Measuring position locations...


I noticed that there is a very small discrepancy with the position locations that are documented in the “Shamisen of Japan” book and in some of the lessons in the Bachido schoolhouse. For example, in the book position 10 is at 400mm, but in the Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi lesson setup the position is 398mm. First, I would agree that 2mm is hardly anything to worry or care about on a fretless instrument, but the OCD side of me wants to know why the difference and which one is correct.



I will defer to the experts, as I still am waiting to get mine in the mail. However the most accurate way to know where to put your stickers would be to use a tuner, tune the open strings, and then use the tuner to find the intervals.


I found this:

Using a scale length of 800mm and 24 frets it will give you all the positions. Of course, you also have to know that the position numbering on the shami is different than guitar and that the shami omits what would be the 11th, 16th, and 23rd frets. Here’s the results in mm. This matches what is in the book if you drop everything after the decimal point. I might have rounded it to the nearest mm, but that would hardly make a difference in the end.

1: 44.901
2: 87.281
3: 127.283
#: 165.040
4: 200.677
5: 234.315
6: 266.064
7: 296.032
8: 324.317
9: 351.015
10: 400.000
11: 422.450
12: 443.641
13: 463.641
14: 500.339
15: 517.157
16: 533.032
17: 548.016
18: 562.159
19: 575.508
20: 600.000


How accurate are you at placing the bridge? I suppose you could mark a faint line on the dou where the bridge needs to be, but I’m too OCD to mark on my shamisen. I guess it depends which OCD wins out. Oh, I know: you could make a gage for setting the bridge position!


The position measurements above are because I am looking into different ways to mark them on the side of the sao with something like these stickers I found on amazon. While reviewing one of the lessons I happened to notice that a few of the positions didn’t match but +/- 1mm isn’t going to make a real difference on a fretless instrument anyway.



The usual guide for koma placement is to use the width of your fingers as a guide. While the general guide is three fingers from the bottom of the dou, some styles perfer 2 (generally those with higher koma).

The actual ideal position is going to very a little bit depending on the height of your koma and the length of your dou and sao.

It’s also useful to check the sound at the octave (position 10) to ensure an accurate placement.


I’m still new here, but why is the octave position 10 instead of 12? Aren’t there 12 semitones in the octave?



That’s a good question! What you’ve encountered is a clash between western musical theory and Japanese musical tradition.

Traditionally, the shamisen used only 10 of the 12 semitones found in an octave. Reflecting this, the tones found between positions 3 and 4 (#) and between 9 and 10 (b) are not numbered. Although increasingly used in modern music or to facilitate playing western songs, these positions are rare in traditional catalogues.

Modern fujaku tend to them include them, but do not alter the numbers to reflect these semi-tones, leading to the usage of # and b as indicators.


And to complcate everything, the 2 is not at equal distance between 1 and 3 and the 5 is not exactly at equal distance between 4 and 6 (although it depends on which fujaku is used).


Don’t have time to read everyone’s repsonses here at the moment so I appologize if this was already mentioned in some earlier comments but another thing to keep in mind is the placement of the koma. Remember if you move the Koma in any direction the actual physical length of the string changes. Hence whatever location the numbers end up relating to on the fingerboard will change relative to that. So if your numbers aren’t lining up it might be that the koma is not in the same spot it was in when the numbers were originally placed.