Looking At Getting a Shamisen / Reskinning: Questions


#1

Hi guys,

I am looking at getting a shamisen, but I have a few questions. Hopefully someone can chime in.

Are there any guides for skin replacement? I found this thread, Shamisen skin stretcher , and I was wondering how to go about building a stretcher. As much as I am going to be potentially using it while traveling, I cannot really afford the time/money to send it to someone in the event of skin damage.

Finally, relating to the first one, I am thinking of purchasing and reskinning a used one. However, I am not really sure how to tell if the instruments in question are futozao, chuuzao, or hosozao. What are the main distinguishing differences that I can use to get an idea of what I am looking at if the listings are not clear?

I am interested in getting a futozao based on the timbre, but some friends suggested that a Chuzao may be a little more flexible since it will be played in multiple styles and genres. Suggestions?

Thanks.


#2

Hi there. I can’t answer your craft questions, but I am one of the resident “spent too much time researching” nerds floating around. Sooo!

Let’s talk shamisen subtype.

Hosozao, chuuzao, and futozao are broad classifications of neck width. This, along with body size, are the primary indicators of shamisen type.

However, the type of your shamisen isn’t really a limit on the kinds of music you can play, merely on what the expected sound might be.

A quick note on neck size: shamisen necks often, but do not always, taper as one approaches the tenjin/peg box. A shamisen that clocks in at a miniscule 2.3 cm near position 1, might be 2.5 at position 18.

Hosozao are thin necked instruments that range from 2.3 - 2.5 cm wide. They are most commonly found with nagauta sized bodies, but occasionally have go-rin-dai bodies.

Chuuzao are middling thick necked instruments. The usual range is 2.5 - 2.8 cm.These instruments usually have go-rin-dai bodies to ni-bu-dai bodies. A subtype of chuuzao is the tanzao. It is 5 to 10 cm shorter than a regular neck, but otherwise the same. Tanzao are generally found with go-rin-dai bodies and are used in min’yo with particularly high tunings.

Futozao are the thick-necked variant. They range from 2.8-3.5 cm wide. Futozao instruments generally have san-bu-shi-rin-dai or larger bodies.

Note that 2.8 appears in both chuu and futo classifications. In addition to the aforementioned tapering, futozao shamisen have tended to become wider over time, but older examples will tend to be more narrow.

As stated, the relationship between the neck and body will tend to indicate and instrument’s “preferred” genre. The smallest standard body is termed “nagauta” and the largest standard is go-bu-dai. Body nomenclature is based on the size difference relative to nagauta. For example, a go-rin-dai shamisen body is 5 (go) rin larger than a nagauta body.

To convert that to cm difference, you’ll need to look up the traditional Japanese measuring system of sun - bu - rin. It’s delightfully annoying!

Please note that larger sizes do exist (roku-bu-dai and so on), but they are relatively uncommon.

As a quick reference: nagauta is most commonly used in nagauta, go-rin-dai are used in kouta and min’yo, ichi-bu-go-rin-dai and ni-bu-dai are used in jiuta, and san-bu-shi-rin-dai or larger are used in tsugaru.

The other eight or nine genres (shinnai, gidayu, and the like)their various substyles (fujimoto, Sato, Chikuzan), and regional identies (Akitajamisen, Kyojamisen) all have their own specifics and preferences, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.


#3

Thanks for the reply.

I’m assuming the width of the body is going to have the largest affect on the sound quality I am after. Just for clarification:

“Futozao are the thick-necked variant. They range from 2.8-3.5 cm wide. Futozao instruments generally have san-bu-shi-rin-dai or larger bodies.”

You are talking about the neck here, correct?

Finally, for the body size, do you happen to know what nagauta is in rin or some other modern measurement?

Thanks again.


#4

I’m assuming the width of the body is going to have the largest affect on the sound quality I’m after.

To be honest, and ignoring technique, I think the skinning has more impact on the sound than the actual size of the dou. The dou is likely a solid second, however. Third is likely the wood use in crafting. After that, it’s a small numbers game.

Which is to say: neck width plays a role, but it’s hard to pin down.

When people talk about recommending a chuuzao as a starter, it has a lot to do with relative cost and the flexibility of the body types it’s normally found with. A go-rin-dai or ichi-go-bu-rin-dai can do a lot of genres fairly well, and even nagauta doesn’t sound too off. The go-bu-dai or larger bodies found on futozao are noisy as heck if you’re not careful, and will tend towards a stronger bass and percussive sound.

Additionally, some futozao builds are honestly obnoxiously wide. I have no idea how or why people play on the larger end of the spectrum.

You’re talking about the neck here, correct?

That whole section is about neck width.

Nagauta Body Size

6寸5分x5寸9分 (or 19.7 cm by 18 cm, approximately). This size is measured from edge to edge of the dou’s front or back side. The curve of the body is not counted.


#5

Awesome.

Thanks for the information!