How many people have built their own shamisen?

Having recently started my tenjin ~70% complete, and then looking at how much still needs to be done, I have an appreciation for the skill, work, and dedication it takes to make one of these. It looks much easier with Kyle Abbott helping in his workshop but even that is just a glimpse of what is involved. He’s not Bob Ross and these are more difficult to craft than those happy little trees. Having a background in design, and some experience with woodworking, 3d images, and sculpting is an asset. So I can’t imagine anyone without similar experiences or skills to draw from jumping in on such a project. Though I’m sure many have. I’m also sure Kyle has sold many books to those who considering building a shamisen or just to learn more about their instrument. But I wonder, how many of us followed through and built one?

Have you built one? ( or more)
Did you use Kyle’s book? or take a similar path to him?

I had a great laugh at the mention of Bob Ross and happy trees! So true! In many instances, you do have to put 1+1 and more together. Something like following sewing patterns. But I believe you can get some happy trees moments :)))

I have repaired one shamisen and built another following Kyle´s book. As much as I was taught not to write into books, this one is scribbled all over with notes while building.

I love the book a lot and have a great respect for Kyle for putting it all together, but personally, from a building point of view, I would not recommend it to someone who has no patience, enthusiasm for woodworking , or the will to build the instrument till the end. Otherwise, people, buy it!

Although I am a mural restorer by trade and have a bit of violin playing, I started from scratch, no tools, no experience in woodworking. My family thought I was crazy, specially the moment when I got my lumber… I took it all as a challenge to learn something new. I watched many youtube videos regarding tools and how to sharpen them, etc. I still believe that I am abusing some of my tools :blush:

Kyle´s book is full of photos, which is a great plus. If it wasn´t enough or I wasn´t certain of a shape, I would google up all the images I could of all the tsugaru shamisens I could find. That´s also why I ended up „complaining“ about the curve of the tenjin and that I have a feeling that the template in the book is not curved enough (4th edition). But by looking at the various images, I also realized that shamisen shapes are many and for my first build, I felt it would be a waste to do the tenjin again, so I let it be. Next time, I´ll shape it differently. (hopefully)

Getting a broken shamisen was a bonus and ended up as a physical example. Its repair and reskinning was also a good excuse to build the stretching tools and try them out :slight_smile:

All in all, I enjoy the process very much even if not all went as smoothly as I imagined it would and many times, I said to myself „Why are you doing this?!“

Parts where I messed up the most: cutting up and separating joints. Nakazao „middle line“ did not match :frowning: and later on, one of the joints snapped. Had to start all over again… And also, forgetting to add the nakago joint to the sao. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

Moment, I had really no idea what I was doing: finding the spot where to drill the hole for the nakagosaki while having in mind that the sao has to be tilted a certain way.
Favorite part to build: the tenjin and dou because I really loved shaping it.
Part that took me a long time to figure out: saruo because of its complex shape.
Least favorite part: the nakago. I don´t know why, it´s just me.

p. s. and I wholly agree with everything on p.12


Awesome! Funny coincidence…I got my start as an artist painting murals. Creating giant imagery is fun stuff. Proportions and perspective is the biggest challenge.

An artistic process helps not only to visualize the end result but to test your tools and medium before committing to a finished piece.

The saruo template could use the joint so that you don’t cut it off. I noticed that too, but so far I haven’t made that mistake…you’ve got to cross reference every move building these. Reading the instructions is important, as it includes the info that is missing on the templates. Relying on the templates is easy to do. Even Kyle makes some boo boos on his more recent builds.


I haven’t build one nor planning yet.
I do not have enough tools and space for work.
If I try to build full woodworking shop in my basement on top of the metal CNC and 3D printing I already have - my wife would kick me out :wink:
Have been restoring several instruments, working on some right now (Juita, tsugaru and 2 kokyu in process) just for fun. Also this way I can afford to buy plus-minus good quality instruments for decent price. Changing skins, re-gluing wooden pars, some finish touch up, etc. Trying to figure out some things not mentioned in the book.
The book is very helpful on basic knowledge of the instrument and parts. Would be nice to have more professional drawings, not just templates, but again, book is made for people without special knowledge and skills on how to read the drawings, work the wood: just for hobbyists. As a reference material “must have”IMHO

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Metal lathes are often used to turn hardwood. I’ve been considering using my metal hobby lathe to turn my itomaki. Is CNC not an option to wood working? Oil soaked wood shavings too messy? That would make sense.

A full on workshop is a HUGE asset for a project like this. So far I’ve used a gouge chisel, saw rasp, old hammer, flat head screw driver and a fine tooth saw…oh and some sand paper. I did cheat and use a bandsaw but I could have easily handsawn and filed/chisel my way through. I do have to admit my wrists are feeling it though. I don’t have a proper vice but I have a folding table that clamps in the center and I have to sit on it to stabilize it. I will need a drill, reamer, and may cheat and use a oscillating tool to cut out the center of the tenjin. But I think that’s about it for tools. One of the rewarding things I like about this project is not needing power to build it. No noise or electricity makes It feel more timeless. Which helps considering I’m almost 20 hours in with another 100 or so to go. haha

Even with no plans to do any work on your shamisen it’s a great book to understand the handcrafting that goes into your instruments. I like to know where things come from, history, and the back story that give these objects a personality and character unique amoung instruments.

I have done turning wood on my small hobby CNC lathe and mill. Even with the enclosure it is a lot of dust. This is also a big issue with any power tools.
It is tempting to build instrument using just hand tools. One day maybe…

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On top of the wood dust it could absorb the machining oil and get sticky unlike metal shavings.

Ha, have you ever tried to machine brass?
Wood dust is nothing compared to this, believe me. Only dry machining and god forbid to use any oil or cutting fluid! It get packed and rock solid

I haven’t. I wonder if there is any type of machining oil that’s not as bad with brass. I was warned about brass being not so fun though. I thought it was about fumes or inhaling dust. I’ve only lathed aluminum and delrin so far. Delrin is nice…it just comes off in long strands that need to feed out so they don’t tangle and bind. I considered making itomaki out of delrin but I don’t think it’s quite hard enough.

I’ve made 4 Nagauta shamisens. Next I’m going to make Tsugaru and Gidayu. I’ve made a Yamada koto, too, and violins.


Whoa! Quite a collection! :slight_smile: What kind of wood did you get to use for the koto?

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Hey! I am in the process of building 2 Shamisen in parallel. One is made out of Padauk with a Macassar Ebony fingerboard (dou finished and installed, as well as all metal bits except Sawari) and the other one is made out of Honduran Rosewood with an African Blackwood fingerboard. Both will have Padauk Dou’s. I also made 4 sets of itomakis recently (4 itomakis per set just in case… I must be crazy!) after not being fully satisfied with the very first set I made. It has been the journey of my life pretty much, diving myself in these builds with very limited experience in wood working. I have loved everything about it! I am quite the perfectionist so it’s been fun trying to match what Kyle can achieve in his more recent builds.


Thanks for sharing your experience Stefanie. Can you share a post or link about your stretching machine?

Hello Paul! I just made one following Kyle´s book. You can check this post It´s working, yay! :slight_smile:

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