Realistic sitar emulation and versatile expressive control
By Buddy Lane, Contributor, Harmony Central
Despite being one of the world’s major pedal manufacturers, Electro-Harmonix maintains a boutique attitude when it comes to innovative and off-the-wall pedals. A perfect example is their Ravish Sitar. Rumor has it a Swami in India told Electro-Harmonix guru Mike Matthews that George Harrison had a message from “the beyond.” Apparently, the quiet Beatle wanted more people to play the sitar. Learning this complex instrument requires more time than most of us have, so Matthews charged electronic designer extraordinaire David Cockerell with inventing a pedal that guitarists could use to emulate the sitar sound.
Cockerell and other EHX engineers worked long and hard to realize Harrison’s—er, Matthews’ dream. The resulting pedal goes far beyond the emulation of Ravi Shankar’s soundtrack to the ’60s, beyond the Coral Sitar riffs of Stevie Wonder’s “Sign, Sealed, and Delivered,” or the Boxtops’ “Cry Like a Baby,” and delivers a treasure trove of exotica in a box.
Dahling, it’s ravish-ing
The Ravish Sitar pedal comes in the same rugged casing and programmable configuration as EHX’s popular Cathedral, POG2, and Ring Thing. The silk-screening deserves special mention: the Ravish Sitar font, the Taj Mahal–like image, and the little design flourishes set you up for exotic Eastern sounds before you even plug in.
This pedal offers not only the famous Indian instrument’s solo tones, but also the sound of a sitar’s sympathetic strings, all adjusted with six controls across the top. Let’s go through them briefly, as they’re key to creating an authentic sound.
Dry Level blends the volume of the dry signal with the effects. I found that adding a dry signal did not diminish the effect, but rather added some body to it, as well as providing tonal variation when I changed guitar pickups. Lead Level and Sympathetic Level control the amount of lead and sympathetic sitar signal present at the main output, helping me achieve unity gain with the bypass setting, and to adjust the balance of the two effects.
The Lead and Sympathetic Timbre controls are similar to tone controls: brighter settings bring out the sitar-like buzz, while darker settings offer a wide variety of less Indian and more flute- or synth-like sounds.
The white Mode/Preset encoder has different functions. In Preset mode, it scrolls through presets. Pressing and holding the knob saves a preset, while pressing and quickly releasing toggles through Preset, Key, Decay, Modulation, Pitch Bend, and Q modes.
In Preset mode, stepping on the left footswitch will send you through the ten presets and a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) slot where the sound reflects the current state of the knobs.
Key mode lets you set the key of the sympathetic drone to any of the 12 key roots of the Western scale; within those keys you get your choice of Major, Minor, or Exotic tunings. Holding down the Preset footswitch in Key mode lets you play up to 17 individual notes on your guitar to create your own custom drone scale.
Having gone to the trouble of creating a 17-note custom sympathetic scale, I might decide I want the same scale in another key or even a quartertone up (say, to tune it to a harmonium). This is as easy as holding down the Preset footswitch in Key mode, playing just the root note of the desired key, and hitting the footswitch again—Ravish transposes the entire scale instantly. Slick!
Decay sets the decay of the lead sound. Adjusting this setting in relation to the Q amount let me dial in the difference between “Sign, Sealed, and Delivered” and “Cry Like a Baby” tones.
Sitarists are often accompanied by the constant drone of a tanpura (or tambura) player. I could emulate this effect with the Ravish Sitar by freezing the sympathetic drone strings, either by holding down the Preset footswitch or using an expression pedal (not included). This afforded hours of enjoyment while I whipped off all my best fake Indian scales against this lush backdrop. A second expression pedal input allowed me to shift the lead pitch anywhere from a half step to a full octave up. I found the smaller increments a great way to add further exotic character to lead lines.
In Mod mode the Ravish adjusts the modulation effect on the sympathetic strings, increasing the authenticity of the tanpura tone. The Ravish pedal has a dedicated Sympathetic output as well, allowing you to separate the sympathetic string emulation from the Main output signal, and route it to a different destination. This opens a whole world of individual processing, such as applying lush delays and reverbs solely on the sympathetic “strings,” while having distortion only on the lead lines.
It would be a mistake to think the Ravish Sitar is only for fans of ’60s psychedelia or Bollywood movies (though both are currently very popular). Messing with the Timbre, Decay, Q, Pitch shift, and Modulation of the Lead and Sympathetic outputs, I was able to create a wide variety of modern exotic sounds that had little to do with Indian music. As with all EHX effects, the Ravish Sitar is capable of a range of creative sounds perhaps not imagined by its designers.
For an uncannily realistic sitar sound with expressive control over drone sounds, check out the remarkable Ravish Sitar from Electro-Harmonix. Order today from Musician’s Friend and get our 45-Day Total Satisfaction and Lowest Price Guarantees.