ending!). This was recorded in Ableton Live, with some drums added so I had a rhythmic reference other than a metronome.
Audio example of Ravish Sitar with electric bass
Now, here’s the really important point: Forget everything I said and everything you’ve read about it—then approach Ravish Sitar not as a sitar emulator, but as an effect. This is without a doubt one of the most creative effects to hit the scene since, well, I’d have to put E-H’s Freeze pedal up there as well. Being fully polyphonic, and dynamically responsive to your playing, there’s a strong synthesizer vibe to Ravish Sitar. It’s easy to pull out dark, ambient, evocative timbres that could slide seamlessly into an Enya album, or crank up the bite and come up with novel lead sounds for pop. (If only these parameters could be step-sequenced, this would be an amazing dance music processor too—but it works in that context even as is). It’s also perfect for chill, as the drones work fabulously for that “51 BPM” sort of vibe, while the lead adds exotic textures with an evolving timbre that works extremely well with downtempo music.
Frankly, it’s even a pretty therapeutic little sucker. Strum for a while, and that droning, thick flow of sympathetic strings can’t help but de-stress you.
There’s a consistent character to all the sounds; it’s difficult to dial up something where you wouldn’t think “Aha! That’s the Ravish Sitar!” But part of that is because nothing else, and I do mean nothing else, sounds like it. And even after playing with it for a while, I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface, and there are other possibilities just waiting to be discovered.
If you like the general sound you hear on demos, you’ll love the Ravish Sitar because once you get one in your hands, you’ll find that whatever you’ve heard really only hints at the possibilities. The word “innovative” is easy to throw around, but in this case, it’s 100\\\% descriptive.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.