Hi there, welcome to Bachido.
I’ll do my best to answer some of your questions.
- Tsugaru v. Jiuta v. Nagauta
First, lets talk shamisen typing. Shamisen are classified based upon their neck and body size. The crossing of tradition and genre expectations creates subtypes over a given range.
The typical nagauta shamisen has a neck which is 2.3 to 2.5 cm wide at its widest point (generally near the resonator - the dou). A typical nagauta shamisen has the smallest resonator and usually produces the sawari drone through the use of a “yamasawari” - a small irregularity in height at the tenjin (peg box) on the thickest string. Typically a nagauta’s hosozao, literally thin neck) sports a gentle curve into the dou. This is called a hatomune. It has no impact on the sound, but limits the number of playable positions somewhat.
Scaling up from the typical nagauta shamisen we the various iterations of chuuzao. Chuuzao or middle neck, instruments range in size from 2.6 to 2.7 or 2.8 cm. Chuuzao shamisen tend to, but do not always have, a “Jiuta” neck. Compared to the gentle hatomune of the nagauta, this is a sharper cut. It allows access to higher positions in the second octave.
The most common sub-types of these are the min’yo and Jiuta shamisen; however there are a large number of other, less common variants.
Typically, a min’yo shamisen and a Jiuta shamisen differ at two key points. It is more common for a min’yo shamisen to have a azuma or en sawari. These are small, screw-based simple machines which take the place of the yamasawari. While less common, some shamisen which would otherwise class as a Jiuta do have an azuma sawari. Another point of difference is the size of the resonator. Both min’yo and jiuta sport resonators which are larger than the the typical nagauta; but the Jiuta body is typically larger still than the min’yo body.
For your reference, shamisen body types are named by how much larger they are than the nagauta body.
A typical min’yo is Go - Rin - Dai (That is, 5 rin bigger than a nagauta).
A typical jiuta is Ichi - Bu - Go - Rin - Dai (That is, 1 Bu 5 Rin bigger than a nagauta).
This measurement is based on the flat of the shamisen’s resonator and not the curve, creating some inconsistencies between makers in terms of total volume and weight.
From here there are occasional cosmetic differences (such as itomaki size), that are very much dependent on the craftsman - it is perhaps best to think of min’yo vs jiuta shamisen as guitar vs bass guitar. Min’yo shamisen are brighter, more spritely. Jiuta, owing to their larger resonator, will tend to produce deeper sounds.
Let us move on to the Tsugaru now.
As before, our size will continue to scale upwards. A Tsugaru shamisen is a variation of futozao or thick necked shamisen. It will typically be 2.8 - 3.5 cm wide, with the majority of instruments hovering in the 3.0 - 3.3 range. Older futozao will tend to be thinner. A standard, full-size Tsugaru has a large resonator. We call it a Go-Bu-Dai (5BuDai). It is substantially larger than a nagauta and noticeably bigger than even the largest Jiuta.
However, non-standard tsugaru shamisen also exist. It is possible to find San - Bu - Shi - Rin - Dai (3Bu4Rin), Roku-Bu-Dai (6BuDai), and even Shichi - Bu - Dai (7Budai) models if one looks.
The tsugaru shamisen, as an outgrowth of min’yo, most often sports an azuma or en sawari. It typically has a Jiuta-cut neck as well. Following the pattern from previous increases in size, the tsugaru’s sound is a low roar. The relatively massive resonator will produce heavier sounds.
So which should you get? Well… if you’re not really set on a genre, I would recommend grabbing something with a middle sized neck and middling body. With such an instrument you can play mostly anything with a little doing and some appropriate accessorizing. If you have a more specific idea in mind, you’d be better off chasing that.
I personally started on a loaned nagauta, from there purchased a min’yo with a hatomune and yamasawari, and thereafter got my true min’yo, old as heck chuu-futozao, and tsugaru.
At 1000 Euros, you have a good set of options - outside of Bachido. Here at Bachido, you’re really limited to just the Beginner’s Shamisen (a red-oak Nagauta) or the Shamibuddy (a made in U.S.A. shamisen variant).
If you were local to Japan, 120000 Yen buys a lot on the secondary market, although you run the risk of getting badly burned if buying from an auction. Even buying from a shop it goes decently far too as long as you don’t mind second hand.
- Bachido Gear
I have played around on some of the shamisen sold by Bachido. Aside from the shami-buddy, they’re made by Tokyo Wagakki. They’re great products all around from what I’ve heard and personally experienced. I cannot vouch for the shami-buddy directly, but Mr. Abbott IS an exquisite craftsman. I have little doubt in anything he makes.
However, you are right to be somewhat concerned. As with anything instrument made from natural resources, there’s a good bit of variance. You can, on occasion, encounter deadzones on necks or weak points on the skin, or what have you. It’s an unfortunate risk that one must take on if one cannot buy in person.
Hope that helps.
If you have any more questions, ask away.