Country: Japan Category: History By: yayasilver
The samisen (Japanese for "three flavor strings") is a three-stringed musical instrument played with a plectrum called a "bachi." The pronunciation in Japanese is usually "shamisen."

The samisen is similar in length to a guitar, but its neck is much slimmer and without frets. Its drum-like rounded rectangular body, known as the "do," is covered front and back with skin in the manner of a banjo and amplifies the sound of the strings. The skin is usually from a dog or cat, but in the past a special type of paper was used and recently various types of plastics are being tried. On the skin of some of the best samisen, the position of the cat's nipples can still be seen.

The three strings are traditionally made of silk, or, more recently, nylon. The lowest passes over a small hump at the "nut" end so that it buzzes, creating a characteristic sound known as "sawari" (somewhat reminiscent of the buzzing of a sitar, which is called "jivari"). The upper part of the "do" is almost always protected by a cover known as a "do kake," and players often wear a little band of cloth on their left hand to facilitate sliding up and down the neck. This band is known as a "yubikake." There may also be a cover on the head of the instrument, known as a "tenjin."

In most genres the samisen is played with a large weighted plectrum called a "bachi," which was traditionally made with ivory or tortoise shell but which now is usually wooden, and which is in the shape likened to a ginkgo leaf. The sound of a samisen is similar in some respects to that of the American banjo, in that the drum-like skin-covered body, the "do," amplifies the sound of the strings. As in the "clawhammer" style of American banjo playing, the bachi is often used to strike both string and skin, creating a highly percussive sound.

The samisen derives from the "sanshin," an instrument of the Ryukyu Kingdom--a prefecture of Japan in the 16th century. The sanshin was one of the primary instruments used in that area, which in turn evolved from the Chinese "sanxian."

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November 05, 2014



Hi all, new to banjo (and here) but been playing gautir for the last 20 years (admittedly quite badly, but i get by). I have various gautirs from teles to les pauls and 12 string acoustics. Now i own a banjo as well .only trouble im having is finding a local teacher to point me in the right direction. Living in Fife, Scotland and i cant find anyone nearby.Can anyone help?thanks guys
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