The electric sitar is often considered a novelty instrument that’s useful only for corny Indian music simulations, but songs like Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” and Van Halen’s “Primary” prove it can be a very inspiring alternative to the usual six-string solution. The reason more guitarists haven’t explored the sonic possibilities of the electric sitar is that original Sixties examples are rare and expensive, and newer reissues cost more than most guitarists want to pay for something that probably won’t be their main ax.
Enter Danelectro’s Baby Sitar, which is based on the Danelectro Sitar from the late Sixties, which the company offered as a lower-cost alternative to the Vinnie Bell Coral Sitar.
The Baby Sitar is almost identical to the 1967-69 version, with the same round, gourd-shaped body, single lipstick-tube pickup and “thermometer”-shape headstock. It also lacks the sympathetic strings found on the Coral sitar (which don’t really work as true sympathetic strings) and has a “buzz” bridge (now made by Gotoh), which is the source of the buzzing, sitar-like sound. However, this version also lacks the aluminum leg rest that supports the instrument when it’s played in a sitting position. Controls consist of volume and tone, and the neck has a 25-inch scale and 21 frets.
The compact body shape may make the Baby Sitar “junior” sized, but the instrument is really a full-size guitar. It has six strings and is played just like a regular guitar, although for authentic sitar effects players may need to work on their string bending techniques and study a few exotic scales. The buzz bridge makes the attack more percussive and notes don’t sustain very long, but that’s the nature of sitar-like tone. With distortion and some effects, the Baby Sitar stimulates exploration of new sounds that go well beyond Ravi Shankar territory.
STREET PRICE: $499
MANUFACTURER: Danelectro, danelectro.com
THE BOTTOM LINE
Whether you want to simulate authentic sitar tones or stimulate exploration of an entirely new tonal territory, the Danelectro Baby Sitar provides an affordable ticket to an exotic wonderland.
Here are two videos of Guitar World's Damian Fanelli playing the Beatles' "Love You To" on his Danelectro Baby Sitar—first alone (just the intro), then with his band, the Blue Meanies (the full song). Enjoy!