Hello whoever is reading! I hope all is well. I have been reading for the past 6 months or so from ppl in this awesome community, and mostly recently from ppl building their own Shamisen. Well, I finally signed in because I feel inspired to share a bit of my experience and also to give huge props and share with all the people working hard on building their own instrument. As some of you here, I had little experience working with wood, only had a few tools, but have always loved working with my hands. My biggest passion in life is acoustic instruments. About 8 months or so the Shamisen entered my mind with a bang and I went on quite the rabbit hole. Kyle Abbott was probably the first name that popped up. I started seeing some of his builds on youtube and it looked awesome! (and a lot easier than it is, as some of you have mentioned in here)… I also started looking for an instrument to get and was blown away with prices. I then came across his incredible book. Long story short, I decided to build one and ended up having enough wood for 2 Sao/Tenjin/Nakagos. So now I am building 2 Shamisen in parallel!. Can I say WOW! This project has been one of the biggest journeys I have dived myself into. It has been so therapeutic. Fully demanding of focus, patience, hope, persistence, courage, resourcefulness… etc? It has brought a lot of moments of frustration but over all it has been extremely rewarding. Seriously, one of the coolest projects and experiences I have had. I have been very hesitant to share with others (except my closest relatives, some friends and Kyle) before being done with at least one of them, but some of you here have changed my mind. I want to first and foremost thank Kyle for his generosity in sharing, not just through his book/youtube/facebook, but answering pm’s, etc. Now the question is where to start sharing!? I guess I will start with a cool pic I took a few days ago of one of them… hope you like it and I’m really looking forward to chatting and sharing with some of you here!
So this Shamisen is made out of Padauk with a Macassar Ebony fingerboard. I was originally making 2 Shamisens out of Honduran Rosewood, parting from a very big piece that gave me 2 sao/tenjin/nakago. I then purchased a board of Padauk to make the 2 dou. Well, the board gave me enough wood for another Sao/Nakago, so I got another piece of Padauk for the Tenjin and voila… Now I’m making 3 Shamisen (I got a nice board for the 3rd Dou of Bocote). I started with one of the Honduran Rosewood Sao/tenjin/nakago with an African Blackwood fingerboard and basically got the woodwork done and jointed. Then started on the Padauk one and put the HR one on the side. I will focus on sharing the process of the Padauk one (I haven’t named my Shamisen… Should I?) for now. I have to say, as much as I love the color of this wood, I am quite tired of working with it. Basically all my white socks and underwear are now pink… a bit too sexy… not. My Shamisen are very much inspired on the Eclipse by the way. I love how the fingerboard extends on the Tenjin .
Pol wow, that is an absolutely beautiful shamisen! I definitely know what it is like to shy away from sharing progress (for years only my closest family and friends, along with Kyle knew about the details of my shamisen build as well), but it is always really exciting to see what others come up with! Glad you finally shared it, and I think you will find it well worth it, and definitely inspire others on their journey too!
Man, I really love that macassar ebony fingerboard on the padauk, it is definitely 100% my aesthetic for instruments. I have always been a sucker for the combination of red woods with dark brown or black wood laminations, and seeing that combination on the shamisen just gets the adrenaline pumping. The laminated burl itomaki are also super nice too, and compliment the tones of the sao and tenjin perfectly.
I am definitely excited to see your honduran rosewood and bocote builds now! Bocote is also one of my favorite woods, and that was actually one of the contenders for wood selection on mine originally. A bocote shamisen would be so awesome!
Also huge props for taking on multiple shamisen at once. Making just one was absolutely brutal for myself (and I could have never done it without access to tools at the local makerspace as well as work), and as much as I have a lot of ideas for new designs for shamisen, I don’t think I have the energy left after this one (I have built many other instruments in the past for fun, but Masamune shamisen is by far the most involved, and probably my last one for a very long time, if ever.)
Definitely keep posting more pictures of this build as well as your other shamisen builds!
Hello Pol and welcome to the community!
I love your intro, the journey to build a shamisen, couldn´t have expressed it better!
Your build is wonderful, thank you for sharing it here. I thought, I am done with building another shamisen but seeing your pictures, my hands are starting to itch and my brain is coming up with ideas for a next project :))) Thank you for the inspiration!
Can´t wait to see more!
Hey Stefanie! Thank you for your message. I am glad you find inspiration in my sharing. It goes both ways, especially when I see you going for the 3 piece Sao, carving ayasugi, your special rindo, skinning, making the doukake, building the Sawari!! (it’s the one thing at this point I might be skipping, but after seeing your process, maybe not?). You have gone all the way in! It is very courageous. Getting to every new step is always overwhelming and intimidating to me, concerned I will mess everything up and basically ruin everything I’ve done. At the same time, I have probably made mistakes on every step of the way, luckily not huge, being able to make small modifications based on the mistakes and made a feature out of them. I will definitely take a break after I finish the second one before I tackle the last one. The first one still needs the Koma, tailpiece to tie strings, doukake and Tenjin cover, and skin… Making a Sawari would be sweet but… we’ll see. The Honduran Rosewood one is having the dou made at the moment and the sao/tenjin/nakago is getting a few coats of camellia oil as well (looking amazing). it still needs zagane, rindo, kamigoma, sawari (?), etc. BTW, you are not alone in having the Nakago as your least favorite part to make. I am with you. I find it an underrated part to make, and that may be the problem IMO. My favorite may be the Tenjin/Sao joint. It’s maybe the hardest too! I’m obsessed with getting the infamous seamless joint. I did better on my second build (the Padauk), and even better on a little statue I’m building out of a second Tenjin I built for the Padauk. Anyways! Sorry for the lengthy response… I could go on and on.
Happy Birthday Michael! I hope you have an awesome day. Thanks for the encouraging words. I am with you on basically everything you say. The colors and grain of the Padauk and the Ebony are looking even better with the finish on it (I can only imagine how yours will look with the finish!). The Padauk is this red purple I am loving. There is a bit less contrast between the 2 woods, but it is gorgeous. I wish the Padauk would keep the color and not oxidize and get brownish with time. I am kind of obsessed with how these Itomaki turned out. They are a bit thinner all around, but I kind of prefer the proportion of it to the Tenjin compared to the beefier ones. The Bocote is incredible! I made a first cut of the board and after a few weeks was noticing small cracks on the endgrain, so I sealed the ends again with candle wax and will let it sit to dry for 6 months or more before building the 3rd dou. I did get to cut a piece of the board and make some itomaki and start working on a wooden Neo and let me tell you, it loves to be worked with in general. It feels better than all the woods I’ve worked with so far (granted, I have very limited experience). I will definitely keep sharing! I have seen a bit of your other builds (Guqin?)… Very nice! But yes, the Masamune takes the price for complexity. Enjoy your day!
Hey! I want to share a few more pics of the build. My main interest in this build is the wood working aspect and getting a result as close as possible to Kyle´s builds. I really enjoy how each part of the instrument requires a very specific skill and details to take into consideration in terms of checking frequently and measuring. One of the things though that basically every part shares in symmetry and alignment. Basically, drawing a center line and making one side be the other side’s reflection. So I actually did this with the Tenjin. Pictures have been a great tool to see details of this sort where, in person, you are dealing with 3 dimensions and depth will make it harder for your eyes to see some of these details in symmetry and straightness/alignment. I will share a few examples of what I did. It really helped get a final shaping of a specific line or just section of a part.
Thanks for sharing the details! I have been actually wondering how progress has been going on your builds since your last post. Planning is definitely crucial on the shamisen build, and I definitely think that finding any little tricks to help with layout and design can make the process go much smoother. Especially for some of the rather interesting curves found on the sao it can really make the difference. Really looking forward to more updates!