New to the community, hello!

Hello there!

I’m Kei, and I’m new to the world of playing shamisen. I had always liked it for a number of reasons, and finally decided to take the plunge into buying one and learning. After a lot of looking, I won the vintage lottery that is auctions, and got myself a futozao shamisen with a ton of goodies! The seller unfortunately didn’t know any details on the lot, so there was a little guesswork and a lot of research on my part, but I believe the previous owner used it for jiuta, judging from the bachi included in the lot, although as far as I can tell (from body size, and itomaki) it is a tsugaru shamisen, made of karin. I’m no expert though, someone else with a better eye would probably know more than me!

A few small battle scars from shipping, and the nicer mystery material bachi snapped a corner, but everything arrived in one piece. So far, tucked away in the box, i’ve found two sets of pitch pipes, a box of ANCIENT cello rosin (???), eight or so handmade yubikake, about 12 san no ito, 4 ni no ito, 2 ichi no ito, 9 koma of various varieties (one I believe is similar to the shinobikoma, it’s long and flatter, and produces a much quieter noise when i play), two bachi- One acrylic, one that feels sort of like resin or porcelain? (I dont think it’s bekkou, as it’s not translucent enough based on pictures i’ve seen, and it’s ‘cold’ and rather stiff…) Both of which seem to be for jiuta judging from the measurements. :thinking:

It also came with the rice paper bag, a fukuro and a very nice reinforced shamisen case.

I’ve been able to play and work through ichidan of rokudan over the past few days without too much issue (or so I feel), other than the usual beginner clumsiness. I’ll probably give it a week or two more to see if I can figure things out from a ton of the amazing resources here before I start pestering with the usual new player questions :wink:

Below I’ll attach a couple pictures, thank you for reading this far and nice to meet you all!

Koma, sans the presumed shinobikoma

acrylic bachi / resin? bachi, with the snapped tip :cry:

not very transparent, and made all one piece.

on to the shamisen itself, name pending.

neck dimensions + body dimensions, and a very nice, tight and fresh skin! (small damage from shipping right above the sawari, but it sounds fine)

and finally, the wood grain!

Hi there, welcome.

I can hopefully shed some light on the details of your instrument, but do take all of my comments with a grain of salt. Without actually being in person to check and recheck measurements, I can’t be 100% sure of things.

The koma you have pictured are mostly bamboo and (very likely) shari/ox bone. The koma on the far right is broken. I would not use it if I were you.

The koma on the far left has either been laquered or is made from kouki (as some kouta koma are). The saddle is difficult to determine due to staining. It could be plastic or bone.

To the immediate right of the darker koma you have a bekkou saddled bamboo koma.

Based on the length and shape, your two bachi seem more for min’yo than usual tsugaru use, but that’s not something to worry over much about. For reference: Jiuta bachi are closer to 21-23cm long and half that or so wide. These are longer and more narrow and lack a bevel where the blade meets the handle (a feature shared by jiuta and tsugaru bachi). They’re also really, really heavy.

I would be inclined to guess both are plastic/resin given the opacity of of the colored one. However, if you notice ripple-like markings when held at an angle… it could be the real deal. I’m doubtful, however.

The shamisen is definitely a futozao. 3cm near the tenjin is a pretty dead giveaway there. You have some damage to the tenjin near the azuma sawari, it seems. Take care. I am uncertain of the wood.

The dou seems to be good quality, but I cannot accurately judge the size. Measurements for size should be taken at the center of the dou laterally and longitudinally. They should only account for the flat side, and not go down the bevel. It is certainly on the larger end of the spectrum, but whether it is a true go-bu-dai or some other size is beyond me with these pictures.

Quick edit: Are those cracks on the side of the dou, or just surface level scratches?

Re: grain. It’s generally seen as preferable for the grain of the wood to radiate outwards from the center on the dou. So, that’s nice!

Happy twanging. And be sure to look at the crash course on the schoolhouse! Kuroishi-yosare bushi is a really good song to learn.

Oh thank you for the detailed response!

Thank you! I noticed the broken one and set it aside, I think bone is accurate too.

I believe it’s laquered, because of some irregularities in the color- although the wood grain is still apparent on the reverse side… I think the saddle might be plastic though as you suggested, since it doesn’t have the same feel as the others. No idea for sound differences yet!


Oh! thank you for the insight here, as I had read some stuff but didn’t know about the bevel or the exact measurements. They are definitely resin or something though- no ripple marks, and the colored one has 製法特許出願 / 文化撥 (Patent pending, Bunka Bachi) and a product code cast onto the bottom. None of which brings up anything on google, haha.

20cm wide by 21.5cm tall, give or take.

Unfortunately, they are hairline cracks! I knew about them when I purchased it though, and it did definitely give me a discount when I was shopping around compared to other auctions I saw at the same time.

The little snag in the wood near the sawari is a huge shame, and it did happen during shipping, I was actually wondering if that’s something that could be home repaired? just for stability and to prevent further cracks.

But the instrument feels solid and intact enough that if I don’t drop it or anything I should get a lot of life out of it, and when life happens I’ll probably be proficient enough I don’t feel too bad about moving on to a newer or nicer instrument. I was prepared to handle it with baby gloves as is, haha.

Thank you! I’ve been looking through the resources here for a little bit now, same with Kyle’s book, haha. I’ll take a peek at that song and see what I can do to work through it!

Cheers, it’s my pleasure to assist where I’m able.

Most modern tsugaru bachi are in the 14~18cm spectrum, usually sporting a bevel where the handle transitions into the blade. Min’yo bachi tend towards 20cm and generally lack the pronounced slope into the blade. When made, they will usually be wider than a tsugaru or nagauta, but not so wide as a jiuta.
A sampling of various genres, from the shinnai/kouta kobachi to the gidayu mammoth

Various classical bachi demonstrating the profile of nagauta vs jiuta vs gidayu

For repair ideas, you might look at the Building/Repair sub-forum. While I’m familiar with the instrument itself and a good bit of its background, I’m no luthier.

At 21.5 x 20 (approximate), it’s at least go-bu-dai (the standard dimension for tsugaru).

Here is a link to body dimensions, converted into metric if you wish to more precisely class it.

You can also find some excellent resources for learning (in Japanese) by looking on youtube. One flat positive of the pandemic was a virtual explosion of professional players embracing the platform for performance and teaching.

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