What Are The Diameters of Shamisen Ito (Strings)?

Hi all, I’m trying to make a comprehensive table of various shamisen ito (strings) and their diamters. I’ve seen some “gauges” listed like 14-3, 15-2, 28-1 but I’m not certain what those mean. I’m guessing the second number after the hyphen is just the string number, but what are the first numbers? Are those American Wire Gauge (AWG)? That would be a little surprising since Japan uses the metric system.

Knowing the actual diameter in mm would let me figure out exactly what weight test of fishing line to buy to make cheap “beater” strings for shamisen. I think this info would be valuable to the community.

If anyone knows whether the gauge listed for shamisen ito is AWG please let me know.

Thanks!

Edit: Alexey was kind enough to provide information. The gauges listed are not AWG, they are mo ( 毛, 毫) a Japanese unit which is a 10,000th of a shaku.

Here is a conversion site

And here is the real conversion to mm and fishing line weights:
14毛, 毫, = 0.4242mm ≈ 20lb test monofilament fishing line
15毛, 毫, = 0.4545mm ≈ 30lb test monofilament fishing line
28毛, 毫, = 0.8485 ≈ 85lb test monofilament fishing line

Also, only the 3rd string is normally “monofilament” so maybe you could use braided fishing lines for string 1 and 2. I will test out both braided and monofilament fishing lines.

Thanks!

Hello

Shamisen string thickness has nothing to do with AWG. It is actually in reverse, as higher the AWG - thinner the wire, opposite to shamisen strings.
I can’t say for sure, but looks like the gauge number comes in mo 毛, 毫, 1/10’000 of shaku and equivalent of 0.03mm but I might be wrong.

Best regards,
Alexey

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Ah that makes sense! I was thinking that it would be weird for Japan to use AWG.

Interesting, I know that 毛 can mean hair or fur but I didn’t know it was a unit. I’ve never seen the 毫 kanji before so I don’t know what it means.

I found a website that does conversion. Does this look correct?

If so, then the real conversions would be below:
14毛, 毫, = 0.4242mm ≈ 20lb test monofilament fishing line
15毛, 毫, = 0.4545mm ≈ 30lb test monofilament fishing line
28毛, 毫, = 0.8485 ≈ 85lb test monofilament fishing line

Does that sound right?

Sounds about right. The strings would be normally made of silk or of tetron (rayon or polyester). The only string you can think of monofilament is the 3rd one, two others are twisted/braided type.

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Great thanks. There are braided fishing lines out there too. Maybe I’ll try those out for the thicker strings. I’ve read of people using the monofilament for all the strings and they reported that it sounded OK. The main thing I want to make sure of is that the tension on the strings is correct so that they don’t strain the neck too much, and so you can bend notes properly

I would suggest to try sonething like this:
https://www.stringsbymail.com/thomastik-infeld-kr116-flat-wound-classical-guitar-strings-full-set-1499.html
Classic nylon flat winding strings
Those have proper thickness and should be close enough by sound and tension.

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Fluocarbon might be another thing to try, as it is more stable compared to nylon

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Thanks, I was also thinking about classical strings but I wondered if they would be too short to reach all the way to the itomaki. I assume the shamisen has a much longer neck than a classical guitar. Also the fishing line is much cheaper if you break strings often.

Overall length of shamisen (depending on the type) approx 98-106cm, so guitar string should be long enough. As for the price, you would be unpleasantly surprised by the cost of monofilament or worse, fluocarbon line

Ok. Looks like I found the information.
Those numbers are not thickness.
Those are the silk thread sizes by weight (1 momme is aprox. 4.34g per square meter for silk fabric)
The 3rd string made from 50 treads
The 2nd string made from 100 threads
The 1st string made from 200 threads
So each thicker string doubles in number of threads used.
As an example: 15-3 is a string made from 50 of 15 momme silk threads, 28-1 is a string made from 200 threads of 28 momme silk thread.

So, there is no straight relation between string number and actual thickness but it is most likely possible to calculate thru the weight and volume.

I did some calculations and come up with the following ratio: the thickness for standard tsugaru string thickness (28-1, 15-2, 14-3) should be like 3 to 1.5 to 1 assuming the strings made from the same material

In order to determine actual string thickness the density of silk and density of the string material required.

Also, nylon linear density is is approx 5 times higher than silk, hence the mass of the string of the same diameter would be higher. On another side there is a glue used to hold silk threads together.
So, I think it would be safe to assume what nylon strings would be a rough equivalent of the silk ones with the same thickness

Also, for anybody planning to make strings on his own, this is a very useful link:
http://www.silkqin.com/03qobj/strings/raykovstrings.htm

Great info here, Alexey, but just a note:

Shamisen length actually clocks in as low as 90 cm for smaller tanzao examples.

Thank you. I’ve been digging through some shamisen websites on the Japanese web and found similar answers.

This certainly complicates things a lot since converting from a weight of silk and number of threads to an actual diameter is pretty complicated.

I think I will just wait until I receive a set of actual shamisen ito from Kyle and just measure them with my micro calipers. Then I will post the actual diameters in millimeters on this post for others to see.

Yes fishing line can get expensive but for the length of string you get it’s actually good value if you need to replace a lot of strings.

However, from looking at fishing line, I’ve found it’s hard to find any monofilament nylon line thicker than 0.55mm so I don’t think I will be able to substitute the thickest string (一の糸) with fishing line.

It seem you’re right, classical guitar strings seem like the best substitute.

Thanks for the info, as usual.
Your knowledge of the instrument is amazing!

OK, @Kyle_Abbott was kind enough to send me a set of ito to borrow. I’ve measured these carefully with some high quality engineering calipers and the diameters are below:

一の糸: 0.836mm
二の糸: 0.656mm
三の糸: 0.510mm

I haven’t been able to find these string diameters anywhere else on the internet so I hope this is helpful to someone!

Do these dimensions correlate to 28-1/15-2/14-3?

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Unfortunately I’m not sure because the strings Kyle sent me didn’t have all of the original packaging. I just got some new strings in the mail though and I will measure those tonight.