When the Coral electric sitar appeared in 1967, it was not outlandish to think Indian classical textures might become as common as Appalachian or African sounds and rhythms in pop and rock. “Paint It Black” and “Norwegian Wood” soared on sitar-based hooks. And The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” helped demonstrate that the fusion of raga and rock could be a quite intoxicating—and very lucrative—hit-making brew.
None of this was lost on opportunistic music producers downstream from the Beatles/Byrds/Stones axis of hip. Nor was it lost on New York session man Vinnie Bell, who suddenly faced an uptick in requests for quasi-raga guitar parts. Bell (whose exploits as a technical wiz and session ace are well-documented elsewhere) was crafty, and with the help of Danelectro (who sold guitars under the Coral brand) he developed the first electric sitar. The Coral was cool, but it was a handful—with an impossible-to-intonate “buzz bridge,” an array of 13 sympathetic strings, and three Danelectro “lipstick” pickups. It wasn’t cheap either—at least by Danelectro standards. Still, Dano saw promise in the concept and released a simpler streamlined version, sans sympathetic strings. That Danelectro sitar lives again as the Baby Sitar. At $499, it’s the most accessibly priced electric sitar we’ve seen since the originals started populating pawn shops.