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The shamisen has three strings and is played with a plectrum. The body of the instrument is a box, made of four pieces of wood and then covered with cat skin or dog skin. Cat skin and dog skin transmit the vibrations of the instrument very sensitively, but are very fragile and split easily. In recent years, combination plastic-cloth skins, which are much easier to care for, have been developed. In some styles, like Nagauta, the instrument is played so that the plectrum strikes the skin over the hollow portion of the instrument, making it as much a percussion instrument as a string instrument. The strings are made of silk and are numbered from the thickest string, so the thickest string, on the top of the instrument is "ichi no ito (first string)", the middle string is "ni no ito (second string)" and the thinnest string, which is used the most, is "san no ito (third string)".
   
The strings are (from left to right) ichi no ito, ni no ito, san no ito.
Strings are made of natural silk. The thread from about 10 silkworm cocoons is spun together to make the base thread and then, about 50 of these base threads are spun together to make the san no ito, which means that one san no ito requires over 500 silkworm cocoons. In turn, several san no ito are spun together to make the ni no ito and ichi no ito. These threads are spun together by hand, a traditional method that brings out the quality of the natural fiber with the least damage.
 
There are three sizes of neck, futozao, the thickest, used for Gidayu and Tsugaru Jamisen, chuzao, or medium size, used for Tokiwazu and Kiyomoto and hosozao, the narrowest, used for Nagauta. Itchu Bushi uses a medium sized neck, which gives the music a very quiet and solidly balanced sound.
The best wood for the sao is koki, a hardwood imported from the Himalayas, followed by shitan (rosewood) and kashi(oak). The wood for the neck needs to be very hard since it wears down from the players fingernails sliding along it constantly.
 
The box for the body is made from four boards of karin or Chinese quince, which is then chiseled and sanded into a rounded shape. The chisel marks inside the box are left, because they help the vibration of air inside the body of the instrument. 
The body is covered with cat skin and the red dots are the nipples of the animal. These are important because they show that the skin is centered on the body of the instrument, essential for a good sound.
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
   
 

 

Views: 838

Comment by billy freedom on September 19, 2011 at 10:23am
the top head is cat skin and must have one cat nipple on it, the back skin is a dog. it is illegal to bring these skins into the usa despite the chinese eat them. and sell the skins to the japanese.
Comment by c# merle on September 19, 2011 at 12:58pm
Comment by ™ǝɹnsodxɯɐɔ on September 22, 2011 at 5:09pm
That's hilarious- and awesome at the same time- wish it was full stream-
Comment by Peter Clarke on March 9, 2012 at 5:17pm

Anyone try to build one of these. Another group I found good is the Yoshida Brothers. Check I Tunes I think they are on there...P

Comment by billy freedom on March 9, 2012 at 5:27pm

i got two necks cut for tin ones

Comment by Peter Clarke on March 9, 2012 at 6:42pm

Billy, what do your necks look like. I have a box I'm going to use that kinda looks like the shamisen instruments I saw on line. Then I'm going to use nylon strings tuned to CFc and rig it with a rod piezo so I can hear it. For the plectrum I cut one out to look like the small one's I also saw on line and wrapped the handle with leather line. Who knows how it will turn out. Trying to get the sound will be the hardest part. Seems like I am always looking for 3 string primitive instruments from around the world.

Comment by billy freedom on March 9, 2012 at 8:12pm

i havent taken pics theyre mahogany and flat like this http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/08308yusuke/kankara-03.gif

just roughed out and i make some pegs but havent done the holes. its sortof an abandoned propject i havent got the time. i made the pattern for the neck by blowing an actual photo to scale on an overhead projector. i think i still have the pattern. i know how to make the string holder. the tin can ones from world war 2 had parachute cord strings. the real shamisen had the skin on a cat with one nipple intact on the soundboard and the skin of a dog on the back.

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