With roots in jazz, folk and Indian classical music, guitarist Todd Mosby is eclectic to say the least. In the mid-90s he needed an ax that could accommodate the techniques and compositional ideas he had drawn from his Eastern and Western influences.
As a result, he co-designed a unique hybrid instrument which he calls the Imrat Guitar, which combines elements of the guitar and Indian instruments such as the sitar and rudra veena.
We can hear it on Mosby’s latest album, Aerial views, a set of soft-hued Impressionist jazz compositions featuring prominent players like bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) and drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney).
The Imrat Guitar is named after Mosby’s longtime Indian music teacher, famed master Ustad Imrat Khan, who taught the sitar to George Harrison and Brian Jones in the 1960s and then resided in Mosby’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
âI studied with Imrat for about four years, starting with regular acoustic guitar,â Mosby says. âBut I got to a point where I needed to access deeper levels of Indian music. Fortunately, I knew a luthier, Kim Schwartz, who already had a design a little up to what I had in mind. So the three of us started making plans for a personal instrument that I could use as a jazz musician. “
Mosby’s Imrat electric guitar resembles a harp in many ways. The fingerboard has five main playing strings plus three chikari (rhythmic drone) strings. The harp above the fingerboard consists of 12 sympathetic strings. All strings are suspended from one of two sitar-style jivari bridges which help create a buzzing and resonating tone similar to a sitar.
The fingerboard is scalloped and features jumbo frets, allowing spectacular bends of the microtonal strings, essential to the interpretation of Indian classical music. But you can also play chords, which are necessary for most forms of Western music, such as jazz.
âWestern music has taken harmony to the highest level with Schoenberg and other classical composers,â says Mosby. âAnd in India, they ended up taking the melody to the absolute highest level. With the Imrat guitar, I can integrate these two beautiful traditions into my playing. “