What kind of shamisen is this?

Hi All, I got a new (to me) shamisen yesterday. Can you help me identify the type so I can order strings and figure how how to clean it? I am not planning on cleaning the skin, but how about the lacquered wood? Is a damp cloth ok? I posted on reddit and got one person thinking it might be a chuzao and another person thinking it was more likely a hosozao.

Measurements (using inflexible construction type measuring tape, so not exact, measurements in inches):

  • chibukuro to end of body (not counting neo) ~28"
  • width of chibukuro: ~2"
  • both length of body and width of body are ~8"
  • thickness/depth of body: ~4"
  • overall length (from spike to as much of the head stock as I could measure with an inflexible tape measure) ~36"

EDIT: Here are some more dimensions and photos (in mm this time since they were smaller measurements)

  • itomaki: 18mm wide at thickets point, hard to say without completely destringing, but ~125mm long
  • neck, two removable pieces I could see, if this were a guitar I’d say it has a “v shaped neck profile” it’s ~30mm thick/deep and ~26 wide

Picture of the headstock I was unable to link in the main post

Hi there, welcome.

Let me see if I can assist. First, take a gander at my ongoing work in progress to collect and codify as much data as possible on shamisen nomenclature and typing.

You’ll notice that I do not use imperial when measuring.

I will provide the following data in metric, and you may convert if you wish.

To understand a shamisen’s neck and body class, we measure the overall foot print of the instrument, width of the fingerboard, and dimensions of the body. We then identify the neck type and any possible accessories.

Lay a measure on the ground and place your instrument on top. From the edge of the tenjin (headstock) to the tip of the nakagosaki (the little bit that sticks out on the bottom) is what you want to learn.

Around 100cm and you have a full size shamisen. Tsugaru tend to be more like 101, Nagauta are more like 98. Other genres fall in between. 90 - 95 cm is usually a Tanzao. This is a short necked shamisen often used by smaller folks or to accompany higher voices.

Measure the neck under the chibukuro. This will tell you your neck class.

Less than 2.6 cm is a hosozao
More than 2.6 cm, but less than 2.8 cm is a chuuzao
2.8 cm or more is a futozao

Notice that hosozao and chuuzao overlap. The classing has grown fuzzy over time as instruments have gotten larger. Depending on who you ask they’ll say one thing or another. Also note that neck width doesn’t really impact sound.

Next, measure the body at its widest and longest point. Account only for the flat play space. The curved bevel of the body should not be counted.

Nagauta: 19.6969 x 17.8787
Go Rin Dai: 19.8484 x 18.0303
Ichi Bu Dai 20.0000 x 18.1818
Ichi Bu Go Rin Dai 20.1515 x 18.3333
Ni Bu Dai 20.3030 x 18.4848
San Bu Dai 20.6060 x 18.7878
Yon Bu Dai 20.9090 x 19.0909
Go Bu Dai 21.2121 x 19.3939

While these measures are extremely exact, note that inconsistencies occur - and they are more over relative values. That is, a Go Bu Dai is Go Bu bigger than a standard Nagauta body for that maker. Match as close as you can.

Now look again at the neck. What does it look like near the dou (body)? Does it gently curve? This is a hatomune neck. Does it more sharply incline down? This is a jiuta neck (which are not limited to jiuta shamisen!).

Finally, identify your accessories. Is there an azuma or ensawari - or does it have the older style yama-sawari?

Look also to the included bachi and koma. They can provide clues.