1920s/30s/2016 Banjisen

Off-day blues meant rainy weather killing the idea of taking a nice family hike today. Instead, we read tons of troll stories, drew tons of pictures, and -- of all things -- I built myself the gringo version of a shamisen. A similar sort of 3-stringed, fretless, banjo-esque instrument is found throughout Asia with the well-known varieties being the shamisen, sanxian, and sanshin. The popular tunings are various modal "chords" in different pitches. Due to the short scale of mine (20 1/4") I chose to tune it GDG with the starting G the same pitch as a guitar or mandolin's G. It's strung with fluorocarbon strings.

I put this together today from a fretboard-less 30s Harmony tenor banjo neck (leveled, finished, and scooped), a 20s Oscar Schmidt 7" banjo uke rim, half a set of set OS rim hardware, a repurposed vintage skin head, and a set of old Lange-style tuners (I only had 3 -- hence the reason the idea was planted in my head). I've sort of wanted an instrument similar to this for recording and mindless strumming/picking at night, so -- damn the rain! -- why not?

After quickly skinning the thing after breakfast, I set it in front of our pellet stove to dry. That makes a quick job.

The pearl dots beg this to be painted into a face with pearl eyes. Note my super-simple fret nut. The middle peg is drilled off-center which was a happy accident (my 2 1/2 year-old jumped on my back while drilling it) as it made for a perfectly-straight string pull.

The cutest bit is that the multi-piece construction of the neck gave this pretty silly instrument a fancy look.

I simply drilled holes through the tension hoop to mount the strings. I also replaced a missing "flesh hoop" with that old, thin copper tubing you might've seen for old auto uses. It worked a lot better than the average, thin-style round hoop that these would've shipped from the factory with. Please excuse my ragged trimming of the head... this skin was thick!

The rain cleared out later-on so we had a chance to spend a little time outside. Bonnie snagged this picture of me getting into an Okinawan mood while the kiddos danced in the woods.


bonnybroome said…
Can you make me one Jake?
I think I have all the parts
tim gueguen said…
There's a Japanese band called Shang Shang Typhoon whose leader, Koryu, played a banjo set up so it would sound like a sanshin.