Reviewing my new shamisen and thoughts


Hi, so I’ve had my new instrument for one week. Pictures are here:

I absolutely love it! It was handmade by Catherine Thompson, it is so well-made, well-balanced, and a joy to play that I have not picked up another instrument since getting it!

I initially planned to play finger style, then thought about trying to make my own plectrum, but finally found a wooden one for sale for $20. I am acutely aware of how much better a more flexible bachi would be, but I just can’t do it right now. Waiting for the wooden one to come in the mail.

Once it comes I will pick up One of the courses/songs from this website to learn. I “know” the song Sakura, so I’m leaning towards that. But I would love any advice or thoughts. I know I want a Japanese song, I feel very good playing bluegrass, Americana, and minstrel banjo music on this thing.

Started tuning was BEb, current tuning is CEA, to take advantage of the fact that I already know songs in that tuning from the ukulele. Currently working through Snowdrop, would like to work on Lehigh Polka next.

Also, probably the biggest barrier I see so far with the instrument is the lack of a way forward. This website excepted, teachers are few and far between, and is there a repository for freely available tablature? It occurred to me with the tuning I have now, I can use any of these:

That is for those less traditionally minded of course.

Thanks all for the help along the way!


Hey Ben,

Lovely instrument you’ve got now! Treat her well.

There isn’t much in the way of free tablature (or gakufu/bunkafu) available on the internet for shamisen. Occasionally, some will show up on google images or imgur, but by and large things are behind a heavy pay-wall. With a few exceptions and qualifiers.

If you look at this website:

You can find a lot of tabs for shamisen using the traditional tunings - but I tend to find them to be a little bit off.They’ll put you in the right neighborhood, but are either extremely simplified or working from versions of songs I’ve never heard. Details get lost or warped

There’s also Shamimaster Toshi’s website which has some scores available for purchase and some for free; his are really good, but sometimes depend on quick playing to get the ride sound.



Congratulations!! :smiley: That looks great!

If you ever do want to play fingerstyle I recommend looking into Kouta. That repertoire is done with plucking the strings and can be quite nice.
Those are some really interesting tuning ideas! Coming from the traditional background that sounds really different to me, but really cool.

Christopher beat me to it :stuck_out_tongue: Toshi is the way to go if you ask me for a great place to start. I’ve only used mu-tech to get tabs for Ume wa Saitaka and House of the Rising Sun, so I can’t speak for the quality unfortunately. Though come to think of it the House of the Rising Sun tab was pretty barebones compared to the shamisen recording of it by Ayusawa Kakuhiko that I heard.

The thing is the best tabs are the ones you’ll find in books, and unfortunately those aren’t cheap. If you’re ever interested I can point you to some really great Tsugaru books, though some of them are very highly priced for the amount of content.

As for a way forward, despite us here really being the one of the only options outside of Japan, I’d say Bachido is still really great for that, with the stuff in the schoolhouse ranging from Tsugaru to minyo to Western.

If you want to focus at some point on a single traditional genre there are plenty of options to do just that, and built a steady repertoire through that. Those again would likely be books you’d have to buy, though.

As for nontraditional stuff, since you’re into bluegrass with shamisen, I’d recommend looking up stuff by Noriko Tadano. She collaborates with a bluegrass guitarist for a unique sound, and you might have fun trying to break those pieces down and see how the shamisen adapts to that genre.
Lots of options exist for listening to nontraditional shamisen, at least, you have Wagakki Band for rock, Kurofune for Jazz, etc. and dozens upon dozens more! It’s a wonderful rabbit hole to fall down into. :stuck_out_tongue: If you’re ever interested I’d be happy to PM you my spotify account name as it’s chock full of shamisen fusion that might help you out if you’re comfortable playing by ear.

Best of luck! :smiley:


IMHO nothing in English even comes close to the bachido schoolhouse for learning songs and proper technique on your own.


Hi Ben! I just stumbled on your post here. Thanks so much for the sweet review. Happy playing!