Loosening Tsugaru strings necessary before and after a session for the koma?



Strange question, but is loosening the strings for a Tsugaru shamisen necessary
before and after a session (i.e. loosening strings before and after putting in the koma and taking it out after)?

Same question posed to any sanshin players out there too!

Thank you in advance!


Hi, I was having a similar question myself recently. I asked my teacher and he told me that it is better not to loosen them unless you won’t be playing for some time.
Loosing the strings may extend their life spam but they will keep getting out of tune during the first 30 or 40 minutes of your next playing session.

So I only loose the strings when I know that I`ll be away for a few days.

Sorry for my English


Hi Miguel,

Thank you for your advice,

and no worries, your English is great!

I do practice every other day (unfortunately!) so I’ll keep the strings tight.

It is currently tuned to C3 F3 C4, is that too tight? The koma left a mark on the dou ahaha


It depends.

Under normal circumstances, I don’t find a lot of value in loosening my strings. But on occasion, I will.

If I’ve recently accompanied someone with a high voice (7本 / 七寸or higher) I’ll lower the tension in order to more easily remove my koma, Below that and I can usually pretty easily gently lift my strings to pull it out.

Generally speaking, my strings sit at around 4 本・2尺 tuning - (C/F/C in Honchoushi, CGC in Niagari), as this is my most comfortable range for singing and playing, but I generally raise it one step for Jongara to 5本・九寸 (C#/G#/C#) and similar, 曲引き stuff.

@A_Tchiang I assume you mean your koma left a mark on the skin? That’s odd. Even at the tightest I’ve pulled the strings, I’ve never had a mark.

Do you have a leather or artificial skinning?


Thank you for your advice!

Indeed, it’s a Wagakki Ts 01 model, i.e. aka the Tsugaru Shamisen with

synthetic skin and no azuma sawari type.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that when tuned to C3 F3 C4 (as per the tuner),

the strings are super tight (F*d Ex breaks guitars AND shamisens, who knew?

It came with the tenjin broken, so after fixing it, the strings get super tight) on the koma…


I am not at all familiar with that maker or model code - but at C-F-C (That’s 4 Hon/ 2 Shaku in Honchoshi), it shouldn’t be that tight!

I am not sure how a broken tenjin could impact string tightness, considering you can adjust things. Sawari, playability, sure… but tension? Someone with more luthier experience will need to chime in on that.

You might be an octave over where you need to be, my dude. Consider reducing the stress on your strings substantially.


No problem at all.
I just forgot to tell you that although I don’t usually loosen the strings, I remove the Bridge (Koma) every single time, after practicing. My teacher told me that it`s better in order to protect the Skin.

My Shamisen is Tsugaru style and I usually tune it to Ni agari (C G C) at 440hz.

If your Shamisen is Nagauta or other style Kihon choushi (C F C) would work, I believe.

Kyle Abbot did a very good video tutorial about running the Tsugaru shamisen at Ni agari in Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDUyP9IhRLA&t=8s


Impossibru, one octave lower and the strings are super loose (i.e. C2 F2 C3)


Thank you! I also make a habit of removing the koma from my Tsugaru shamisen as well.

Interesting, for some reason, there’s a lot of conflicting info regarding honchoushi tuning for Tsugaru shamisen tuning, some textbooks say CFC, BEB for honchoushi (no word on what hertz though)


The conflict you’re seeing is because both (ki)Honchoushi [本調子] and Niagari [二上がり]are relative tunings. The as yet discussed sansagari [三下がり] is as well. As long as your strings match one of these relationships, you’re in tune.

More specific, set tunings have additional names pulled from sangen [三弦], shakuhachi [尺八] or genre specific systems. Which I’ll discuss in brief now.

Let’s say we want to tune in the key of A (@442hz); perhaps our singer has a particularly low voice or the nagauta/jiuta piece we’re playing requires it.

We first tune the the ichi-no-ito (the thickest string) to our desired key. After getting that first string in tune, we move to the second string.

For Honchoushi, the string is tuned to an equivalent fourth to the first string. So if your first string is keyed to A, that means your second string must be keyed to D. Your third string is then keyed to the same key as your first. Your final result would be A - D - A.

This tuning could be referrred to as ipponhonchoushi [一本本調子], ni shaku ni sun [二尺三寸], or mizuchoushi 水調子, depending on the naming system.

If, instead we needed Niagari, that second string is raised one more step from honchoushi. In our base example, this would make your tuning A - E - D.

In Sansagari, the third string is lowered one step from honchoushi’s original tuning. Meaning we end with A - D - G.

In my experience, my teachers usually tune by ear or with a tuning pipe (調子笛). When we use electric tuners, the standard has been 442hz, but that could be a regional thing.

See the attached image and website for more references.




I asked my teacher and he told me that BEB for Honchoshi is very normal when you practice or play in a small room where noise may be a concern.



I see, thank you, Chris! Ah,
so honchoushi really isn’t just confined to the CFC keys, but even ADA or BEB!

But what exactly does ‘shaku’ correlate to, as the only definition that comes to mind is
the old Japanese measurement unit…


Hi Miguel,

Awesome!! Thank you!


That’s exactly what it is.

The shakuhachi system refers to the shakuhachi instrument, and the instrument itself is named after the length of bamboo used in its creation.

A standard instrument is 1尺8寸 (1 shaku, 8 sun) long , and is tuned to D. If you check the chart, you’ll see that it matches up with the 六本 (roppon) and 一尺八寸 (isshakuhassunn) tuning.

The different nomenclature used in shakuhachi is, as you might guess, reflective of previous length changes to create different keys.


Thank you!

Now to find out what shaku the ST01 model I have is, ahahaha.

Well, according to the cm conversion, my shamisen is 120 cm=3.9 shaku…


That’s very odd. But let me clarify a few things.

A standard shamisen, measured flat from tip of the tenjin to the end of the neck should run 90~102 cm. Shamisen generally fall into one of two categories based on length: Tanzao (単棹) and Seisun (正寸)

90 - 95 would indicate a tanzao

98+ would indicate seisun.

There are shamisen which are extra large. but they’re almost comically oversized. If you had that, you’d know it. We’re talking contra-bass size.

Tanzao are used in Kyushu and Western Japanese min’yo, and particularly show up paired with children or singers with exceptionally high voices (八本 or more) The shorter neck means its easier to get to that higher register at the expense of some range.

Please note that, unlike shakuhachi, shamisen aren’t limited by their length in terms of tuning - it’s just that higher tunings are easier on shorter necks. When we use shakuhachi nomenclature to talk about tuning, we’re not referring to the length of our shamisen but notes created by the strings and how the compare to the base notes of a specific length of shakuhachi.

Now, that said: If you have an instrument that clocks in at 120cm it isn’t surprising that standard shamisen strings are incredibly tight at CFC. However, if you have the instrument in the following link

Your total length should only be 102 cm.


Ahhh, That’s the one!

The St 01! remeasured, 102cm my bad, ahaha


Hmmm, I thought you need to loosen the strings every time you finish playing.