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A very good client of mine brought me an unusual stringed instrument that I am having difficulty identifying.  As such I decided that I would seek out the collective wisdom of part of the Lutherie cyber-space community in assisting us with identifying this instrument.

It's made of mostly oak, weighs 5.5lbs, shows some real craftsmanship in some of the joinery and carving.  Some of the inlays may be ivory but until such time as Stew-Mac makes available a competitively priced mass spectrometer.... I can't be sure...

The strings are not original and have been replaced, the frets are enormous.... it looks as if someone has added eye-screws to hang it on the wall, and the client does not know anything about this instrument having procured it at a yard sale.

So my friends I would be most interested in hearing your thoughts as to 1) what it is, 2) the origin, 3) thoughts on if this was built to be a "real" musical instrument or simply a wall hanger, and 4) anything else that you care to share. 

TIA!  (Thanks in advance not "this is Africa..." from the film blood diamond....)

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Looks like a "biwa" - an ancient Japanese instrument that evolved from the Chinese "pipa."  Most of the ones we see in our shop (that's not many, of course) are of the "tourista" grade, although not long ago we looked at a really fine one brought in by a woman who said her auntie had been a geisha.

Thanks Frank!  I Googled Biwa and it does indeed seem to fit the bill.

Darn though, I wonder why my client did not bring me the Geisha too.... ;)  I feel like the Maytag repairman....

Thanks again Frank!!!

What intervals do the 'frets' define?

 

that is a five string Japanese Chikuzen Biwa Usually favored by a female player, its still in good shape and looks very playable, new silk strings are easily available for these from Japan. If you have a plectrum it makes it more valuable. The five string Chikuzen Biwa is preferred over the 4 string Biwa. Nice piece . looks like its in good condition and still quite playable.

Lovely instrument! Little doubt that is ivory.

I love the serious break angles, great for tone, I'm sure.

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