Shamisen skin stretcher


On Sep 10, 2012, in the FiberSen thread, Kyle wrote:

The semi-traditional method I use takes too long. I think a contraption which Taichi uses (that stretches the skin first, and then you lift the dou up to it… two separate operations… )

On my shamisen #2, I experimented with such an approach to applying the skins. First, the skin was stretched over a frame, inspired by the way banjo skins are installed. Then the glue was applied to the dou, and the two were pressed together. I posted some photos on Facebook:

I spent quite a bit of time making (and remaking) the stretching form. The form was unnecessarily complicated because I squeezed it around the 12" skins I already had. It would have been much easier to work with 14" skins ( sells both 12" and 14" calfskins). It ended up looking kind of Rube-Goldberg-esque, but it worked.

Applying the skins using this form was much less stressful than the “traditional” method, and produced just as good a result. I’m curious how this compares with Taichi-san’s method. Has anyone else reported a similar process? If anyone is inclined to experiment further along this line, please post your results.

Looking At Getting a Shamisen / Reskinning: Questions

For everyone’s information, here are picture’s of Taichi san’s contraption.

For his method, the clamps pulled outward to initially stretch the skin, followed with the jack , which stretches the skin further. For the current tsugaru aesthetic, dog skin needs to be stretched at least 3X tighter (just an estimate :wink: ) than calf skin is able to (before it ruptures). Thus, in his process, a lot more stretching is done in the initial kawahari before it touches the dou.

With his process, he moistens his skin for five hours, which allows the skin to stretch more. Because the skin can stretch more, he has to pull the kisen farther to achieve the right tension. (According to Taichi san, a longer soaking + tighter stretching makes for a boomier shamisen) It works well for him, because his metal kisen allow him to stretch the skin as far as he wants.

In my setup, I have to change the process a bit, because my wooden kisen have their limit and my hydraulic jack extends only so far. To get decent results, I must soak the skin only 30 minutes, which means it can’t stretch much. This means that you can tighten it to it’s optimal point much sooner than if it were stretchier. According to Taichi san, this method doesn’t yield a ‘booming’ sound, but rather a sharp, crisp sound. Apparently, many shokunin san are using this method, as the result is satisfying for the player.

I think your method looks good for calf skin. The breaking point of calf skin is much lower than dog, so I think it’d be no problem to combine the initial stretching and affixing to the dou in the same process.

One nice thing that Taichi san said is that each kawahari shokuninsan (craftsman)'s technique is a little different. He stressed that there is no one right way to do it, but most importantly that the craftsman is confident/comfortable with their technique. As they say, there is more than one way to stretch a cat - oops, I mean skin.


Wow that’s a crazy looking device Taichi San has. I was thinking about designing a hinged skin stretcher inspired by the frames they use in screen printing.


i’ve been bouncing about ideas for skinning myself and was about to post up to ask if someone would make a clamp set for me when i came across this.

i’ve been trying to think about alternate ways to stretch the skin. The only other ways i could think of involved holes in the waste part of the skin and i honestly think that would be a bad idea (weaken it as it stretches)

Has anyone else had other thoughts on how to do this?


Very interesting stretching contraptions made by Dan Wilson and Taichi-san.

I’ve made the traditional kisen (a clamp set) by myself
Just now I’m skinning my nagauta shamisen (thin goat skin).
Now I’ve to wait for some hours and I hope the stretched skin will not break.


How did it work, Nick?

Are you able to get carnivorous animal skin in Finland, by chance?


the stretching went well but I’m not quite satisfied with the colour of the goat skin. It’s a bit too gray. Probably the skin in question was too thin. Next time I’ll try the thicker one (of medium thickness).

I don’t think we can get carnivorous animal skin in Finland. At least not easily.


Ah, I see. Yeah, it does look thin. Thicker skin would come out less transparent. Still, it looks nice though. :slight_smile: How does it sound?

Nice authentic touch with the cat nipple additions! :wink:

Just my opinion, but I think you may be using more nori than necessary, as most of it will get squeezed out. Even using half as much, it should still work great. Of course, it’ll be fine either way. :slight_smile:


I think its better a good sound that a good color. If it sounds well you have made a good stretching :wink:


Thanks for feedback! I think that the shamisen I skinned sounds quite good.


what kind of shamisen do you have? Tsugaru, nagauta?


you’re right. Good sound is more important than good colour.


i have a feeling all 3 are nagauta


Hi Amanda!
If you wish, I can repair your shamisen. Please, send me a mail.


when they get here i certainly will thank you ! :slight_smile:


I just skinned my homemade shamisen with a skin stretcher I made by blatantly copying the idea of Taichi san’s skin stretcher. The stretcher only cost $20 to make and about an evening to put together. It appears to work pretty well, however the glue isn’t dry yet so fingers crossed that everything works out okay and the skin doesn’t pop off :blush:

(Sorry the picture is sideways. My phone camera is really stupid sometimes.)


I’m intrigued!


I just had another look at it and I noticed that my 12" goat skin is now about 14". This is my first kawahari job so I’m not sure exactly how much the skin is supposed to stretch.


This is my first kawahari job so I’m not sure exactly how much the skin is supposed to stretch.

What Taichi san tells me is: To know the limits of the skin, you have to break one (or a few), otherwise, you won’t know.

Before, the thought of breaking any skin felt like wasting it. But after attempting kawahari with the goal of breaking it, I understand and agree with Taichi san. The skins are all different, so it’s not something which can be completely taught, you need to find the limits to get an internal sense of it all.


Yeah I really wish I had ordered a 3rd skin to break ahead of time so I knew its limits (in my opinion broken things tend to work better anyways :p). The first time I stretched and applied the skin I realized (after gluing it down with mochiko, of course) that I forgot to heat up the glue, so it was basically just wet flour. I peeled the skin off, cleaned everything, and re-stretched it. I was amazed that the second time the skin stretched twice as much!

I guess it was the initial 30 minute soaking, stretching to its limit, short relaxation period, then another 30 minute soaking followed by re-stretching. Unfortunately this was the back side, so the back has much tighter skin tension than the front.