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Okinawan sanshin build

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by lbridenstine, Jan 31, 2014.

  1. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    Back story: My mom is Japanese, I'm half Japanese. We're both from Okinawa (and so is my brother). A few years ago I went to Okinawa to visit family and decided to buy a shamisen (which I was just told is technically a "sanshin"), so I got a cheap-ish one and brought it back, but never really played it. My mom's friends have a shamisen group, so my mom ended up asking if she could buy it from me and started playing in that group.

    Now she wants me to build her a better one.

    Luckily, she said she doesn't care if it sounds like a sanshin and she's okay with it being a little different as long as she can play it the same way.

    She decided she wants claro walnut for the front and back of the body. The front and back would normally be covered with skin (snake skin for the expensive ones) or some type of cloth from what I've seen.

    The rest of it will be made of maple. I went to Menards today and found this cool looking piece of maple hidden behind a bunch of ugly boards. Look at the flame! And it's mostly brown instead of white, but has different shades and dark lines and a white edge. I like it.



    This board (it started as one) is 6" wide and I only need 3.25" of it for the body parts and for some reason my mom doesn't want the white side, so hey, I think I might make a neck or two out of the scraps! Of course the side she doesn't want has the most flame too.



    Here's the claro walnut I'm going to use.



    Here are pictures of the current sanshin for reference. The snake skin is fake. (I wouldn't have bought it if it were real skin).








    It doesn't look like it should be too difficult. No frets, no fingerboard, the neck is level with the body, not really a whole lot of shaping to do, no truss rod or anything as far as I can tell, no electronics, no cavities, and I don't really need to buy any hardware. I think I can make the pegs, bridge, and nut. From what I've seen online the neck attaches to the body by having basically a square dowel rod extending from it all the way through the body, which ends up being the end pin. I assume it's also glued in place.

    The body seems to be a hollow square that ends up rounded. I think I can do most of that on the bandsaw.
    Barnaby likes this.
  2. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    That's pretty neat. My japanese room-mate has one of those. I've thought about making one, also.
  3. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    What's stopping you? They look like they should be fairly easy to make.
  4. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    It does look like fun:
  5. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    Well, he doesn't want to pay for it, so....

    I am, however, making him some cypress sushi boards that he can sell. He's a sushi chef, does private parties, advises and sells supplies, etc. I've seen them sell for $50-$60 each, which is NUTS, because they have about $10 worth of materials and labor in them.
  6. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    A very interesting build, beautiful woods and a wonderful thing you are doing for your mother.
    I look forward to watching your progress.
  7. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
  8. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Wow, that's very cool. Seems to have a droning pentatonic thing going on. I bet Sabbath or Soundgarden riffs would sound neat... ;)
  9. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    I watched a few of these last night and this morning, always nice to watch someone crafting something with care. I was a little surprised at how calmly he was carving away with the blade 4 inches from either naked foot, but I guess he hasn't learned that particular lesson yet. I hope he doesn't learn it with too much blood loss and tendon severage. Hopefully you'll take that lesson away before you begin. :D Myself, I have only one large scar related to using a chisel - couldn't bring myself to repeat that mistake. :)

    I kinda want to buy him a router, but I know he's sticking to the traditional route, lol...
  10. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    Yeah and chiseling towards his stomach. I'm using power tools for sure. If I do any chiseling it will probably only be to make the corners of the square holes in the body.
  11. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    Alright. Here are all the pieces cut out in blocks. These little stacks are going to make the entire sanshin (except tuning pegs and stuff like that).


    The neck and heel:


    Everything laid out. This is a back view, just because that's the only way I could lay the neck and heel down on the ground. I haven't cut the angles on the body pieces yet, so I just stacked them to show the basic shape. The corner pieces might be a little bigger than needed.

    After the body is glued up, I'll draw an oval over it and cut that out with the bandsaw, then just smooth it out.


    It was actually really easy to glue up the heel and neck at the same time.


    I had to stack two pieces to make up the thickness of the peg head. I'll do a scarf joint on the neck, then just glue this on there and rough cut the shape on the bandsaw and I guess the rest will be with rasps, maybe spokeshave, and sandpaper. The peghead curves around, so there's no use making a template.


    I'll basically do the same thing (bandsaw, then rasps, etc) with the heel.

    Here are my scrap pieces. I'm pretty sure I can make two guitar necks out of them!

  12. Looks really cool. Love the tight string spacing!
  13. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    Thanks. The strings look pretty far apart to me compared to their thicknesses, but I guess it's tight compared to a bass.
  14. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    I drew the top view on the neck and peg head and rough cut them out. I also cut the scarf joint. Next I'll draw the profile view and cut that out. I need to sand the scarf joint smooth and the start of the peg head needs to be widened (on the neck part before the scarf joint). I cut the pieces for that, but didn't have any clamps available to glue them on tonight.



  15. I quite enjoyed these videos, especially the 3rd one. In a way, make me envision a fretless 3-string banjo.

    What is the name of the huge "plectrum/pick" they're using? Edit: Nevermind. Found the info - Bachi.
  16. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    I cut the profile view of the neck on the bandsaw today and started shaping it with a spokeshave. I need to use a sanding block along the sides before I go any further, should have done that first.



    I still have a lot to go on the heel area. Everything is going really fast on this neck though, since it's so tiny. I'd have this done if I weren't working on multiple projects at one time and going back and forth instead of doing one all the way through and moving to the next one.

  17. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    I worked on the neck some more yesterday.

    Here's the top.


    The back.


    I glued the rest of the peg head on tonight. I still have to cut out the profile view of it and do all the shaping.


    My aunt in Okinawa sent some sanshin strings.

  18. If I may suggest slightly modernizing the tuning machines. Some Klusons may work better and be a lot more low profile. And you could still go with the side mount design too.
  19. Have you decided on what pickups yet? LOL Looking good Lisa!
  20. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012

    I'm going to make my own. They'll be invisible, so there won't be any photos of them.