How High is Too High when Tuning?


#1

I’m working on performing Otemoyan with a fue player and vocalist and the tuning that the fue player wants to use would be E#-A#(B flat?)-E# which seems really high. Should I be concerned about tuning too high and tightening the strings too much and causing strings to snap or the skin to rupture? The highest I’ve ever played is C-G-C on my tsugaru. Are different shamisen made to tune higher than others? We’ve met in the middle at D#-G#-D# for now, but this may change again when we practice with the vocalist. Thanks.


#2

The only issue I’ve personally had in higher tunings is just that the itomaki won’t budge any more, and it gets really close to coming loose.
I always stop when I feel like they’re getting a bit too tight, so I get where you’re coming from - nothing’s ever broken from higher tunings on my end but it freaks me out when the strings are too tense. If I were you, I wouldn’t risk breaking them, but maybe someone else has been braver than I and gotten it to work.


#3

My old teacher told me once that the generally accepted range for a Tsugaru shamisen is F to F, but that’s clearly getting up there. I’d be real scared of snapping a string up there, not to talk about my fingers. Sheesh.


#4

Are different shamisen made to tune higher than others ?

I have a tanzao shamisen which is a min’yo shamisen with a shorter sao (7 to 8 cm shorter) and which can be piched higher to accompany soprano min’yo singers. It seems that a tuning in E or F should be normal due to the shorter pitch but I have never dared to go up there… And maybe lighter strings are needed too…


#5

Are different shamisen made to tune higher than others ?

There’s definitely a case for this. Your tanzao (so cool) being a great example.

As far as I know, the presence of an azuma sawari in min’yo is at least partly due the need to accomodate broader vocal ranges than what one might find in jiuta.

Looking at my list of tunings, it goes from A all the way to G# (2尺3寸 to 2尺4寸 by Shakuhachi).

I’m working on performing Otemoyan with a fue player and vocalist and the tuning that the fue player wants to use would be E#-A#(B flat?)-E# which seems really high. Should I be concerned about tuning too high and tightening the strings too much and causing strings to snap or the skin to rupture? The highest I’ve ever played is C-G-C on my tsugaru. Are different shamisen made to tune higher than others? We’ve met in the middle at D#-G#-D# for now, but this may change again when we practice with the vocalist. Thanks.

If your itomaki are holding at that tension (for trivia’s sake, it’s 7本/1尺7寸 on my chart) I don’t think I’d worry about playing.

At my last performance, someone performed 五島さのさ at 11本(G-C-G).

Given the heavier gauge of your first string compared to what’s commonly found on min’yo (I think I have a 20 on mine, and thats quite high), it might be a good idea to lower the tension after practicing though.

Best~


#6

Thanks for the replies. Feeling the itomaki really start to resist while tuning was what started my concern. It sounds like I’m near the high end of the tuning so I’ll have to work with the vocalist and fue player to find where we can all meet. Good reminder on loosening the strings after playing.

If indeed higher tuning is more suited for a different style of shamisen we’ll have to work with what I’ve got for the upcoming show, but now I’ve got an excuse to purchase another shamisen. :stuck_out_tongue:


#7

I sell my tanzao. PM if interested ! Specs and pictures if needed !


#8

You can shorten the string length. A capo does not really work on a shamisen due to lack of frets, so instead slide a false nut under the strings at a point that works for the key you are playing in. Kamigoma is the term for nut, and you can use a strip of plumber’s solder and wrap it all the way around the neck - the solder is soft and will conform to the neck without damaging anything. The solder can be gently hammered to adjust the height (hammer while not on the neck. You will need to relearn finger positions, but you will not break strings. Alternately, you can slide the bridge (koma) north up the face and that will shorten the strings, but of course it will affect the tone.