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Less-than-hip cats and kitties might dismiss the mystic drones and mysterious melodic power of the sitar as synonymous with flower power and Bollywood kitsch. But those in the know—the enlightened so to speak—know this foundation of Indian classical music is an instrument of magnificent emotive power.
Electro Harmonix’s Ravish Sitar pedal may not transform your guitar into a totally authentic-sounding sitar. But it can do many magical and unexpected things that can add an Eastern flavor to your jams as well as lend cool sympathetic-tone ambiance and tone tweaking options in any musical context. Don’t let the Sitar pedal handle mislead you—this thing is a deep bag of tricks and treats.
Bombay the hard Way
The Ravish Sitar (which probably less-than-coincidentally bears a name a little like Ravi Shankar’s) is compact and cool looking in a mint-green 5 7/16" x 4 7/16" box that’s resplendent in subtle paisley and Taj Mahal graphics. And by some sleight of graphic-design hand, the pedal doesn’t look too busy, even though it features six knobs, two footswitches, nine LEDs, and an LCD readout—quite a feat by the EHX design department.
The Ravish is as festooned with knobs and lights as it is because it does a lot. And charging into use of this pedal without consulting the manual is ill-advised for all but the most fearless. But it doesn’t take long to grasp the essence of what this pedal does and move into some more unusual applications of its capabilities.
The first three knobs on the left control levels for the Dry (unaffected signal), the Lead (plucked sitar-string signal, which is a mirror image of the dry signal) and Sympathetic signal, which emulates the sounds of ringing, sympathetic strings on a sitar or tamboura. The two black knobs directly to the right of the level knobs adjust the timbre of the Lead and Sympathetic signals—adding what EHX calls buzz—which most often seems like a bump in the high-mid range. The white knob at the far right of the pedal doubles as a push-switch enabling one to select Key mode, Decay settings for the lead voice, and Modulation rate for the sympathetic strings. From the Modulation mode you can also select the voice of the Lead and Sympathetic tones in a range from sharp and synthetic, to more natural. Apart from the Bypass footswitch, there’s also a footswitch that enables you to select presets or hold the sympathetic strings in a drone, over which you can solo or play melodies.
The Key mode itself enables you to tailor the tone for a given tone by selecting the scale that makes up the sympathetic tone. And the four LEDs, just below the LCD readout (which displays the root note), show if you’ve dialed up a sharp of the raised root, or a major, minor, or exotic scale, which is based on the Hindustani Bhairava scale—essentially a major scale with a flat second and flat sixth.
Raga in a Box…and Beyond
The Ravish’s manual provides a quick-start guide with settings that, presumably, were selected for being most naturally sitar-like—Dry at 2 o’ clock, Lead at noon, Sympathetic at noon, Lead timbre at 3 o’clock, and Sympathetic timbre at 11 o’clock. Though with these settings, and a Rickenbacker 330 and a Fender Twin Reverb in the signal chain, the Ravish sounded much more like an electric sitar accompanied by a keyboard synth in the Sympathetic section. If this has negative connotations, it shouldn’t. It’s a cool sound, especially with a little delay and reverb on the receiving end, and it sounds pretty sweet in a loose and swinging, jazzy context (provided you’re not too puritanical about such things).
Those seeking a more organic, sitar emulation will likely be more satisfied by kicking up the Dry level a touch, backing off the levels of the Lead and Sympathetic, and tailoring the timbre controls to best suit a given guitar’s voice. At these settings, the digital coloration of the sympathetic strings is much less evident. And the more natural sound, with the additional dry signal, lends a gentler contour to the Lead signal.
The Ravish is much more than just sitar emulations. Dialing back the Lead level and timbre, and boosting the levels for Sympathetic tones and Dry signals can provide chords with a lush, undulating, organlike sympathetic wash that can be dialed into a slow, Leslie-like swell depending on how you set the modulation. Here again, a touch a reverb and a little delay can make your guitar sound larger than life. The converse approach—where the Sympathetic signal is pulled back and the Lead signal is boosted—yields a funky, synth-like attack that Funkadelic might have killed for.
Unlike a traditional sitar/tamboura relationship, you aren’t locked into a single key with the Ravish. Key transpositions can be handled with the Preset switch when a root note is programmed via the presets. And the presets themselves, which can be customized (and stored), enable you to move to the extreme-end of the pedal’s capabilities in a single song by transforming a simple one-chord jam from bland to mindbending. By adding a second amp and routing your Sympathetic output through a phaser, things can still get weirder and more interstellar.
Players that are dying to incorporate the sound of the sitar into their tone palate may not ever outnumber fuzz fans. But those that pass over the Ravish for fear that it’s a one-trick pony will miss out on a pedal that adds much more than just classical, East Indian textures. Like all the best Electro-Harmonix pedals over the years, this one awards adventurous tweaking. But even in its most basic and obvious applications, it can turn a run-of-the-mill verse, chorus, bridge, lead, or guitar harmony into something hooky and extraordinary. And while it’s not going to fool anyone familiar with the sound of a real sitar—like an electric sitar, it has a cool voice all its own. It’s good to know that Electro-Harmonix hasn’t lost the thirst to build effects that break from the pack, and with the Ravish Sitar they did not go halfway either. Guitar-sound twisters and exotically minded sonic explorers everywhere have cause to celebrate.
your quest to escape electric guitar convention points to Mumbai and beyond…
your tastes don’t move much beyond blues-rock.
Street $239 - Electro-Harmonix - ehx.com