Building my first Shamisen

I have been working on my first shamisen in sapele. I just finished the sao and learned some things along the way I would like to share.

For making an Ipponsao it is necessary to run lines along the whole length with a marking gauge. This ensures a consistent plane along the length. Gluing the sao profile on the end and then sending lines down with the marking gauge will mark the material to be removed. Register against the flat front face for the length of the sao and against the curved backside for the bottom. A line marked on the left should be marked on the right too - this establishes good symmetry.

A plane is not very effective for removing most of the material; A drawknife and rasp are best for the back. Since this sapele is figured, it was cleaned up with card scrapers.

A relatively thin card scraper works as a great way to remove tear out and round corners. Bending it around the existing shape will “average” out the surface. Be cautious though, a card scraper is not a plane and will make the surface uneven. It should be used in long strokes and sparingly to preserve the consistency of the form.

Finally, one last thing to mention is to check the quality of your work with a high gloss finish. I do a french polish with shellac. When you have a reflective surface on the piece and you sight down the sao’s length the flaws in the surface will become apparent.

I think this procedure was very effective for shaping the sao and I think you will see this in the result (ignore the mess from renovation). Next will be the dou and when finished I will follow up with my experience doing that.






:open_mouth::open_mouth::open_mouth: Love it!
Thank you for your notes, it helps! I really liked using card scrapers, however I am no good at sharpening them. I tried to watch some yideos on youtube but without success. I guess, I still need to find the correct tools to achieve their sharpening.

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May I ask how you sharpen them? Maybe I could help out.

I have Narex card scrapers and those seem extremely hard. Basically, I have a problem in getting any edges for the burr. Could it be because I am not using a burnisher specially for card scrapers?
p.s. sorry if I don´t reply soon, it is close to midnight where I am. But thank you in advance and I appreciate any suggetions! :slight_smile: And may I say again, your work looks amazing!

Yay! I did not give up and found out that a flat burnisher was all I needed. I was quite easy and I can use my card scrapers happily again. p.s. Please bear with me, I am totally new to woodworking stuff!


Forgive my late reply. A flat burnisher huh? Well great you got them working! They are sure useful but do not replace other tools like planes I find: when using them - even if you hear no chatter - they will leave a wavy surface. This is especially true on end grain. Some woods will have almost none of these tool marks, while softer woods with different late and early growth density will really give it a problem. Some sanding will be required to get rid of these marks. I think on my next shamisen (when I get to it) I will set up some nankin ganna (spoke shave) specifically for shamisen. If well tuned, one of these will leave a perfect surface and crisp clean lines on the wood.

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So I have skinned my shamisen. I will post in more detail about the whole process up to now soon. For now I am concerned about the tone. I wonder if I did not stretch the skin tight enough. Here is a video:

It would be more helpful if you can tap on the skin itself instead of plucking the string IMHO.
This would give an actual skin tension.

Best regards,

I decided it was too lose! so i have skinned it again and i think it’s going to be much better!

Sounds Ok. A bit dull IMHO. It should kind of ring on the tap. Maybe it did not dried up fully yet. A good test would be to see how deep the bridge sink under the strings force. With proper tension the skin should not give up under the koma or a very little, almost like solid surface.
What did you use for the skin?

Here is how my “OK” re-skinning sounds.
I still think it is not tight enough. I tap the skin with wood bachi in the end of the video.

Your shamisen sounds so good! I am using bleached goat skin from this company in Canada:

I have tapped again when it has given time to dry and it’s much tighter!

I was watching your video as I was stretching it! we will see how this one sounds with strings soon.

Oh, this sounds perfect to me.
I am using this unbleached skin for drums:
Mxfans 35cm Dia Goat Skin Drums Head for Bongo Drum / 10" African Drum Beige

It is not as white as yours but supposed to be stronger because bleaching process makes skin weak.

How tight do you make the strings? Should I go for a tighter tuning or a looser tuning?

I tune them C-G-C as tsugaru.
It is up to you, so you can adjust tuning to your voice or another instrument.
There is a shamisen tuning App for IOS called SanShin Tuner. I don’t know if it is available for Android

I think I got it!

Sounds good! The koma is too close to the edge IMHO but again, it is up to you. It should be approx 3 fingers from the edge of the dou.
This would change the tone and make it even louder :sunglasses:

Also I hope it is an expired card as I can read most of the numbers on it 8-( )

Don’t worry, It’s an old card :slight_smile: