Friday, June 25, 2010

Music To My Ears

Hello again! So soon... Well, why not? It has been a most extraordinary month, so busy and yet, so rewarding with accomplishment. I've been winnowing down my own personal doll collection and one of the dolls I sold was a Momo. She's a 14" doll with a Japanese face on a Jumeau or Bleuette-style body (that's taller than Bleuette). When I sent a photo to my friend to ask her if she was interested in the doll, she inquired after the little black shamisen accessorizing the doll.

It turns out my friend is an accomplished musician, and plays a variety of stringed instruments, and probably a few she failed to mention. She also has a phenomenal Asian doll collection, so how could I turn down her request for a little shamisen? A shamisen is likened to a Japanese banjo. It has three strings and is played with a rather large pick. The most interesting thing about this project was that I'd decided instead of making a duplicate of the one I had, I would size the little instrument up to fit the Momo perfectly.

After the pieces were cut and assembled, I asked her if she'd prefer a black one or a polished wood one similar in look to the shamisen she'd just acquired that belonged to her grandfather. Polished wood it would be. So here I strayed once again into unfamiliar territory. Anytime you treat wood, especially Basswood, (which is very absorbent), with a liquid substance, the wood grain puckers up. Not so much with stain as its oil based, but with all other liquids such as paint, gloss, etc. Well, I'd already gone through a stain nightmare with the prie dieu and was highly reluctant to go through it again.

I did alot of research on what kind of gloss I could use on top of an oil stained piece of wood. I went to three different hardware stores and the answer was always the same when discussing the process. I had to sand in between gloss applications. I really didn't think the gloss would adhere to the stain, but after two day's drying time following the stain, the gloss adhered. I did have to sand, and I had to sand twice. I also had to apply multiple applications of the gloss, but the result was a hard, "guitar-like" shine that I was pleased with. phew!

During my research on shamisen finishes, I noticed that the instrument was played with a large and oddly shaped pick. I thought first to cut one out of wood and stain it to match the shamisen, when I remembered that I had some thin pieces of ivory sheets. No more that 2" wide, but about 1/16" thick. This was legal ivory acquired through a proper source, and I had no qualms using it. The first little pick came out adorable, but was only large enough for my older, black shamisen. That was the practice piece. The second one, a bit larger, came out perfect. I did not photograph the second one, but you can see the first in the photo provided with the original black shamisen (7" long).

And, so I've become a carpenter and a musical instrument maker. Another friend of mine inquired about a zither earlier in the year, so I'm hoping to have the opportunity to make her one in the future.


Miss E. Mouse


  1. Each new project seems to teach you how to use another material or technique... and this life-long learning keeps you young!!

  2. Wow....I've seen one of your Shamisen's before but this is truly phenomenol, so intricate!!!