New member with some need for guidance

I am a new member that is interested in constructing a shamisen . I have built a few ukuleles and wish to attempt making a shamisen .
I just ordered the Abbott book so I would some starting reference as a guide.

One question is about the skin, having read a few articles on the internet and binge watched numerous youtube videos , for my first build I thought of using a thin wood panel for the body instead of skin. I had read that in Okinawa , wood was used instead of skin on some versions of the the instrument.
How thin and how does this type of skin sound as opposed to using goat skin or faux skin substitutes?
I noticed at least one person on this site who was contemplating using ballistic nylon.

My ultimate plan is to eventually complete building a traditional animal skinned instrument , but want to get the basic mechanics down before going full throttle .


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The gottan (ごったん) has a wooden “skin” and sounds like this. Compared to a shamisen, it’s quiet and perhaps less twangy. Also does not seem to have sawari (buzz).

Thanks, it is definitely much quieter than the skinned shamisen, the build is essentially the same, a bit less refined . How thin is the top?
The ukuleles that I have built have tone wood of about 1.7 mm . I understand that the back is left unclad on a Gotan?
I just wanted to build the 1 st one so I can work out the kinks before building a standard shamisen , I do not want to buy a kit. I could make the decision of whether or not to skin it or use wood at the end, goat skin is readily obtainable .

Thanks for your reply, the video was informative.

Here is a Japanese page displaying the thickness of the wood

Looks like your estimate about thickness is correct judging from the pictures. Maybe 2-3mm? Im sure you can experiment.

The skin of the shamisen is its own challenge. It has to be tight for proper tone. What you think is tight is most likely very loose. Studying a shamisen in person (skin,shape,finish,ect.) would be a great advantage.

First of all , thanks for your time in providing me with some clear information that is pointing me in the right direction. I have spent some time googling all things “Shamisen” on the internet, you gave me solid info that is very helpful.
I may visit the Asian Museum in S.F. to see what else I can find, and perhaps by seeing an instrument get some inspiration on the build.

On a side note the series of pictures of the shop and his tools was interesting and at least one of the pictures ( the 3 bladed Sao forming shaper) made me cringe a bit. A year ago I had an unfortunate table saw accident which almost cost me 2 or 3 fingers. Still have all 5 digits but I now cringe a bit when I have to use the saw.

If you are interested in hand tools and traditional methods, here is the Instagram of the craftsman of Shamisen Yanakada; His YouTube. I use the tools and techniques he does also. There is plenty of great visuals of how exactly you should go about making the sao and tenjin. Remember, he is working with kouki, which is very hard. The wood will determine the effectiveness of certain techniques.

I have built one shamisen, and am working on a second, so I have some experience if you ever need council. If you are striving for excellence, I would practice your intended method for the dovetail mortise and tenon that joins the sao and tenjin. If by hand, unless you are experienced with cutting joinery by hand, it will be difficult to get a tight and clean fit. I assure you, it will save you a lot of hassle to cut to the line and get a good joint right off the saw.

Best of luck with your endeavour.

Once again , many thanks.
Just watched the instagram , amazing craftsman, way above my skill level, but I will be experimenting with the joinery aspects of making the Sao and tanjin, I am planning on a trip to Rockler today to buy some wood for the project.
Have you posted photos of your completed shamisen on this site?
I should get Kyle’s book in a day or so , which hopefully will be a useful guide.

Best wishes

This is my first shamisen without the skin. I will not show you it skinned. It didn’t turn out how I would like - nothing catastrophic, though :slight_smile:. It’s Really important to get it tight! There were other flaws with it so I decided to start another shamisen pretty much right after I finished it

This is my current work in progress shamisen. I have been busy with school recently so it has been deferred to the summer. I made some changes to the design to be more similar to a jiuta shamisen. The first is closer to the templates in the book: Very voluptuous! The current project has a balance between angle and curve suits my taste better. I prefer jiuta and nagauta over tsugaru too.

Very nice, too bad about the skin issue.
I will start with the Gottan version so I can get a feel for how these instruments are built. Also my 3 grandchildren are 5, 8 and 12, the Gottan looks a little more sturdy. Nice lumber supply!!!

Curious to know the length of the Sao from the top of the Dou to where it attaches to the tenjin?
I am building a Gottan , not sure how this measurement is derived, the complete length of the instrument less the Dou and tenjin, or from the bottom of the Dou to the top of the tenjin?

I saw a measurement of 89 cm on a website so I was thinking that if my Dou is 21 cm and the tenjin is 13 cm the Sao would be be 55 cm.