Why make a qin?
There is something profound to be said about playing an instrument which you yourself spent time researching, designing, and crafting. Making an instrument is certainly no easy endeavor, but is something that anyone can do with the right mindset and resourcefulness. I have been making instruments from around the world as a hobby for over a decade now, exploring everything from wind, to strings, to percussion. Ever since my first garden pole shakuhachi in high school, I have been enamored with the design and craftsmanship of various instruments.
Over time, I have adopted a simple (and rather stubborn) personal philosophy about learning instruments – if I want to learn to play an instrument, I must make the instrument myself. Only then will I have a greater appreciation for not only the difficulty, time, and expertise put into that instrument to bring it to life by master craftsmen, but it forces me to obtain a deeper understanding of how the instrument works, and what factors affects how it sounds. Often times I find that I am more interested in making an instrument than learning to play it!
Making a qin, or any instrument, certainly has its tradeoffs and rewards. However, at least for myself, the benefits of making a qin far outweighed the risks and shortcomings. For one thing, it is certainly a gamble – being my first qin, there was a very real possibility of it coming out physically unappealing and/or worse, a very poor sounding instrument, in which I may have been better off just buying a beginner qin and starting to play immediately. To make matters worse, on top of waiting over six months for the completion of my qin before I could start learning, I ended up having to wait even longer due to my pursuits in string making, and only under very fortunate circumstances was I was generously loaned many sets of strings to test and use so that I may start playing. These delays were definitely not foreseen during my initial decision to start my journey in making one. However, the challenge and risk is only part of the fun. By making my own qin, I am freed from the limitations of what is available. It allows me complete and total customization and freedom in the design of my instrument. Every aspect would be under my control and to my taste – from wood choices, to shape, design, custom features, and even small things, such as hui and rongkou. And, since I had prior experience in sourcing materials, instrument design, and access to a full woodshop at a local makerspace, I could build this custom qin out of high end exotic woods for only a fraction of what it would cost to buy a good quality qin, and astronomically lower than if I were to get it custom made for me. And perhaps most of all, this qin will have a deeper connection to me than any qin I could buy – it is truly a reflection of who I am, and I have (quite literally) put my blood, sweat, and tears into the grains of the wood, and know every single minute aspect and detail about the entirety of the qin.
In summary, here are some pros and cons (based on my experience) for making a qin. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and again, for myself, the pros far exceed the cons:
- Complete control and customization over every aspect of the qin or instrument: wood choices, aesthetics, shape, tone, style, finish, decorative features, etc
- A very nice and high quality instrument can be made for a fraction of the price of a commercial or custom instrument if you are resourceful, have some prior experience, and know what you are doing
- An opportunity to own an extremely unique one of a kind instrument
- Makes you fully understand every aspect of the instrument in order for it to be successful and made well, and can give you a much more profound and deeper connection to that instrument
- Have the opportunity to learn many new skills, crafts, and improve skills that you already have
- Bragging rights! There are many qin players in the world, but how many can say they are learning/playing on a qin they made themselves!
- High risk involved – could come out worse than you are expecting, or may not sound good
- Can be expensive if you need to invest in specialized tooling for certain parts
- Extremely time consuming – can take half a year or much longer, and you may have to wait a long time before you can actually start learning the instrument if you already don’t have a qin to use
- Can be very intensive and demanding work, depending on the instrument and level of quality you are aiming to achieve
- There may be limited resources on how to make the instrument, depending on the instrument – qin resources in general are rather scarce for how it is made
Making this qin has been an incredible experience, and I am glad I took on the challenge, and would not have changed anything about it. It pushed me beyond my limits, and along the way I learned many valuable new skills, and brought my old skills to a much higher level than before. Because of this journey, I have had the opportunity to make new friends, and become more involved actively with the qin community. And what began as a simple desire to learn to play the qin, has brought me down a path far deeper than anything I would have imagined before, diving into the world of qin making, string making, harmonic analysis, material science, and the making of this site!
Is making a qin for everyone? No, most people interested in the qin simply want to learn to play, and for most people, it is a safer option to buy a professionally made, good quality qin, especially if they don’t have access to tools or previous experience in making instruments, or don’t have the time or desire to make one. It requires a real commitment and lots of dedication to make a full instrument from unshaped raw wood. Is my qin perfect? No, certainly not. The string action is a bit high. There are some small imperfections here and there. Since it is a new qin, it will take a year or more of playing before it opens up and reveals its true voice. I know there are many more exquisite sounding qin out there, masterfully crafted far beyond where my skills will reach. But I couldn’t be more happy with it, both visually and its tone, and wouldn’t trade it for any qin in the world. If you are thinking of making a qin, then I will tell you without a doubt to definitely go for it! And if you need help, suggestions, or advice, then I would be more than willing to provide whatever help I can for aspiring qin makers who want to travel down this road as well. It is a challenging and difficult journey, but if you persevere and stick it through, it will be worth it!
- For more information on my actual qin, you can visit the Personal Qin info page
- For perhaps the best guide out there on qin making, and the one that I used, check out Jim Binkley’s web-book on making the qin at his site Little Old Qin Maker