Author Topic: Stringing a shamisen / samisen  (Read 6523 times)


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Stringing a shamisen / samisen
« on: December 14, 2010, 05:49:42 PM »
After posting in another topic regarding the so-called "samisen" knot structure, I became interested in the actual stringing of these instruments.   The traditional way is to tie a somewhat elaborate--but definitely practical for the purpose--"tailpiece" knot out of moderate size cord.  If I understand the terminology correctly this is called the "Neo" or "Neo knot".  (It is unclear if, perhaps, Neo is also the term for the anchor post?)  The Neo knot is tied such that three small bights project from one side, and on the other a multistrand loop is left to be placed over the post projecting from bottom of the instrument.  It appears to be a form of a "Good Luck" knot made in a trebled cord with a bight and free end at each extent.  I'm not up on my Asian decorative knotting, so I'm happy to be corrected.  See video linked below.

The instrument's three much finer musical strings are each attached to one of the Neo's projecting loops with a knot akin to a becket-hitch form of "heaving line bend" #1463, but with the standing part not passing through the larger bight (i.e. Neo loop) as it exits.  It is easily made and obviously holds well under the constant tension found in a stringed instrument.   The knot at the tuning peg end of the string may not be as standardized.  Pieter van de Griend in Knot News #69 gives a Japanese source showing a wrapping method where the end is simply trapped under the wraps.  The site below shows a half-hitch (#1662/#1663) being used as the initial anchor.  Given the friction from the multiple later wraps, I'm sure many simple and suitable methods could be found.

Here's a detail from Wikimedia Commons; not the sharpest photo, but it's free...

Original photo licenced by EN Wikipedia User:DO'Neil

Here are some much better images on Flickr:

Video showing tying of the "Neo knot":

And finally, the steps involved in the actual stringing of the Shamisen:

This last site has additional good pictures and detailed information on the instrument.

« Last Edit: December 14, 2010, 06:29:36 PM by dfred »


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Re: Stringing a shamisen / samisen
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2010, 12:40:03 AM »
A couple additional photos for reference, and those who have difficulty with youtube...  Here's the front and back of the Neo knot as presented in that video above, as best I could replicate it.

Though it might be clear to some viewers during the loop adjustment phase of the video, the anchor loop strands that are parallel to the direction of pull are each actually one leg of the three string loops on the other side of the knot.  After having made and played with the knot, it's clear this transfers force very directly through the knot and into the anchor post.  I would imagine this means that slow tightening of the Neo knot would have less effect on tuning than I originally suspected.  However it also means that the anchor loop will collapse if not occupied by a post of similar size.

Here's a image showing the method of string attachment in mock-up.

Found a second youtube video showing the string knot being made as part of the assembly of the instrument.  If you watch the video all the way through the end, you'll see what appears to be an antique Samisen which has a different style Neo, though still apparently made from cordage.

[EDIT: had some trouble accessing forum for a while there, posted without including second image and string tying video to avoid losing work... adding now]
« Last Edit: December 15, 2010, 01:56:19 AM by dfred »