Published: 15th September 2018
Is that a nine-stringed guitar? No, it's this Chennai musician's navtar
Vishnu R is hoping to create a new trend in music with this novel innovation, the navtar, a nine-stringed instrument
If a normal person like you or me were to see this instrument from a distance, it would probably look like a fancy acoustic guitar, though the unusual breadth of its neck might catch us by surprise. All of a sudden, the musician picks it up and starts playing. Classic rock here might sound like how it would if played on a guitar, but when he starts to play something Indian classical, it sounds totally different. It didn't sound like the veena or sarod and definitely not like a guitar, it was something new and unheard of. That's pretty much when you'll notice that the instrument is not really a guitar and that it has nine strings. This instrument is the navtar, the brainchild of Chennai musician Vishnu R.
A 10-month-old innovation by the youngster, this instrument looks like a guitar, but has a lot of modifications to accommodate its strings. The top portion is completely fretless and has a different air pump mechanism. "The instrument has nine strings. This is something very new. 'Nav' in Sanskrit means 'nine' and 'new'. That is the reason for calling it the navtar," says Vishnu, who has been playing the guitar for the past ten years. Growing up listening to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and idolising guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Vishnu also gained his share of knowledge in the Carnatic classical music scene. It wouldn't be wrong to say that music was all around the son of Carnatic vocalist T V Ramprasadh and Bharatanatyam dancer Indira Kadambi. "Being a guitarist, what made me stand out was my roots in Carnatic music. I'm also learning a few percussion instruments," says Vishnu. For someone who dabbles in different styles, he wanted to make an instrument that gave him the best of all sorts of music and that was how the idea of the navtar came to be.
"The navtar is custom-made to meet my requirements. The maker Erisa Neogy and I spent a lot of time making sure that it happened," Vishnu tells us, adding, "I needed one instrument that has the right efficiency, that allows me to express the maximum." The six-string element of the guitar is retained here. The fretless section is highly customised to suit the Indian classical melody. "The idea is to play the fretless part and the guitar part simultaneously. Basically, I get to do the job of 3 to 4 musicians by myself," he says. So how much time did it take Vishnu to finally hold the navtar in his hand? A year and a half, he tells us. Of this, 2 to 3 months were spent just in discussions with the guitar maker. He tells us how everything, right from the selection of the wood to the design element, every step was customised.
Vishnu's wow moment came in October 2017, when he finally held the finished product in his hands. It took him a good three months after that to teach himself to play it. "Once I got it, I was all like, 'Oh my God! What have I made!'. It sounded exactly like I imagined it would!" he exclaims excitedly. Now, almost a year down the line, he has a lot of plans for his masterpiece. He's working with a few attorneys to patent the navtar. Also, you'll soon get to hear Vishnu and the navtar in his upcoming album that he's releasing exclusively for the instrument with 9 to 10 songs.