Questions about Akatsuki Before Purchase

Hello! I’m super determined in saving up for buying the Akatsuki shamisen this spring and I wanted to confirm a few things.

  1. Is the Akatsuki shamisen a tsugaru style? Can it withstand the most rough style of playing, and is it the largest size shamisen type?

  2. What is considered of higher quality sound, higher durability, and louder projection; natural skin or synthetic skin?

  3. If I buy the shamisen and the accessories in the same order, is it possible to have the shamisen assembled prior to shipping? If not, is there a video tutorial on how to assemble everything?

  4. Is the V-shaped sao the more popular choice and worth spending the extra ~$100 on? Does a smaller sized sao affect the resonance of the instrument at all?

  5. Lastly (phew), what is the most recommended bachi to buy for a beginner that won’t break on me when playing tsugaru style?

Thanks so much, any help would be greatly appreciated!

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Hello! Kyle’s YouTube channel might answer all of your questions

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Hi there, welcome.

For your pleasure, here are some relevant video links for the Akatsuki.

The store page also has the answers to most of your questions:

  • Dou: Karin (High Grade) Size 5 (Tsugaru)
  • Sao: Karin – Highest Grade (Tochi Tiger Stripe), Darkened with red urushi
    Special Feature: Sao topped with solid, high grade kouki
  • Sao Size: Chuzao (28.5mm wide) or Futozao (30mm wide) – Mitsuori (three-piece neck)
  • Sao Shape: ‘U’ Style, ‘V’ Style
  • Tenjin: Ogi Cut, Eclipse Style – Kouki extends from sao to tenjin.
  • Itomaki: Nejiri (twisted) / Kouki wood joined with rosewood
  • Skin: Hibiki (Black/White Synthetic) or Vintage Tone (Natural)
  • Hardware: Azuma Sawari, Rindo, Zagane, and Kamigoma
  • Accessories not included

A size 5 dou (5分大 or as I’ve seen it also written 5分台) is not the largest - but it is the standard size for Tsugaru instruments intended for adult, male players. Smaller bodied instruments are sometimes built for smaller bodied players - larger ones are sometimes built on special order.

The Akatsuki may be ordered as either chuuzao or futozao neck, but this only impacts the width of the fretboard, it does not overly impact the sound produced. You may also choose between the U and V shaped neck.

The durability of the instrument, as relevant to what we might term tsugarubiki or tataki bachi has much more to do with the skinning than anything else. To that end, let us consider that:

A shamisen skinned for tsugaru will have a different skinning than one done for other genres. When a natural skin is used, it’s more durable and it would seem thicker. Artificial skins of sufficient quality also differ between genres.

Ask two people, and you’ll get two answers. My current preference is towards natural skins, as I generally prefer the sound they produce and I get years of use out them. Moreover, the majority of professional players continue to favor natural skinnings, but as those supplies dwindle… well. Something’s got to give. Particularly given that proplayers may need a new skinning annually - if not, perhaps sooner.

So, to that end:

The older examples of artificial skins were abjectly terrible. Tinny, plasticy, no warmth. Fragile.

Modern materials (including Kyle’s Hibiki) are quite pleasant and frankly, more durable than a natural skin. Speaking of Hibiki, I recently was able to get my hands on a shamisen skinned with it and play a bit. In person, the sound is as warm and nice as the recordings would imply. Moreover, it’s loud as heck. Just, dang. LOUD.

  1. You do not want to ship an assembled shamisen. That’s asking for it to break. There are plenty of how-tos on youtube, and likely floating around on Bachido.

  2. I have no issues playing on a standard instrument, but my hands are not yours.

  3. Everything breaks eventually, doggo. Don’t stress over that. I’ve had plastic, resin, bekkou, zouge, wood, and everything in between chip or damn near explode in my hands before.